With the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft in the air here at Dawg Sports, I got to thinking about who should be considered the best former Bulldog who a.) played under Mark Richt at Georgia and b.) currently plays in the League. This is a subjective question (it's tough to statistically compare a kicker to a defensive lineman) but I figured I'd throw some candidates out there and we could discuss in the comments below.
My candidates are (in alphabetical order):
Geno Atkins, DT: Cincinnati Bengals, 2010-present
A fourth-round pick of the Bengals in 2010, Atkins has quickly become one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers. In 2011, his first season as a starter and second in Cincinnati, Atkins led the team with 7.5 sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Atkins accounted for 53 tackles, forced four fumbles and set a Bengals franchise record with 12.5 sacks in 2012. This monstrous season earned him a starting spot on yet another Pro Bowl roster.
A.J. Green, WR: Cincinnati Bengals: 2011-present
The Bengals drafted Green to be a star (fourth overall pick) and he has so far met and exceeded expectations. In 15 games in 2011, Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven TDs, topping former Florida standout Cris Collinsworth for most receiving yards by a Bengal rookie and was named to the Pro Bowl. In 2012, Green continued his rise to superstardom apace with 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns, being named a starter on the 2013 Pro Bowl roster.
Justin Houston, LB: Kansas City Chiefs, 2011-present
Houston hit the ground running in KC, accounting for 5.5 sacks and 56 tackles his rookie season. These numbers were good enough to net Houston the Chiefs' Mack Lee Hill Award, given each season to the team's most outstanding rookie. Building on his first-year success, Houston was in on 66 tackles with 10 sacks and an interception in 2012. These numbers sent Houston to his first Pro Bowl.
Tim Jennings, CB: Indianapolis Colts, 2006-2009; Chicago Bears, 2010-present
It's hard to believe that Tim Jennings was once a lowly two-star recruit from Orangeburg, SC. Jennings notched four interceptions in 53 games and won a Super Bowl ring during his time in Indianapolis. He signed with Chicago as a free agent and, despite a rocky start to his tenure with the Bears, was selected to his first Pro Bowl after a stellar 2012 season in which he snagged a career-high nine interceptions and 15 pass breakups. His three games with more than one pick this past season is a Chicago Bears team record.
Matthew Stafford, QB: Detroit Lions, 2009-present
Stafford started the first game of his rookie season for the Lions and finished the 2009 campaign with 2,267 yards and 13 touchdowns with an embarrassing 20 interceptions. He was haunted by shoulder issues for most of 2010, but returned to form in 2011, leading Detroit to its first playoff appearance since 1999. Stafford's phenomenal 2011 season earned him a spot on the Pro Bowl roster as well as honors like Comeback Player of the Year and NFL Alumni Quarterback of the Year. Stafford finished 2012 with 20 TD passes, a tremendous step back from the 41 he threw the year before, 17 picks and 4,967 passing yards on an NFL-record 727 attempts with 126 yards and four TDs on the ground. Stafford holds numerous NFL and Lions franchise records.
Blair Walsh, PK: Minnesota Vikings, 2012-present
Walsh left Georgia as the SEC's all-time leading scorer and, assuming he continues to build on his phenomenal rookie season in Minnesota, might just leave as the Vikings' all-time leading scorer, too. Through the first 11 games of 2012, Walsh missed only one field goal and was 6-for-6 on attempts over 50 yards. He also never missed an extra point. Walsh also passed Randy Moss as the Vikings' all-time rookie scorer (119 points). That was but one of the franchise records Walsh shattered in his first season as a Viking. These accomplishments catapulted Walsh to the Pro Bowl his first year in the League.
What do you think? Am I overlooking anyone? Giving too much credence to another? Please vote and discuss in the comments below.