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Post Getting Georgia back to the first round

Tuesday May 1, 2007

First, congratulations to the drafted Dawgs and those signing free agent deals. Their work and dedication to this point has paid off with a great opportunity. This is just the beginning, though. Making the most of this chance, earning their way on to a roster, and starting a successful pro career is the next step.

With four players drafted, it’s hard to say that this was a sub-par draft class from Georgia. But relative to the competition, it was. It’s actually the second straight so-so group. For the first time since 1997, Georgia will go at least two seasons without a first-round pick. In fact, Tim Jennings was the only Bulldog taken in the first or second rounds in the past two years. The 2006 draft marked the first time since the 2000 draft that no Bulldog was taken in the first round.

Will Georgia return to the first round next year? It’s possible but not a certainty. Paul Oliver jumps out as the star, and we certainly hope he has a first-round kind of senior season. Kicker Brandon Coutu might get some interest, but kickers are almost never taken early. Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown are pro-quality talents but don’t yet have the numbers to justify a first or second round selection. At this point, I don’t even see someone who I would consider to be a serious threat to enter the draft as a junior next year. Massaquoi? Southerland? Maybe. They’d have to have a pretty tremendous 2007.

In retrospect, it’s pretty incredible that Georgia won the SEC in 2005 without much first or second round talent on that team. Of course that doesn’t mean that Georgia had or has lousy players. We’re talking about guys like Pope, Jean-Gilles, Shockley, Taylor, Moses, Johnson, Golston, and so on. They were very quality college players – just not the prototypes that stand out to pro teams. Having tons of players drafted high doesn’t necessarily mean that you had a good team (right, Miami?), but as with highly-rated recruits you’d rather take your chances having more of them than fewer.

Coaches like Willie Martinez have taken some lumps in the past couple of years because of letdowns that didn’t happen as frequently earlier in the decade. Georgia’s cupboard might not be empty, but the draft could be telling us that it wasn’t as full as it once was. The SEC title in 2005 and the strong finish last year might suggest that there’s some pretty good coaching going on with the talent that is there.

The coaches don’t get a pass though – talent and recruiting is also their department, and there are signs that deficiencies are being addressed. If you hope to have a strong team and don’t see many players projected as high draft picks, you’d better have some young talent, and Georgia does. Stafford is the obvious. A slew of young players at linebacker and defensive back are coming into their own. Georgia had one of their best offensive line hauls this year. Tailbacks like Moreno and King have promising futures. Now even receiver recruiting is taking a step up with AJ Green and hopefully a few others.

With Florida back in form, Tennessee and Auburn holding on, a stronger Alabama on the horizon, and a wild card over in South Carolina, Georgia has no choice but to increase its talent level. A return to producing top draft picks won’t necessarily mean that the Dawgs will dominate the SEC, it will just mean that Georgia will have the players it needs to compete and hold ground in this conference.

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