Former Georgia Tech players hopeful for NFL draft opportunity

Georgia Tech tight end Dylan Leonard runs a drill during Georgia Tech Pro Day at Georgia Tech football's indoor practice facility, Friday, March 15, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /



Georgia Tech tight end Dylan Leonard runs a drill during Georgia Tech Pro Day at Georgia Tech football's indoor practice facility, Friday, March 15, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /

Georgia Tech’s NFL hopefuls will be just that this weekend: hopeful that they hear their names called at some point during the NFL draft in Detroit.

No former Yellow Jacket from the 2023 roster is solidly projected to be selected during the seven rounds of the NFL’s annual event, which takes place over three days and begins Thursday night. That doesn’t mean a former Tech player won’t be drafted, or even signed as an undrafted free agent or to a tryout in the days that follow the draft, but the odds of at least one Jacket being selected for a fifth consecutive year appear thin.

Tight end Dylan Leonard, running back Dontae Smith, defensive back Myles Sims and safety Jaylon King are a few of the former Jackets who have an outside chance of hearing their name called this weekend.

“It’s a big change in life and a big step in the journey,” Leonard said March 15 after Tech’s Pro Day workouts on the possibility of playing pro ball. “I’m just looking forward to it. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and it’s coming to fruition so it’s awesome.”

Leonard didn’t put up gaudy receiving statistics during his five seasons with Tech but often was lauded for his blocking on the field and leadership off of it. A Milton High School graduate, Leonard caught 41 passes for 387 yards over his career, and a touchdown catch Nov. 11 at Clemson was the only one of his career.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Leonard, who said in March he planned to stay in Atlanta to train in the weeks leading to the draft, was in on more than 1,600 plays during his Tech career, including at least 430 in each of the past three seasons.

“Georgia Tech prepared me a lot of ways, on and off the field. Mentally I think it put me ahead of just about anyone,” Leonard said. “It makes you tough. That’s what Georgia Tech does, just makes you a tough person. You go through a lot of hardships at Tech, it’s not an easy school. It puts you through a lot of challenges, just preparing you for anything they throw at you.”

Three other Tech veterans — tight end Luke Benson and King and Smith, the latter two having spent six seasons with the Jackets — could be intriguing prospects as well.

Smith (5-11, 198) rushed for more than 1,600 yards during his college career and was the Jackets’ top-rated offensive player in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. King (6-1, 193) battled injuries throughout his career but finished strong with 69 tackles and four interceptions in 2023. Benson (6-4, 233) caught 18 passes in two seasons with the Jackets.

King roamed the secondary with Sims, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound graduate of Westlake High School who began his career at Michigan. Sims was Tech’s highest-rated defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus, and second-highest rated player in coverage in 2023.

Tech also had a handful of transfers on the 2023 roster who have been mentioned in some draft buzz, including linebackers Paul Moala (Idaho), Braelen Oliver (Minnesota) and Andre White (Texas A&M), guard Connor Scaglione (Princeton), and wide receiver Dominick Blaylock (6-1, 203), who began his career at Georgia before spending a season with the Jackets as a kick returner and wideout.

“The journey’s been a long journey. It’s been a fun journey, though,” Blaylock said March 15. “I wouldn’t take back a single moment of my whole journey, good or bad. It’s been a good process going through everything. I’ve enjoyed it very much.

“I feel like I can be a guy that if (an NFL team) needs me I can play anywhere. Special teams, punt, return, any special teams I feel like I would be a good role in. And receiver if I get a chance to show my skills. I feel like I could just help out wherever and however way they would need me.”

The 2019 draft was the last year in which Tech did not have a player selected. Defensive end Derrick Morgan and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas were the program’s last first-round pick, in 2010.