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Monday, April 29, 2013
UGA could have another big draft in 2014

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- Fourteen former Georgia players punched their ticket into professional football over the last few days, as eight Bulldogs were picked in the NFL draft and six more signed as free agents.

Aaron Murray
Aaron Murray's production and style of play could make him a high draft pick.
The eight selections -- linebacker Jarvis Jones (Pittsburgh), linebacker Alec Ogletree (St. Louis), defensive lineman John Jenkins (New Orleans), safety Shawn Williams (Cincinnati), receiver Tavarres King (Denver), cornerback Sanders Commings (Kansas City), defensive end Cornelius Washington (Chicago) and safety Bacarri Rambo (Washington) -- tied the program record for the most in one year.

Add in the free agent deals for receiver Marlon Brown (Houston), nose guard Kwame Geathers (San Diego), linebacker Michael Gilliard (St. Louis), defensive end Abry Jones (Jacksonville), linebacker Christian Robinson (St. Louis) and cornerback Branden Smith (Tampa Bay), and Georgia will be among the best-represented college programs in the NFL rookie camps that will take place over the next couple of weeks.

The numerous NFL departures naturally lead us to begin looking toward next year and how it might shape up for Bulldogs in the draft. Although this will be a smaller group of rising seniors than the ones who are now beginning their professional careers, the number of UGA draft picks in 2014 still could rank among the top college programs.

Among Georgia seniors who are most likely to be picked:

1. Quarterback Aaron Murray: Murray might have been a valuable prospect in the 2013 draft, because of this year’s underwhelming quarterback draft class. He still figures to rank among the top players at his position in the 2014 class, though, particularly if he posts another season with 3,000-plus passing yards and etches his name atop the SEC passing record book, as expected. He’ll have to contend with quarterbacks like Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd for top billing, but a big senior season would keep him in the conversation among the best players at the position.

2. Offensive guard Chris Burnette: Scouts will scrutinize Burnette’s lengthy injury history, but the 2012 All-SEC offensive lineman could rank among the top guards in next year’s draft if he manages to stay healthy throughout the fall. That has been a tall order throughout his career, even once he became a starter in 2011. Burnette missed two games last season with a shoulder injury, two games in 2011 with a knee injury and sat out the entire 2010 season with injuries.

3. Offensive lineman Kenarious Gates: Gates could play guard or tackle this fall. He has started double-digit games at both positions in college, and that versatility could help him in the estimation of pro scouts whose teams have only a 53-man roster to stock with talent. Gates could be a serviceable player at either position in the pros, but we’d expect an NFL team to draft him as a guard who could play tackle in a pinch.

4. Tight end Arthur Lynch: Considering how big, athletic tight ends suddenly have become a hot commodity in recent years, Lynch could find himself a man of interest for NFL clubs next April. With 24 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns last fall, Lynch enjoyed a solid first season as a starter. He needs to flash more consistent receiving ability and cut back on the penalties to reinforce his value as a potential draft pick, but with his prototypical tight end size and skills as a blocker, Lynch should have a high value.

5. Defensive end Garrison Smith: Like Lynch, Smith built a solid foundation on which to build last fall in his first season as a starter. He led Georgia’s defensive linemen with 57 tackles and will be one of the Bulldogs’ veteran leaders this fall. He needs to improve his pass-rushing skills -- he has only one career sack -- for NFL teams to view him as a prospect who belongs in the early or middle rounds, but another productive season as a starter would give Smith the opportunity to be drafted.

Other seniors to watch in 2013: OG Dallas Lee, WR Rantavious Wooten, OG Austin Long, OLB Chase Vasser, OLB T.J. Stripling

Here are two underclassmen that could appear on NFL teams’ draft boards if they opt for early entry:

1. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell: Finally focusing on one position could help Mitchell become the breakout star he’s capable of becoming. He was second on the team with 572 receiving yards on 40 catches last season, despite spending most of the first four games at cornerback. Mitchell has the explosive playmaking ability that could make him Georgia’s first player picked next spring if he leaves after his junior season, but his lengthy injury history could be a concern for NFL clubs.

2. Cornerback Damian Swann: Swann also flashed dynamic playmaking skills last season, leading the team with four interceptions and also forcing two fumbles and recovering two more. All of that was in his first season as a starter. He gave up the game-winning touchdown pass in the SEC championship game against Alabama, so he was certainly not perfect. But the leader of the Bulldogs’ young secondary could put himself on NFL radars if he makes further progress this fall as a junior.

Among the other underclassmen who would be eligible to enter the 2014 draft: ILB Amarlo Herrera, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, OT Mark Beard, C David Andrews, TE Jay Rome, DE Ray Drew, ILB Ramik Wilson, WR Jonathon Rumph, OT Xzavier Ward, DL Chris Mayes, DE Sterling Bailey, WR Justin Scott-Wesley, QB Hutson Mason, DL Michael Thornton, S Corey Moore, OL Watts Dantzler