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April 30, 2013

Should Kwame Have Come Back?

Early departures for '13: Jones, Ogletree, & Geathers
-- first rounder, first rounder, & no rounder.
Seems a rather ridiculous question considering the early departure wasn't even selected in the recent NFL Draft, huh?  Still, after receiving an email from a reader wondering if any other early-entrant Bulldogs besides Geathers went undrafted in the past, I suddenly felt compelled to reexamine the case for Kwame.
Updating a post of mine from a year ago when I questioned the early departure of Orson Charles, Georgia has now had 31 players declare early for the draft following the departures of Jones, Ogletree, and Geathers.  Kwame was just the third of these players not to be drafted.  The Bulldogs' early-departed-but-not-drafted percentage of less than 10 percent is rather remarkable considering of the roughly 1,200 early entrants from 1990 through 2013 in all of college football, approximately 36 percent were not taken in the draft (including 21 of 73 in 2013).
Although former Bulldogs who leave early are rarely left empty handed, the notion the UGA football program under Coach Richt is treated by most super-talented players as merely a stepping stone to the NFL continues.  In the 12 NFL Drafts from 1990 through 2001, there was an average of 42.3 early entrants compared to 55.8 in the last 12, or a 31.7 percent increase.  However, at Georgia, five players declared early from 1990 through 2001, compared to 24 from 2002 through 2013, or an increase of nearly FIVE times than before and an average of two early departees annually during the Coach Richt era.
Feeling kind of sorry for Geathers, who signed as a free agent with San Diego immediately following the draft, and especially for a Georgia defensive line (in which two of the three projected starters for 2013 have totaled only a combined three career tackles!), I soon noticed the claim at DawgBark.net that only 4% of players drafted in the 7th Round or signed as undrafted free agents make it in the NFL for more than 2 years.  Further thinking things didn't look too promising for Kwame, I then recalled that of Georgia's late-round picks to undrafted free agentsat least the ones who departed the program earlymost had actually "made" it, so to speak, in the NFL.

A decade ago, Georgia had a similar case to Geathers in linebacker Chris Clemons.  After a respectable junior season of 2002, Clemons was expected to be the lone returning starting linebacker for the Bulldogs in '03.  Instead, he unexpectedly turned pro early.  Although a fourth or fifth-round projected pick by many so-called experts, like Geathers, Clemons wound up not being drafted in the end.  However, he was signed by Washington as a free agent and recently completed his eighth year in the NFL.  What's more, Clemons has been a starting defensive end for the Seahawks the last three seasons and was recently featured online in Seattle as part of a trade from three years ago "that looks more and more like a steal."  Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

A decade ago, Chris Clemons left the Dawgs early and
went undrafted, but he has had a fine NFL career.
Besides Clemons and Geathers, the other Georgia undrafted early entrant was D.J. "don't call me Danny" Ware, who actually had little choice but to leave early following the 2006 season with the return of Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin and emergence of Knowshon Moreno.  For Ware, it was either declare early for the '07 Draft or likely be the Bulldogs' fourth-string tailback as a senior.  In six seasons in the NFL, Ware has been a dependable back, started a couple of games while being on the cusp of becoming a full-time starter, and been part of two Super Bowl-winning teams.

Including these two undrafted free agents, and excluding Orson Charles since he has only one pro season under his belt, I examined the NFL careers of every previous early entrant from Georgia.  I discovered that of the six Bulldogs drafted in the fourth round and lower or not at all, FOUR—Clemons, Reshad Jones, Randy McMichael, and, ironically, Kwame's older brother Robert Geathers—all started for 2-plus seasons in the NFL in at least half of their teams' games.  For the two Bulldogs that weren't starters for 2+ seasons, Ware, as mentioned, has had a serviceable pro career while Terreal Bierria likely would have so if not for getting in a little trouble with the law.

On further examination, 9 of the 14 early-entrant Bulldogs drafted in the third round and lower or not drafted at all became starters in the NFL for at least two seasons.  In comparison and for what it's worth, nearly the same proportion (9 of 13) of the early-entrant Georgia players drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds became starters in the NFL for at least two seasons.

Ten years ago, Georgia's Chris Clemons surprised much of the Bulldog Nation, including his head coach, by declaring early for the NFL Draft.  "I'm somewhat disappointed and I'm not sure it was the wisest decision in this case," Coach Richt said at the time, "but time will tell."  Clemons went undrafted but, in time, was one of the best defenders on arguably the NFL's best defense a year ago.

I wish Kwame Geathers had stayed with the Bulldogs for his final season and it was probably an unwise decision for him to come out early.  However, based on his 6-6, 350-pound frame, incredible NFL bloodlines, and the fact that early departees from Georgia seem to buck the early-entrant trends of other college programs, don't be surprised if Geathers "makes it" in the NFL and does just fine.


Dr. Merkwurdigliebe said...

Of course he should have come back for his senior season. Kwame shared too many downs with Jenkins to showcase NFL caliber talent. Had he returned he would have racked up twice as many reps and been able to do more to impress NFL scouts with his on field accomplishments.

Memo To Juniors:

The NFL ain't the NBA. If you aren't starting on a big time college team, you're not going to go high in the NFL draft!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Garbin. He might last in the NFL the same amount of time either way, but coming out early could end up being a big financial mistake. If he would have stayed he definitely would have raised his draft stock, probably gotten drafted, and definitely sign for more money, probably a lot more.