Four Georgia Bulldogs Declare Early for NFL Draft

The Georgia Bulldogs are coming off a bit of a disappointing season. After yet another second-half collapse against Alabama, the Bulldogs were held out of the College Football Playoffs. More than a few players had something to say about that, but instead of using the opportunity to prove why they should have been in, the Dawgs lost a half-hearted effort in the Sugar Bowl against Texas. With rumor circulating that 5-star QB, Justin Fields was set to transfer; many UGA fans began to wonder if that would lead to an exodus of other players. Whether by transfer or draft declaration, the Dawgs have lost three 5-star and three 4-star players.

In this article, I want to break down the young men that declared for the draft, and what it might mean for them.

 

Issac Nauta, TE

Issac Nauta was a 5-star TE coming out of high school, and he showed why immediately. In just his freshman season went 29/361/3 on a limited nine games. He regressed slightly in his sophomore season (9/114/2), but that can be attributed to the change in quarterback early in the season.  With Jacob Eason leaving the first game with a knee injury, freshman Jake Fromm stepped in. The rest of that season the offense leaned on the run game while Fromm continued his development, hurting Nauta’s stats.

He quickly found his stride this year hauling in 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a series just before halftime of the Florida Gators vs. Georgia Bulldogs game. Nauta caught four consecutive passes for 66 yards in 30-seconds to move the Bulldogs into field goal range and increase their lead.

Nauta is a big body that runs smoothly for his size. He can run away from defenders, and can also secure the ball while taking a hit over the middle.

I think his decision to leave can affect his draft stock. One relatively good comp in college production is Evan Engram from Ole Miss. Engram had a 38/464/2 stat line at the end of his junior year, before really breaking out as a senior with 65/926/8. That was good enough to land him as the 23rd pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

Tight end is a difficult position to learn and an extra year in college to fine-tune his route running and blocking schemes may have upped his draft stock considerably. With the potential Nauta has, I don’t think he drops far, but without that breakout year, I don’t see a first or second round pick used on him. I see him possibly falling to the early or mid third round.


Mecole Hardman, WR

Mecole Hardman has been such a pleasure to watch and was the spark Georgia needed in the return game after Isaiah Mckenzie departed for the NFL. The only problem, Georgia spreads the ball a lot, and that is secondary to the run. While Hardman certainly has the talent to make the next level and has made so many big plays for the Dawgs, he just doesn’t have the numbers to draw a high selection. I will be shocked if his name is called before day two is over.

Hardman will be able to contribute immediately as a return man, an area where he was fantastic with UGA. He averaged 20.1 return yards on punts in 2018, scoring once. Now, just because I think he won’t be a high selection doesn’t me I think he lacks the talent and know-how to be a great NFL player. I think he is the most NFL ready of the four juniors making the jump. Which is impressive since he only played two seasons. His freshman season he was 0/0/0.

Hardman finished the 2018 season with 35/543/7.


Riley Ridley, WR

Riley Ridley made an impact from his first career start, where he caught a 47 yards bomb from Jacob Eason to take the lead with 15-seconds remaining against Tennessee. The Dawgs would ultimately lose that game, but that was the moment Dawgs fans knew Riley could be special. Riley finished his freshman season with 12/238/2 in six games played.

Ridley didn’t take a step up in his second year, but as with Nauta, that was due to the QB change. He went 14/218/2 and played an additional two games. Entering this season, fans knew that the passing game could go through him. And he stepped up in a big way post 43/559/9. Those stats won’t blow anybody away, but considering the gameplan for the Georgia Bulldogs is run first, throw second, this is solid.

The Draft Network’s Jon Ledyard compares Riley to Michael Thomas, albeit not as refined. Ridley has all the measurables of an NFL receiver, but he will need to test well to earn that higher draft spot. Like the others, I would have liked to see Ridley come back for his senior year and improve on a few measurables.

I can see a team reacting to his potential and taking Ridley early second round. But I fully expect a 3rd round selection.


Elijah Holyfield, RB

Hey, did you know Elijah’s dad is Evander Holyfield? Just kidding, I mean it’s true, but I get SO tired of hearing it. I mean, they must have said it every game, twice a game!

But we aren’t here to talk about Elijah’s dad; we want to talk about him. Holyfield got the opportunity to be the starter this season and made it count. He rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,018) and seven scores. Holyfield’s punishing run style made it difficult for the first defender to bring him down. Because of that, he was able to net 6.4 yards per carry. It’s incredible to think that in consecutive years the Georgia Bulldogs have finished the season with TWO 1,000 yard rushers!

Even with Holyfield eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark, he was outshined by sophomore running back D’Andre Swift. I didn’t say outplayed or outperformed, just outshined. What Holyfield lacked, and what I think could hurt his draft stock, was big play ability. He had one long run of 66 yards against Middle Tennessee and a handful of 20 yarders. This isn’t to say that Holyfield doesn’t possess big-play ability. It just gets lost behind Swift, and Holyfield’s willingness to level defenders to pick up those extra few yards.

Again, another year would have done Holyfield good. It would have shown NFL scouts that he can handle the workload, and be incredibly efficient. With only one real year to show what he could do, and not many teams in the market for a running back, Holyfield will probably slip in this draft as well.


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