Bulldog Bargains & Busts in the NFL Draft
With the start of the NFL Draft looming, I went into deep thought, pondering Georgia’s all-time draft “bargains,” or Bulldogs who went onto have great pro careers yet were drafted relatively low (if drafted at all), and “busts,” or players who were high picks but would underachieve considerably at the next level.
To be a bargain, I did not consider players selected in the top 100 of a draft; therefore, this barely eliminated such steals as Hines Ward (No. 92 in 1998), Phillip Daniels (No. 99 in 1996), and John Kasay (No. 98 in 1991). I also didn’t include former Bulldogs who were seemingly bargains, but essentially only because they were members of teams in other pro leagues, like the CFL or USFL, when drafted in the NFL, such as Jake Scott (No. 159 in 1970), Herschel Walker (No. 114 in 1985), and Mike “Moonpie” Wilson (No. 103 in 1977). To be regarded as a bust, one had to have been selected in the draft’s first round.
Counting down from No. 5, my opinion of the all-time top five Bulldog bargains in NFL Draft history:
#5 JASON FERGUSON (No. 229 in 1997): The 12th pick from the bottom of the ’97 draft, little was evidently expected from the two-year Georgia nose tackle. Nevertheless, Ferguson experienced maybe not an outstanding, but certainly a steady 12-year career, including nine seasons as a starter, with the Jets, Cowboys, and Dolphins.
#4 CHRIS CLEMONS (Not drafted in 2003): After starting only 15 games at Georgia in three years, Clemons surprisingly bolted early for the pros, whereupon he went undrafted. Still, he eventually latched on with the Redskins, followed by the Raiders, and then the Eagles as a valuable reserve defensive end/linebacker. In 2010, Clemons landed in Seattle where he tallied 11 or more sacks in three consecutive seasons. After a two-year stint with the Jaguars, he has returned to the Seahawks, whereby 2016 will be his 12th season in the league. Clemon’s 69 career sacks in the NFL are the most of any former Georgia player.
#3 LEN HAUSS (No. 115 in 1964): A starting center and a dependable defensive player for Georgia during the lowly Johnny Griffith era, Hauss was eventually chosen by Washington in ’64, and primarily only because the Redskins thought he could play linebacker for them. Instead, he immediately was slotted at center where, for 14 seasons until the late 1970s, he was a five-time Pro Bowler while earning All-Pro recognition in seven seasons.
#2 JIMMY ORR (No. 291 in 1957): That’s right, nearly 300 players were selected before the receiving great, Jimmy Orr. Nevertheless, all he accomplished was soon being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Steelers. And, becoming a Baltimore Colt in 1961, where he finished out his career in 1970, he was regarded as one of football's best pass receivers of the 1960s. Orr’s 400 career receptions were the most by a former Bulldog for nearly a quarter-century until Herschel Walker surpassed him in 1993. What’s more, Orr’s 19.8 yards-per-catch career average ranks eighth all time in NFL history.
#1 TERRELL DAVIS (No. 196 in 1995): The sixth-round pick made an immediate impact, rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. And then, from 1996 to 1998, Davis had arguably the best three-season stint by any NFL running back in history. The three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP was slowed by injuries for three seasons (1999-2001) until he decided to retire. Still, Davis, whose 97.5 rushing yards per game for a career is the third-highest in NFL history behind legends Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, is a borderline Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Honorable mention: Geno Atkins (No. 120 in 2010), Kevin Butler (No. 105 in 1985), Mack Strong (Not drafted in 1993), and Bobby Walston (No. 166 in 1951).
Now that I think about it, I hate to label any Bulldog a “bust”—seems a little harsh for a player we admired, and who starred between the hedges. Therefore, here’s my opinion of the all-time top five, let’s say, Bulldogs who unfortunately didn’t pan out relative to where they were selected in the NFL Draft:
#5 JOHNATHAN SULLIVAN (No. 6 in 2003): The early entrant following the 2002 campaign, who was credited by some as the reason why David Pollack tallied so many sacks that season, would total just one-and-a-half career sacks, and only 16 starts, in three seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
#4 LINDSAY SCOTT (No. 13 in 1982): Another Saint, and the then-leading receiver in Georgia history, Scott was never better than third on the team in receiving in his four years in New Orleans. He finished with only 69 career receptions, including just one for a touchdown.
#3 JOHN RAUCH (No. 2 in 1949): My opinion of the greatest Georgia quarterback of all time, Rauch's professional playing career wasn't nearly as successful—not even close. In his first professional start with the New York Yanks in 1951, he was ejected for throwing a punch, and would only start for two more games until he quit playing with an 0-3 career record as a starter. From under center to the sidelines in 1952, Rauch tried his hand at coaching whereby he eventually guided the Oakland Raiders as their head coach to Super Bowl II.
#2 HARRY BABCOCK (No. 1 in 1953): Babcock is to Georgia’s four No. 1 overall picks as Theron Sapp is to Georgia’s four retired jerseys—the one player in the quartet who doesn’t seem to belong. Even Babcock himself was surprised when San Francisco chose him first overall in 1953, declaring from Athens the day of the draft, “it sure floored me to be picked [so high].” In only 30 games in three seasons with the 49ers, he totaled just 16 career receptions and no touchdowns.
#1 BERNARD WILLIAMS (No. 14 in 1994): The 6-foot 9 and more than 300-pound Williams was a standout at Georgia first at defensive tackle, then offensive tackle, and all the while a kick-blocking extraordinaire. In his rookie season in Philadelphia, Williams started all 16 games for the Eagles at left tackle, and played well, before his football career went to pot, literally. After numerous failed drug tests, Williams was suspended and then banned by the league after just one season.
Close 6th: Royce Smith (No. 8 in 1972)
Can you think of any others—Bulldogs who became draft “bargains,” or those who unfortunately didn’t pan out relative to where they were selected?