UGA-record 6 players taken in first three rounds of NFL draft

Georgia offensive lineman Trey Hill (55), offensive lineman Ben Cleveland (74), Coach Kirby Smart, defensive back Richard LeCounte (2), and defensive back Eric Stokes (27) stand together before the Bulldogs' game with Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo by Kevin Snyder)
Georgia offensive lineman Trey Hill (55), offensive lineman Ben Cleveland (74), Coach Kirby Smart, defensive back Richard LeCounte (2), and defensive back Eric Stokes (27) stand together before the Bulldogs' game with Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo by Kevin Snyder)

Credit: Special to the AJC

Credit: Special to the AJC

ATHENS – A run on Bulldogs late in the third round Friday gave Georgia a school-record six players drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.

Eight is the most draftees Georgia has ever produced in a seven-round draft, which it did in 2013 and 2002. The Bulldogs will have a chance to surpass that when the draft resumes at noon Saturday with the last four rounds.

After Eric Stokes was the only UGA player taken late in the first round Thursday, Tyson Campbell, Azeez Ojulari, Monty Rice, Ben Cleveland and Tre’ McKitty all heard their names called during Friday’s second and third rounds. And the way Bulldogs were coming off the board there at the end, there might’ve been more had the third round not concluded at about 11:45 p.m. Rice (92nd, Titans) and Cleveland (94th, Ravens) and McKitty (97th, Chargers) all came off the board within six picks of each other late in the third round. Including compensatory picks, there were 105 players selected in the first three rounds.

Georgia still has several promising draft candidates. They include offensive lineman Trey Hill, defensive lineman Malik Herring and defensive backs DJ Daniel, Richard LeCounte and Mark Webb.

If it’s anything like Friday, Georgia fans should be tuned in and locked in from the beginning. Campbell was first off the board just minutes into second round.

With six selections in the first three rounds, the Bulldogs are in good position to surpass the seven picks they posted in both 2019 and 2020. Georgia had only three selections at this point last year and only two after the first three rounds in 2019.

Through Friday, reigning national champion Alabama was leading all programs with a record eight selections, each in the first two rounds.

That Campbell and Ojulari were taken in the second round wasn’t much of a surprise. Both were considered serious threats to go in the first round. In fact, ESPN said there was only a 14% chance that Ojulari would have to wait as long as he did, which was until the 18th pick of the second round.

But then there wasn’t another Bulldogs summoned until 11:02 p.m. when the Chargers selected Rice. The 6-foot, 233-pound senior was all over the board in mock drafts, but few had him coming off before the third day.

Likewise, Cleveland was hard to peg. But handicappers predicted it would be hard for teams to pass up the guard’s 6-6, 354-pound frame.

McKitty was a major surprise from the standpoint that he did not have great production in his one season as a tight end with the Bulldogs. A transfer from FSU, where he had 50 catches in the three seasons, McKitty caught only six passes 108 yards and touchdown in a season shortened to seven games because of injury and opting out of the bowl game. But he maintained that his game had actually advanced with improved blocking and learning Todd Monken’s offensive system.

MONTY RICE

  • Selection: 92nd, Tennessee Titans
  • Position: Inside linebacker
  • Ht., wt.: 6-0, 233
  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Hometown: Huntsville, Ala.
  • High School: James Clemens
  • Statistically speaking: Even though slowed by a chronic foot injury, started eight of the nine games he played and finished third on the team with 49 tackles. Known for extremely strong knowledge of defensive concepts.
  • Notable: Finished as one of five finalists for the Butkus Award as college football’s top linebacker.

BEN CLEVELAND

  • Selection: 94th Baltimore Ravens
  • Position: Guard
  • Ht., wt.: 6-6, 354
  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Hometown: Toccoa
  • High School: Stephens County
  • Statistically speaking: All-SEC First Team by AP and coaches...started at right guard in all nine regular-season games. Played 82 percent of Georgia’s offensive snaps during the regular season, including 100 percent vs. Alabama, Florida and Miss. State.
  • Notable: Nicknamed “Big Country,” Cleveland loves hunting and fishing and almost always carries a large hunting knife with him, with which he picks his teeth, among other things. Known for killing and eating almost anything, including squirrel.

TRE’ McKITTY

  • Selection: 97th, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Position: Tight end
  • Ht., wt.: 6-3½, 246
  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Hometown: Wesley Chapel, Fla.
  • High School: IMG Academy
  • Statistically speaking: Had 56 catches for 628 yards and 3 touchdowns in his career, but just six for 108 yards and one score his senior season.
  • Notable: Came to Georgia as a graduate transfer from FSU in order to enhance his NFL draft stock. While he didn’t catch as many passes in a three-player rotation, he said he accomplished that mission by improving as a blocker and having a better understanding offensive concepts.

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