ATHENS — What happened with some Georgia players in this past weekend’s NFL Draft should serve as a cautionary tale for all those who hope to one day be exposed to that process.
It’s important to know the NFL, more than anything else, looks to devalue prospects when it comes to its annual draft. At every turn, they’re looking for a reason decrease your stock. They want to pay as little for your services as they possibly can. That doesn’t make them bad; that just shows them to be prudent businessmen.
That’s why prospects are measured and tested in every conceivable way. That’s also why those players subjected to background checks. NFL teams want to know everything they can possibly know about an individual and takes it all into account before deciding whether or not to invest millions into him. They weigh all that data against one’s relative worth to the team as a football player.
I couldn’t help but notice that there was a common denominator among many of the Bulldogs that went undrafted. Most had brushes with the law.
None of them did anything serious, mind you. In fact, all of the arrests involved pot and/or alcohol. And while sensibilities vary widely on that subject, it does remain against the law in Georgia and, perhaps more importantly, in the eyes of the NCAA.
Elijah Holyfield, Jonathan Ledbetter, Natrez Patrick and Jayson Stanley all had to deal with marijuana and/or impaired driving charges while at Georgia. All of them ended up as undrafted free agents. Maybe it’s a coincidence. That might’ve been the case anyway. There’s simply no way to know for sure.
Meanwhile, Bulldogs wide receiver Riley Ridley was drafted and he also had an arrest on his record. Ridley in the fourth round with the 126th pick overall to the Chicago Bears. Not bad, for sure. But I’d suggest that he might’ve been selected earlier without that blemish on his resume. I’d also argue Ridley could have improved his status with another season as Georgia’s featured receiver. Nevertheless, I expect he’ll do fine as a pro (interesting sidenote here will be the battle between Ridley and former Bulldog wideout Javon Wims to earn a spot in the Bears’ rotation).
Of course, it’s all relative to whatever else these guys are able to show the scouts. In the case of Holyfield, a running back simply has to show he can run faster than 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which Holyfield couldn’t. I have to admit, I thought he was faster. I nicknamed Holyfield “Pylon Destroyer” while he was at Georgia because of his ability to get to the corner and pretty much beat all takers with his dives for the front-corner pylon at the goal line. And I know at least once he did that from 40 yards out (see 39-yard TD run vs. Florida in 2017). But that may fall in the ol’ category of “football speed” versus timed speed.
Ledbetter and Patrick simply didn’t have the measurables for their respective positions commensurate for drafting them ahead of others that did. Both were hard workers and productive in college but didn’t do well on the NFL’s physical tests. Ledbetter (6-3, 277) is small for a defensive end and his 5.1 time and 26-inch vertical were low for that position. Patrick is plenty big (6-3, 242) did only 15 reps of 225 pounds at Georgia’s pro day and also recorded sub-standard 40 times for inside linebackers.
Stanley has always been extremely fast, and that’s what earned him a free-agent look from the Atlanta Falcons. Interestingly, the Falcons aren’t going to try him out at receiver, where he had only three catches during his collegiate career. They’re going to try to make a cornerback out of him.
Again, there were plenty of NFL draftees that had been arrested for something during college — or before — and still heard their name called during the draft. But I’d suggest that it still affected their stock.
Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons is the first that pops to mind. He was arrested for the awful offense of punching a woman in a fight when he was still a recruit. Yet, Simmons was drafted with the 19th pick by the Tennessee Titans. Without that significant blemish, though, his talent surely would have seen him be one of the first to go off the board this past Thursday.
Likewise, LSU’s Devin White went with the fifth pick despite a couple of arrests. His offenses also came before he’d signed with the Tigers, and one of the charges was complicated beyond my comfort with even discussing it here and ultimately was expunged from his record, anyway.
As for violent offenses that occurred in college, you can forget it these days. Preston Williams, a Colorado State wide receiver who had 96 catches for 1,345 yards, not only went undrafted this past weekend, he didn’t even get invited to the NFL combine because of his guilty plea to a charge that he assaulted his girlfriend in 2017. ESPN’s Todd McShay said Williams was a “second- to third-round talent” at least. Williams accepted a free agent offer from the Miami Dolphins.
Again, none of this means these guys won’t have an opportunity to fulfill their NFL dreams. All these former Bulldogs signed free-agent deals, too, and I wouldn’t bet against one of them.
I saw somewhere on social media Monday where Holyfield vowed to do 254 “glute-ham” situps for every player that was drafted ahead of him this past weekend. I have no doubt that Holyfield and all these Dawgs will be supremely motivated to prove their doubters wrong. But there are few things in this world that are more difficult than forging an NFL career via that route, and the potential lost income in the meantime is considerable.
So if there was ever a deterrent for getting in trouble while in college, there’s not one better than the potential impact it could have on earning one’s best possible shot as a professional athlete. Regardless of sensibilities, if it’s against the law, just don’t do it.
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