As the 2023 NFL draft draws to a close, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect on the illustrious careers of 12 legendary Bulldogs. These players depart Athens as the most decorated Georgia football athletes of all time, setting a new standard for the next generation of Bulldogs to aspire to. BI’s Clay Watkins and Coby Serina break down the 2023 selections with what to expect come next season.
Jalen Carter, widely regarded as the frontrunner for the top pick before the Chicago Bears’ trade with the Carolina Panthers, is unequivocally the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the draft. Had it not been for legal complications during the draft process, he would have undoubtedly been selected earlier than his eventual placement at ninth overall by the Philadelphia Eagles. Nonetheless, the defending NFC Champions have secured a top-tier talent to anchor their defensive line, alongside former Bulldog Jordan Davis. Carter’s collegiate career at Georgia was equally impressive, boasting 83 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks.
With the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers went with offensive tackle, Broderick Jones, a decent-sized uber-athletic big man with plenty of experience in the trenches. The Steelers were clearly looking for a lineman who could move, and that’s just what Jones brings to the table. His dominance in the open field and ability to delete defenders from screen plays were crucial in the Dawgs 2022 natty campaign, and it looks like we’ll see similar stuff coming out of the Steel City. On top of all of that, Jones brings some youth to that o-line room. He has a swagger that matches Coach Mike Tomlin’s vibe, so it should end up being a great situation for him.
Nolan Smith capped off a strong first round for the Bulldogs after he was drafted 30th by the Philadelphia Eagles. Following a phenomenal 2021 season culminating in a national championship victory, the gifted outside linebacker opted to return to Georgia in 2022 to guide an inexperienced team. Despite a season-ending torn pectoral muscle, Smith managed to tally 18 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. He joins the Philadelphia Eagles, who could arguably be dubbed the “Philadelphia Bulldogs,” a perfect landing spot for this edge rusher. With his prior experience alongside his former Georgia teammates, Smith’s competitive edge and leadership skills undoubtedly portend a bright NFL career.
The Steelers had a pot of gold fall into their lap when Darnell “Big-O” Washington slipped to the back end of the third round. He has the potential to serve as the perfect tool for emerging quarterback, Kenny Pickett. With Washington’s blocking ability in addition to his absurdly wide catch radius and strong hands, Big O should be able to do it all for the Steelers come game time. The only thing that may be stopping him would be some lowkey injuries that lead to rumors negatively affecting his draft stock– other than that there’s really no reason why he should have dropped that low.
Keele Ringo, the 2021 National Championship hero, proved to be an unexpected fourth-round pick. The Philadelphia Eagles, however, traded up to pick number 105 to select him due to his exceptional measurables and traits. Standing tall at 6’2″ and weighing in at 207 pounds, Ringo runs the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.36 seconds, a feat few players can claim. Although Philadelphia already boasts veteran cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay as starters, this selection allows the youngster to learn and grow under their exemplary guidance. Ringo departs the University of Georgia with two seasons of productive play, recording 76 total tackles and 4 interceptions.
Everyone’s already saying it, so I’ll say it too: Stetson Bennett already has a great history in Los Angeles, so it’s fitting that the Rams got him. On day three in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Bennett’s biography got just a little bit longer with a new chapter beginning in Los Angeles. At this point in the draft, you’re not looking for starters, you’re looking for depth, and that’s precisely what they’ll be getting out of Bennett. He’ll more than likely be the second-string signal caller until another signing is made, so we may see more out of him sooner than later. He’s quite the different player than Matthew Stafford, but his skill set will transition well into a modern NFL setting. Sean McVay will have fun carving out a role for the Mailman.
Chris Smith, the Las Vegas Raiders’ fifth-round pick at 170 overall, represents a significant steal. The do-it-all safety has elite ball skills and is a superb tackler. He first received considerable playing time in 2020 after Richard LeCounte’s injury, ultimately developing into an All-SEC player and a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive player. Smith’s intelligence and ability to patrol the middle of the field bode well for his potential impact with the Raiders. After a five-year career in Athens, Smith amassed 132 total tackles and 6 interceptions.
Heading to the bay, Robert Beal should find himself in a solid situation adding to an already very established 49er front seven. Getting paired with names like Nick Bosa, Drake Jackson, and Dre Greenlaw will help his transition to the pros as well, as his position isn’t necessarily one of much need. Something we can probably expect to see out of Beal may be a little unexpected. Given Beal performed exceptionally well in the speed tests at the combine, posting a 4.48 40-yard dash, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that speed put to use in the open field. Maybe some more off-ball action is heading his way.
Warren McClendon was selected in the fifth round with the 174th pick. McClendon, a Glynn County native and three-year starter, leaves the University of Georgia with a reputation as a safety net to Stetson Bennett’s right side. The versatile lineman can play guard or tackle for the Los Angeles Rams and excels in the run game, having earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2022. McClendon’s work ethic and tenacity will undoubtedly win over the coaching staff in Los Angeles where he looks set to join the long list of successful Bulldog offensive lineman in NFL.
If you’re a Georgia homer, which you probably are given that you’re reading this, Kenny McIntosh getting picked in the seventh round sounds like the steal of the draft, and to the Seattle Seahawks it probably was. McIntosh is a do-it-all running back, rushing, catching, and even blocking at an insanely competitive level. All things which obviously translate into the pros– pass blocking especially. Admittedly, McIntosh probably didn’t put up testing numbers any of us were expecting, but everything managed to work out. The Seahawks are an aggressive run-heavy team that appreciates versatility out of the backfield.
Notwithstanding their lack of selection during the draft, Georgia’s Jack Podlesny and Kearis Jackson have been presented with opportunities to pursue their NFL dreams. Both have signed as UDFA (Undrafted Free Agents), determined to earn a spot on the 53-man roster for their selective teams during the upcoming season.
Quickly after the conclusion of the draft, the Minnesota Vikings picked up Jack Podlesny. During his time at Georgia, Podlesny was tasked with the challenge of replacing Georgia fan favorite and legendary kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Hot Pod started out his career as a preferred walk on, and after being buried in the depth chart for his first two years in Athens, he earned the right to become UGA’s starting kicker. Podlesny leaves Athens having made 61 of 74 kicks for a total of 365 points. He won Georgia the Peach Bowl back in 2021 on a legendary 53-yard kick as time virtually expired. Podlesny was also a vital part of the two National Championship teams, making a season long 49 yard kick in the 2022 game against Alabama and being named an All-SEC first team player in the 2022 season.
King Kearis to the Tennessee Titans is actually a surprisingly good fit given his history of being a gimmicky playmaker. Similarly to how the Titans use Treylon Burks because of running back-like build to get creative from a play-making standpoint, they can use Kearis Jackson and his shiftiness to add another layer to their run-heavy offense. Admittedly, Jackson has seemingly lost a step in terms of speed, but his body control and ball skills are definitely still there. He may end up being the guy that takes screens and end-arounds, almost Deebo Samuel-esque. It’s a niche role, but if Jackson keeps the standard, he’ll definitely make it in the big leagues.