NEW ORLEANS – It’s not all about money, necessarily.
That was the word from Georgia’s Mecole Hardman and Isaac Nauta. The juniors are both giving serious consideration to turning pro after this season. Neither, they confirmed after the Bulldogs’ practice Friday, has made a final decision on that front.
But whatever conclusion they arrive at between Tuesday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl and the underclassman declaration deadline of Jan. 14, it won’t be as simple as draft position and signing bonus.
“There’s all kinds of factors when you think about making a decision like this,” said Nauta, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end from Buford. “How’s your body feel? How long can you do it? Is graduating and getting your degree important to you? Winning the national championship. There’s so much stuff that goes into it and I think that’s what makes the decision so hard. I’ve definitely felt the weight of those questions, no doubt.”
Hardman has been feeling the weight of the decision as well. The 5-11, 183-pound speedster from Elberton said he still is in the process of gathering information from the NFL, coach Kirby Smart and former Georgia teammates who have already gone down this road.
Hardman made it clear that he’d definitely make the jump if he could be assured of Top 15 or even first-round status. But he also knows such assurances are hard to come by, and even harder to trust.
“I’m still undecided,” Hardman said after the Bulldogs’ practice in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Friday afternoon. “Going forward, you wouldn’t want to go (pro) unless you were going in the early rounds. But right now I don’t know all that information. I haven’t gotten anything back from anybody. I’m just trying to focus on this game and focus on Texas and win this game. I’ll go forward from there.”
Hardman and Nauta are among several Georgia underclassmen who submitted paperwork to the NFL for an evaluation. Others include running back Elijah Holyfield, receiver Riley Riley and safety J.R. Reed.
Typically the only definitive information the league provides for making such a decision is the determination of “potential first round” or “potential draftee.” The rest of the information the underclassmen decipher comes organically from Smart and Georgia’s other coaches, family members or potential third-party agencies through family members.
“Coach Smart has gathered information for me and done a great job with all that,” Nauta said. “He’s not trying to influence me one way or another. He honestly wants what’s best for me. He’s given me nothing but great support.”
One of the most dependable sources for Georgia players are recent teammates who have already been through the process. All the current juniors are friends with Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn and Javon Wims. Of course, they all made the decision to come back in 2017.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who’ve been through what I’m going through,” Nauta said. “I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from a lot of those guys. I think that’s the smart think to do, reach out to guys who have done it before you and been through that process. But I’ve got a lot of support in my corner from a lot of people and a lot of good connections to be able to ask question.”
Another big factor is what kind of team Georgia is going to field next season. That brought a lot of the undecideds back in 2017, and they were rewarded with a berth in the National Championship Game.
The Bulldogs are expected to open next season as a Top 4 team and should be in the national title mix again.
“That definitely means a lot,” Nauta said. “We’ve worked so hard. Besides the NFL, this is the next biggest thing you’ve got in football. We want to win games and play on the biggest stages and play in the national championship game. Obviously, none of that is guaranteed or promised, by any means. Georgia’s going to be good for a long time and is always going to have good players, but that aspect of it is definitely something to think about.”
Neither Nauta nor Hardman is an easy case study. Hardman is Bulldogs’ starting flanker and kick returner and is second only to D’Andre Swift in all-purpose yardage, with 1,211 to go along with 7 touchdowns. He is arguably Georgia’s fastest player and one of the fastest in the SEC.
Nauta leads Georgia’s tight ends and is third on the team with 29 receptions for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He is eight yards shy of going over 1,000 yards receiving in his career and has eight scores. However, the Bulldogs have thrown the football to their tight ends decidedly less the last two seasons under Smart.
Whatever conclusion they come to, it won’t be until after Tuesday’s bowl game.
“You know, it’s one of those decisions you’ve got to pray about,” Nauta said. “You’ve got to talk to your family and your friends and your coaches about. You have to make your decision off that. You think picking a school is hard, but this is a whole different kind of pressure. It’s just crazy I’m at this point in my career now.”
Said Hardman: “The best thing any of us can do right now is focus on this game, focus on Texas and trying to win this thing.”