Outside of being happy for those kids who get to chase their dreams further, the NFL draft holds little interest to me, other than what it has to say about the state of the Georgia program. In that light, here’s an interesting note.
In Smart’s first year at UGA, Isaiah McKenzie was the only player drafted and he was taken in the fifth round. The next year, UGA had six players were taken overall and four inside the top 35 picks. A year later, seven Bulldogs heard their name called and two more key position players, Elijah Holyfield and Jonathan Ledbetter, signed free-agent deals soon after it was over.
Of the 14 players drafted since Smart has become Georgia’s head coach, only four of them are guys he signed. Mecole Hardman Jr. went the highest of those players, as he was taken No. 56 overall by Kansas City this year. Riley Ridley is next and was a fourth-round selection. Javon Wims and Isaac Nauta were seventh-round selections and Holyfield went undrafted.
That makes 10 players recruited and signed by the previous staff that were developed into NFL Draft picks and four of them were first-rounders — Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, and Deandre Baker. Wynn, Baker, and Smith blossomed under the new staff. Michel and Nick Chubb, who was selected No. 35 overall in 2018, were known commodities but bought into Smart’s vision for the program and hung around an extra year, dramatically improving their draft stock. It’s safe to say that all 14, especially the ones drafted highest, benefited greatly from learning under the UGA staff.
Richt recruited well, just not as well as Smart has. But there’s definitely an argument to be made that Smart’s doing a better job with player development, too. Both make for a terrific sales pitch on the recruiting trail, and it would seem to be a message that resonates with high level recruits.
That being said, context is important. This is the mountain Georgia still has to climb.