Not surprisingly, incredible talent development drives the Dawgs’ success on the gridiron in both Athens and the National Football League

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Not surprisingly, incredible talent development drives the Dawgs’ success on the gridiron in both Athens and the National Football League

Jeff Danztler rotator
Jeff Danztler

Over the last two National Football League drafts, a staggering total of 25 University of Georgia Bulldogs have been selected. That includes a record 15 picks, highlighted by five first-round defenders, off the 2021 National Championship Team. This past spring, ten Georgia players from the 2022 National Champions had their numbers called. There are 50 Bulldogs on NFL rosters this season, 50 … Incredible!

Kirby Smart and his staff has masterfully recruited, developed and retained talent, while chalking up the back-to-back national championships, six straight top ten national finishes, six consecutive major bowl berths and Southeastern Conference Championship Game appearances five times since 2017.





Several aspects of this success stand out.

One is the trenches.

When tackle Isaiah Wynn was taken 23rd overall by the New England Patriots following the 2017 SEC championship campaign, he was the first Bulldog offensive lineman picked in the first round since George Foster in the spring of 2003. Two years later, All-American left tackle Andrew Thomas was the fourth overall pick, selected by the New York Giants. Isaiah Wilson also went in the first round. This past spring, Broderick Jones went No. 14 in the first round to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It should also be noted that, despite dominating Michigan All-American Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick in the 2022 draft, in the Bulldogs 34-11 Orange Bowl victory over the Wolverines en route to the national title, Jamaree Salyer lasted until the sixth round. One of Georgia’s most versatile linemen ever, it didn’t take long for Salyer to win the starting left tackle job for the Los Angeles Chargers.





On the defensive line, four Bulldogs have been first round picks the last two years. Travon Walker was the top overall choice by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft. Later in the first round, Jordan Davis went to the Eagles and Devonte Wyatt to the Packers. The Bulldogs most recent defensive lineman taken in the first round was David Pollack following the 2004 season. Last spring, Jalen Carter went ninth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles, who love Georgia players, one of three Bulldog first rounders for the 2023 NFL Draft.

So the quick math on that, over the last six NFL drafts, Georgia has produced four offensive linemen and four defensive linemen who were first round picks. These selections ended a 15-year gap on the offensive line between first round Georgia picks, and a 17-year stretch on the defensive front.

Football ebbs and flows, twists and changes, but it’s still won in the trenches.

Flourishing behind – and next to – those dominant defensive linemen, 11 Bulldog linebackers have been drafted since 2018, including first rounders Roquan Smith, Quay Walker and Nolan Smith.

Another area that stands out with Georgia’s incredible success is the range of production from the art of recruiting rankings. They are a broad brush, and there are hits and misses, but in general, recruiting rankings hit home. Teams with elite classes year after year, like Georgia, tend to be ranked high year after year, like Georgia.

A slew of blue chips in the Smart area, like the Smiths, Carter and Trayvon Walker, were high end “five star” recruits. Well, Davis and cornerback Eric Stokes, a first rounder following the 2020 season, were “three star” prospects. And perhaps you have heard of the Bulldogs quarterback for the last two national championship runs? Stetson Bennett, taken this past spring in the fourth round by the Rams, was famously a walk-on who went to junior college and was then re-signed by Georgia. Bennett was Most Valuable Player of Georgia’s four College Football Playoff victories the last two years and the 2022 SEC Championship Game.

Georgia has boasted a top five recruiting class every year since Smart arrived at his alma mater as the Bulldogs head coach. The NFL Draft is proving out that Georgia is in the elite of player development. The third piece to the puzzle is player retention. Davis and Wyatt returned for their senior seasons in 2021. Nolan Smith in 2022. Plus several players who were backups, who became starters, who could have jumped ship in the portal to secure guaranteed playing time and snaps somewhere else.

When it comes to player retention, make no mistake, the two biggest recruits of Smart’s Georgia career are Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. This dynamic duo, recruited by Mark Richt and his staff to Georgia, decided to return for their senior seasons following a disappointing 2016 campaign, Smart’s first. That stamp of approval and their superb play in 2017 sped up the process of launching Georgia into the elite stratosphere of college football. Wynn, Lorenzo Carter and Devan Bellamy also came back for their senior years, and Georgia won the 2017 SEC Championship, beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and played for the national title. It was the first of six straight glory laden years for Georgia.

Now the Bulldogs aim for another, as another likely double digit future NFL Draft class leads the Bulldogs into the SEC opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the first major test of the 2023 season.





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