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Should they stay or should they go? Early look at UGA’s potential NFL early entries (Part I, Offense)

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Georgia Bulldogs have one game remaining on their schedule. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start getting a feel for what the 2019 Bulldogs may look like. One important part of that process is figuring out which of the draft-eligible ‘Dawgs may take this opportunity to turn pro. This week we’ll take a look at that, starting today with the offense.

Elijah Holyfield

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

Running backs only have so much tread on the tires. Leaving as a junior, one who’s so far been very healthy, would put Holyfield one year closer to his second NFL contract, the one which is most lucrative for a tailback.

Holyfield is physically ready for the NFL (and probably to go into battle alongside the other Marvel superheroes, but I digress). While D’Andre Swift has more yards Holyfield has looked the part of an every down NFL tailback, excelling in pass protection and running with power. He’s potentially the most punishing back in the most punishing conference in college football.

The UGA backfield isn’t getting less crowded. With D’Andre Swift returning, James Cook emerging, Zamir White returning from injury, and Georgia looking to bring in two backs as part of the class of 2019, carries will be at a premium next season.

Why he might not

A fairly loaded running back class. Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Alabama’s Damian Harris, Washington’s Myles Gaskins, and Stanford’s Bryce Love are just some of the tailbacks coming out in this class. Add in possible entrants like Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, and the competition to be a first day pick at the position looks pretty stiff.

The luxury to finish the drill. . Holyfield was one recruit who bought into what Kirby Smart preached from day one at Georgia. Holyfield’s probably not angling to support his famous dad with an NFL paycheck. He may have the luxury of coming back if he wants to rather than leaving because he needs to.

The UGA backfield isn’t getting any less crowded. No, this isn’t a typo. The loaded Bulldog backfield may lead Holyfield to move on. But it’s just as likely or more so to convince him he can spend another year in Athens without getting banged up by a 250 carry season.

Chances he leaves: 50%. I think this is a true tossup and wouldn’t be surprised either way. It will likely depend in part on his draft grade.

Brian Herrien

NCAA Football: Florida at Georgia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

Most of the same reasons that apply to Holyfield apply to Herrien. The difference is that Holyfield has gotten a good chance to spotlight his talents during his 147 carry, 956 yard junior season. Herrien’s fallen by the wayside a bit, getting only 46 carries this year for 256 yards. His situation reminds me a little of Danny Ware, who candidly declared for the draft because he knew he wasn’t going to get any more carries in 2007 than he had in 2006. Ware actually turned what seemed like a mistake at the time into a decent pro career, including two Super Bowl rings.

Why he might not

Herrien likely needs to show he can be more productive to avoid going undrafted. Leaving this year would be a big mistake, one I doubt he’ll make.

Chances he leaves: 20%. I just don’t see Herrien getting the kind of draft grade at this point he’d need to justify leaving.

Riley Ridley

NCAA Football: Auburn at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

The junior has had a banner season, catching 38 passes for 498 yards and leading the team with 9 touchdown receptions. He really doesn’t have a lot left to prove at the college level.

Family tradition. Ridley’s brother Calvin left Alabama after his junior season and became a first round draft pick by the Falcons. That family experience means Ridley knows what to expect and has seen the draft process.

Why he might not

The chance for a true breakout season. Georgia returns a ton on offense in 2019, including both Jake Fromm and Justin Fields. However with Terry Godwin graduating and Mecole Hardman (more on him below) possibly gone, Ridley could become the top receiver in the Bulldog offense.

Chances he leaves: 80%. I’d be pretty surprised if Ridley’s back in Athens next season. He’s physically ready to turn pro and with a good combine and pro day could work himself up to a 2nd or 3rd round draft grade.

Mecole Hardman

NCAA Football: Georgia at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

It will be tough to top 2018. Hardman led the Bulldogs in receiving with 34 receptions for 540 yards. Hardman also averaged 15.9 yards per reception, establishing himself as the kind of legitimate big play receiver NFL offensive coordinators love.

Versatility. Hardman can run the ball (except when Jim Chaney’s giving it to him on jet sweeps from the 5 yard line). He can also return kicks. NFL personnel types love that type of Swiss army player.

A so-so receiving class. Ole Miss’s A.J.Brown may be the only receiver selected in the top 15 picks. After that there’s a solid drop off at the position to guys like Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards of South Carolina and Miami’s Ahmman Richards.

