ATHENS -- Mark Richt offered a knowing smile. There are lots of reasons hes glad his Georgia football team had a good season last year, but this is another one.
There are about to be more Georgia players picked in the NFL draft than ever before. So perish the thought if the Bulldogs hadnt won 12 games and been 5 yards from the national title game.
Everybody would be like, Yeah, what happened? Gee whiz, they had all these good players, and they couldnt win any games. Richt said.
Richt spoke Wednesday night, the eve of the NFL drafts first round, when at least one of his players is a near-lock to be picked: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Another, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, is also likely to go in the first 32 picks.
But the weekend will only be starting. Barring a huge surprise, at minimum seven more Bulldogs will be picked, and possibly more, during the three days of the draft. So this years draft class is on track to top the programs previous record of eight players picked in 2002.
Yes, the draft success is a recruiting tool for the Bulldogs. But having players drafted, and then sticking in the NFL, is nothing new.
Since 2001, the draft prior to Richts first year, Georgia has had 61 players drafted, more than any other SEC program and fourth among all programs. The first three are Southern California (71), Ohio State (70) and Miami (69), and behind Georgia are LSU (61), Florida (56) and Oklahoma (56).
Of those seven programs, Georgia is the only one that hasnt played in a BCS championship game during that period of time. That leads to criticism.
But if consistency and overall winning percentage matter, then Georgia has made good use of the NFL talent. The Bulldogs have two SEC titles under Richt, 10 finishes in the AP top 25, a winning percentage of .747 and eight seasons of 10 wins or more. Including the past two years.
As for not winning a national title, many believe that Georgia was 5 yards away from doing so this year.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who was critical of the Bulldogs a couple of years ago when the Georgia was struggling, thinks the Bulldogs made the right use of their talent last year.
Think about how close they were to beating Alabama. And then they go on and beat Notre Dame and win the national championship, McShay said. This team was extremely close.
Pro talent can be indicative of college performance, but not always, according to McShay. He pointed to the two teams that played in the 2011 BCS championship game; Auburn and Oregon were not as loaded with NFL talent. Auburn, the champion, was top-heavy with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.
Without those two, theres no chance, Auburns probably .500 at best, McShay said. If you go back and study it, from USC to Alabama to Florida, it seems like those teams have the most, or are among the three or the four teams in the country with the most NFL talent and the guys that get drafted in the next two years in the draft.
So what does having so many players drafted mean, Richt was asked. It means a great talent base available, not only in Georgia, but nearby. But its not just recruiting, the coach added.
I think we do a good job of developing our players, in the art of playing football but also in strength and conditioning, Richt said. I think if a guy comes out of Georgia, the NFL knows theyve got a good kid and a guy thats got a chance to do well in the league. I think its real helpful that weve had guys succeed once they got there.
Richt pointed to players like receiver Mohammed Massaqoui, who was a second-round pick in 2009, and linebacker Akeem Dent, who was a third-round pick two years ago.
Dent proved once he got there he could hang in there because he was developed pretty well, Richt said.
There were 35 former Georgia players on active rosters when the NFL season opened last year. That tied for the second most with LSU and Texas, and USC led the way with 42. Counting practice squad and injured reserve players, Georgia had 40 in the NFL, the most in the SEC.)
The number will grow this NFL season. Besides Jones and Ogletree, six other defensive players are almost certain to be drafted: linebacker Cornelius Washington, nose tackle John Jenkins, defensive back Sanders Commings, nose tackle Kwame Geathers and safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo. Receiver Tavarres King is also likely to be picked, and several other Bulldogs are candidates to be late-round picks.
We were very close to winning it all, Richt said. And those guys obviously had a lot to do with it.
Abry Jones, the former Georgia and Northside defensive end, is hoping to hear his name called Saturday, the final day of the NFL draft.
He was poised to move into mid-round consideration after his junior season, when he had four sacks and was a full-year starter on an outstanding defense. But an ankle injury midway through last year, which led to surgery, hurt his stock. It ended his Georgia career, prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl and was still affecting him through the NFL combine and workouts.
There is a chance an NFL team may take a flyer on him in one of the final two rounds. If not, Jones is likely to quickly sign a free-agent deal, and try to make a team that way.