ATHENS, Ga. — The NFL Draft evaluation process is starting to peak with the all-star games completed and the NFL Combine and respective Pro Day workouts fast approaching.
A record 135 underclassmen declared themselves eligible for the draft, including four from Georgia: WR Riley Ridley, WR Mecole Hardman, TE Isaac Nauta and RB Elijah Holyfield.
Georgia All-American cornerback and Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker, a departing senior, has been the highest-rated of the Bulldogs players to date.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Baker has been rated as high as No. 10 by Mel Kiper Jr., and as low as No. 30 by NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
Ridley, however, could slip past Baker into the first round if Jeremiah’s projection of Ridley at No. 32 is correct.
Ridley, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, could be viewed as having more upside depending on what he does at the NFL Combine.
Baker sat out Georgia’s Sugar Bowl game with Texas and also passed on the opportunity to compete at the Senior Bowl last Saturday.
ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic said Baker’s decision to skip the Senior Bowl to begin working out for the NFL Combine could prove in his best interest.
“If Baker isn’t a combine guy and he’s not going to wow you in the 40 (-yard dash) or vertical, it may behoove him to have started training for those things,” Cubelic said. “The tape will show his coverage skills, so it could be in his best interest to shave a half second off his 40 or a second off his 3-cone drill time.
“Also we may not know everything going on with him from a health perspective — a lot of guys are beat up by the end of the year, so there could be a lot going on behind the scenes.”
Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson had a strong performance in the Senior Bowl and wasn’t shy talking about it.
“I feel like I’m the best corner in the draft. That’s what it is. I can tackle, I can cover, and some guys at my position don’t even want to tackle,” Johnson said. “I stood out. I’m 6-3, I’m 210 pounds, and I’m going to run 4.4 at the combine, so y’all can take it from there.”
It’s hard to imagine Johnson passing Baker or the projected No. 1 cornerback, LSU’s Greedy Williams.
But Ridley could be a different story if he stands out at the NFL Combine.
Here’s a look at where Georgia players in some early-round NFL Mock Drafts:
CB Deandre Baker
First round, No. 10 (Denver) Mel Kiper Mock Draft 1.0
Player ranking No. 10, NJ.com
Player ranking No. 15 Todd McShay Top 32 rankings
Player ranking No. 16, ESPN Player Rankings
First round, No. 16 (Carolina), WalterFootball.com
First round, No. 16 (Carolina), DraftSite.com
First round, No. 17 (Cleveland), NBCsports.com
First round, No. 17 (Cleveland), NJ.com Mock Draft 2.0
First round No. 19 (Tennessee), Bleacher Report
First round, No. 20 (Pittsburgh), USA Today
First round, No. 20 (Pittsburgh), CBSsports.com
First round, No. 29 (Kansas City) Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
First round, No. 29 (Kansas City) San Diego Union Tribune
Player ranking No. 30, Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
OLB D’Andre Walker
Player ranking No. 33, ESPN Player Rankings
Second round No. 48, (Miami), NBCsports.com
Second round, No. 52 (Pittsburgh), WalterFootball.com
Second round, No. 61 (Kansas City), San Diego Union Tribune
Third round, No. 74 (Buffalo), DraftSite.com
WR Riley Ridley
Player ranking No. 32, Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
Second round, No. 62 (New Orleans), WalterFootball.com
Third round, No. 76 (Washington), USA Today
Third round, No. 93 (N.Y. Jets), DraftSite.com
Player ranking No. 125, ESPN Player Rankings
WR Terry Godwin
Player ranking No. 99, ESPN Player Rankings
Fourth round, No. 104 (Detroit), WalterFootball.com
Sixth round, No. 180 (Green Bay), DraftSite.com
WR Mecole Hardman
Fifth round, No. 124 (Tampa Bay), DraftSite.com
Player ranking No. 135, ESPN Player Rankings
DL Jonathan Ledbetter
Player ranking No. 138, ESPN Player Rankings
Sixth round, No. 167 (Buffalo), DraftSite.com
TE Isaac Nauta
Fourth round, No. 125 (N.Y. Giants), DraftSite.com
Player ranking No. 186, ESPN Player Rankings
RB Elijah Holyfield
Player ranking No. 185, ESPN Player Rankings
OC Lamont Gaillard
Player ranking No. 225, ESPN Player Rankings
ILB Natrez Patrick
Player ranking No. 278, ESPN Player Rankings
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