Juanyeh Thomas first remembers dreaming of the NFL when he was 6, playing for his youth football team, the Soulja Boyz.
“My mom actually came up with the name because she was the team mom,” Thomas said Wednesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For Tariq Carpenter, he thought he was 5 when he read one of the children’s books about football written by former NFL stars and twin brothers Ronde and Tiki Barber.
“I was like, ‘Man, I want to be in the NFL one day,’ ” Carpenter said.
For both young men, the day has nearly arrived. Former Georgia Tech safeties who became the closest of friends and started side by side in the Yellow Jackets secondary for three seasons, both are expected to be selected in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday night. Media draft projections have them selected Saturday, when the draft concludes with the fourth through seventh rounds, but it’s conceivable they could sneak into the third round, conducted Friday.
They are the two most likely former Jackets to be drafted, followed by offensive tackle Devin Cochran. Several others, such as running back Jordan Mason, wide receiver Kyric McGowan and cornerback Tre Swilling, may have to wait until after the draft to sign with teams as undrafted free agents.
If any of the players go before the sixth round, it would be the first time a former Yellow Jackets player was drafted before the final two rounds since 2016, when defensive tackle Adam Gotsis was taken in the second round. Carpenter said in an interview with the AJC that he is trying to be patient.
“I came from (being considered) a priority free agent and not many people know who I am to a top-200 prospect,” Carpenter said. “I’m kind of happy to be where I am.”
After starting for Tech for four seasons, Carpenter showcased himself for scouts at the Hula Bowl and then the Senior Bowl. His size, speed (6-foot-2, 230 pounds, 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and ability to play in the secondary and at linebacker have made him an intriguing prospect. The Broncos, Cardinals, Cowboys and Packers all brought him in for one of their allotted 30 pre-draft visits, and the Patriots and Jets worked him out privately at Tech.
He’ll spend the weekend with friends and family in his hometown of Ludowici, keeping it low-key.
“It’s going to be real surreal,” Carpenter said of being drafted. “It’s going to be a dream come true, obviously. I don’t know. It’s something that I just can’t describe at the moment. I’ve been getting a weird feeling all week, a weird feeling up in my stomach. It’s creeping up on me.”
Thomas has been busy working out and conducting calls with teams around the league. He did not have any pre-draft visits, having met with teams at the NFL scouting combine and at the East-West Shrine Bowl, but also had a workout with the Jets. He is seen as a strong run defender who can be a contributor on special teams.
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He said he was anxious for the moment to arrive and to get started on his NFL career. He’ll be in Atlanta for the draft with his family.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this moment, so just to hear my name called, it’ll be a dream,” Thomas said.
Cochran’s agent expressed his confidence to the AJC that he’ll be selected Saturday somewhere in rounds 4-7. A Greater Atlanta Christian School grad who started three seasons at Vanderbilt before his final season at Tech, Cochran had a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Bowl and had visits with the Bengals and Cardinals.
“Teams love his versatility,” agent Vince Taylor said. “They love the fact that he’s played and done well in the SEC against some of the best talent. They absolutely love his body type, his size, his intangibles, and they love his competitive nature.”
Besides the aforementioned five draft prospects, other hopefuls include defensive tackle Djimon Brooks, defensive end Antonneous Clayton, tight end/long snapper Jack Coco, linebacker Quez Jackson, guard Ryan Johnson, linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling, punter Austin Kent, offensive lineman Kenneth Kirby, cornerback Tobias Oliver and wide receiver Azende Rey (Thomas’ brother).
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