Some Georgia underclassmen are starting to weigh their NFL draft potential

semerson@macon.comNovember 15, 2011 

ATHENS -- By association, Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo has been through this before.

Last year, his roommate and close friend A.J. Green was dealing with whether to leave for the NFL early. Green eventually did.

“It looks like he made the right decision,” Rambo said of Green, now starring at receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. “(When) I used to be around when he went through that process, I kind of picked up on some things that I probably need to work on and probably worry about when that time comes.”

If any Georgia underclassmen elect to leave this year, then Saturday’s game against Kentucky will not only be for a spot in the SEC championship game, it will also be their final home game.

But unlike last year, none of the juniors or eligible sophomores have the kind of no-brainer decision that Green had last year.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones leads the SEC with 10 sacks, and, according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., he’s the 24th overall draft-eligible prospect in the nation. But Jones is also a third-year sophomore with an injury history.

Jones vowed last month that he was coming back. But other draft-eligible Bulldogs, such as Rambo, cornerback Branden Smith and tight end Orson Charles, have given less Shermanesque statements.

“Right now, I’m not even thinking about the NFL draft,” Smith said. “Right now, I’m trying to think about playing Kentucky and playing my heart out.”

“I’m not even thinking about it,” said Rambo, who leads the SEC with seven interceptions. “I’m just playing UGA football right now and trying to get to the SEC championship and win that and get to a BCS game. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. I’m still focused on college football.”

Charles has given a similar response on several occasions. But, according to analysts, he might have the most interesting decision.

Longtime NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier said there’s “a lot of buzz” about Charles, who could get a second-round projection.

“You look at the NFL now, they’ve got so many of these flex tight end roles now. And he fits that mold,” Detillier said. “They’ve got so many tight ends that look exactly like him right now. Is he a great blocker? No, he’s not a great blocker. But he brings that size and ability to make the catch that really jumps out at you.”

Charles has been compared to Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe by Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Charles leads the Bulldogs with 32 receptions this year and is second on the team in receiving yards (395) and touchdown catches (five).

“There aren’t a lot of great senior tight end prospects,” Detillier said. “He could be a guy that could have a very difficult decision come January.”

Rambo is also starting to gain some buzz, according to Detillier. The junior has good NFL size -- 6 feet, 218 pounds -- and after racking up the tackles last year has added ball-hawking skills to his résumé.

“The strong safety spot, the key is how well he’ll match up coverage wise,” Detillier said. “He has real good run support, he does really well in one-on-one tackling. But he’s gotta show his one-on-one coverage skills. That can make you a lot of money in the NFL these days.”

Smith’s speed and athleticism also might be interesting to teams. Georgia uses him on punt returns and occasionally on offense, and his coverage skills have helped the Bulldogs turn around the secondary. But Smith has also shared playing time with Sanders Commings at cornerback.

There was some thought before the season that nose tackles John Jenkins (a junior college transfer) and Kwame Geathers (a third-year sophomore) could play themselves into draft prospects. But while each still has good size and has played well, they’ve also split time.

Long-term, Jones could end up being the most intriguing prospect. A neck injury at Southern California, where he played as a true freshman, nearly ended his career. NFL teams probably would like to see one more complete year out of Jones before they feel comfortable taking him.

“You’ve gotta be smart about this and make sure from the health standpoint he’s ready to go. But the position is in demand,” Detillier said. “I’m sure every year they have someone that convinces themselves they’re a No. 1 pick. But you’ve got to be careful of that.”

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