Why he might not

Not ready for prime time. Hardman’s season wasn’t perfect. He still struggles at times against physical coverage (at 5’11, 183 he doesn’t have ideal NFL size). And while he had some electric kick returns, he also had some muffs and drops at critical times.

Chances he leaves: 45%. If you pressed me I think Hardman gets a 4th round grade and stays. But I’m just shy of a coin flip on this one and wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare. If he and Ridley both leave the ‘Dawgs could be out 3 of their top 4 receivers from 2018. Not ideal.

Demetris Robertson

NCAA Football: Austin Peay at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

Not breaking through. After coming to Athens with much fanfare, and delivering an electrifying highlight in his first game in Sanford Stadium Robertson was rarely heard from again. The former five star receiver actually hasn’t notched a reception this season. He has four rushing attempts for 109 yards, but 72 of them came on that one play in the opener against Austin Peay. If Robertson isn’t frustrated by that lack of production I’d be interested to know why.

Why he might not

Man can’t live on potential alone. The flipside to that is that Robertson has nothing to show scouts except his impressive freshman highlights from Cal. Like Herrien I expect scouts would be very leery of a guy who appears to be taking his ball and turning pro when he couldn’t beat out the competition on campus.

Chances he leaves: 25%. Robertson has publicly shown an admirable attitude about earning more playing time. I think he’s far more likely to enjoy a breakout season in Athens in 2019 than to be toiling away to make a pro roster.

Tyler Simmons

Massachusetts v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Why he might leave

The depth chart. Simmons found himself seventh on the team in receptions this season, behind even tight end Isaac Nauta and tailback D’Andre Swift. If blue chip recruits Dominick Blaylock and Makiya Tongue make good on their pledges and Jadon Haselwood is reeled back in, they’ll provide additional competition.

Why he might not

Despite what the officials may tell you, Tyler Simmons never takes off early. Just kidding.

The chance to grow into his potential. Simmons looks like a player on the cusp of doing big things. After only logging two catches in Georgia’s first eight games, Simmons caught at least one pass in every one of the last five, and scored the first receiving touchdowns of his career against Auburn and UMass.

Chances he leaves: 15%. I just don’t see it. But I am pretty excited to see what Simmons can do with more opportunities in 2019.

Isaac Nauta

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

An NFL-worthy junior season. After being MIA for most of the past four years, Bulldog tight ends returned to the scene in 2018 led by Nauta. His 29 catches for 429 yards were second only to Hardman and Ridley. Nauta flashed reliable hands and surprising speed downfield (as on the 55 yarder he caught from Jake Fromm in the SEC Championship Game). There’s not a senior tight end in the country who would clearly be taken ahead of him.

Why he might not

You only get one go ‘round. Nauta has a reputation for being a bit of a deep thinker and has a sort of subtle maturity to him. That may partially be a result of well-publicized tough times as a kid. But I could see Nauta deciding to come back to try to win it all.

Chances he leaves: 60%. If there’s a guy on this list who’d likely go high in the draft it’s Nauta. The opportunity is there if he wants it, it’s just a question of whether he does. I imagine Jake Fromm has already started lobbying him hard to come back.

Charlie Woerner

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

I have to be honest, I don’t have much here. Woerner’s 9 catches for 121 yards showed some flashes, but not an NFL resume

Why he might not

Especially if Nauta does turn pro, Woerner is in line for a much larger role in the UGA offense.

Chances he leaves: 3%. I mean there’s always a chance, but I’d be utterly flabbergasted.

Ben Cleveland

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Why he might leave

As a redshirt sophomore “Big Country” would be among the biggest players on any NFL roster now.

Why he might not

An injury-plagued 2018 would lead to a lot of explaining to scouts. Cleveland doesn’t really have a solid body of work just yet.

Chances he leaves: 15%. I expect we’ll get to see the big man from Stephens County clearing a path for Bulldog tailbacks for at least one more season.

I’ll be back later this week with a look at potential defensive defections. Until then . . .

Go ‘Dawgs!!!

One final note. There are a handful of guys buried on the roster who are technically draft-eligible but have played very sparingly or dealt with significant medical issues that make them more likely to transfer or take a medical hardship than to up and decide to turn pro.