The Georgia Bulldogs are usually rock solid each and every year when it comes to churning out pro prospects. From ’09 to ’13, the Bulldogs sent 32 guys to the NFL, averaging more than 6 prospects per year. That’s rock solid. Granted, the number dipped in the 2014 NFL Draft with only 2 Bulldogs selected (and none until the 5th round), but that figures to change in the near future with a ton of young talent emerging. So who are the top pro prospects for the Bulldogs this fall? We’ll start on offense.
A quick note before we begin, we’ll only be discussing players eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft.
The offense is paced by rockstar tailback Todd Gurley, the best running back in the country and top prospect at his position in my opinion. The junior is one of the best backs UGA has produced in some time, which is extraordinarily high praise considering the talent the ‘Dawgs have produced at the position. Gurley’s production has been outstanding (2,374 rushing yards, 27 TDs last two seasons), and has steadily improved in the receiving game (16 receptions with 0 receiving TDs in ’12, 37 and 5 in ’13), all while doing so against SEC competition.
Gurley has the physical tools to be a feature back in the NFL. He’s got the size (6-foot 1, 232-pounds), speed (reported 4.42 40-yard dash) and power to run inside and out on first and second downs, and has improved his hands and blocking to the point where he can stay on the field for 3rd down as well. My one concern for him is his ability to consistently stay healthy, as last year he regularly battled nagging thigh and ankle injuries. Aside from that, the high-character Gurley just might be in contention for first round status after the season (if he declares early), despite the decreased value of the position in recent drafts.
Gurley isn’t the only running back with a pro future in Georiga’s backfield. Fellow junior Keith Marshall also shows skills worthy of toting the rock at the NFL level, despite splitting carries. While Gurley is known more for his power, Marshall dazzles with his elite speed and agility. Marshall has been ‘unofficially’ timed as low as 4.28 (4.24 is the NFL Combine record), and is a legitimate threat receiving out of the backfield. His change of direction and ability to make plays in space will make scouts salivate. His big question this fall will be to prove the torn ACL he suffered last year hasn’t affected his game or his speed.
Speed is also the forte of junior WR Malcolm Mitchell, and similarly to Marshall, he’s also coming back from a torn ACL to which he needs to prove he’s back to where he was pre-injury. Mitchell still hasn’t even come close to reaching his potential, but his ceiling and upside are very impressive. He shows good physicality and power both getting separation and shaking off defenders, and has strong hands (though he could be more consistent in that regard). The physical package is there, he really just needs to prove he’s healthy, and improve the overall consistency of his game (and will have to do so with a first-year starting QB).
I’m high on junior TE Jay Rome, despite minimal production the past two years. 20 receptions for 251-yards isn’t going to blow anyone away. But read beyond the stat sheet and hunker down with some film, you’ll see a tremendous athlete with great size and a high ceiling. His numbers should increase dramatically this fall as an underneath safety valve while also splitting the seams, though he’ll need to prove he’s as capable of a blocker as departed Arthur Lynch was.
Up front I like junior LT John Theus and senior C David Andrews. Theus has high upside and an impressive skill set but struggled staying healthy last year. I think he’s got the feet to play the blindside at the next level, but needs to continue his developmental arc. Andrews is a classic center: slightly undersized with average athleticism, but a master technician who plays with good leverage and takes good angles. His reads and blitz pickup will be crucial with a young line this fall.