Jarvis Jones was 15 years old the last time a Georgia defensive player was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
That drought is likely to end tonight whenever the two-time All-American linebacker — or perhaps another linebacker in Alec Ogletree — gets selected among the top 32 picks in the three-day draft.
Georgia had seven defensive players drafted in the first round between 1999 and 2005, starting with cornerback Champ Bailey. The program has been shut out in the first round since safety Thomas Davis and defensive end David Pollack were the 14th and 17th overall picks eight years ago.
No Georgia defensive player has gone before the third round since Indianapolis selected cornerback Tim Jennings in 2006 in round two with the 62nd overall pick.
“That’s very hard to believe,” said Jennings, a Pro Bowler last season with Chicago, “because throughout my whole experience, we always had guys in the first and second round. For me to be the last one to come through there, it feels good that we have a chance to have three top guys now. We’ve put a lot of guys in the league, man.”
Nose guard John Jenkins is a possible late first-round draft pick, but most projections have him going later.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Jenkins said. “You look at different (mock drafts), you have some guy going this way or some guy going this way. … I just want my name to be called.”
The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Jones is the top candidate from Georgia to go first.
“I’m pretty sure somebody’s going to snatch him up in the first round and be thrilled,” coach Mark Richt said. “And could be thrilled to get him where they got him.”
Possible destinations for the outside linebacker include the New York Jets (who have the ninth and 13th picks), New Orleans (15th pick) and Pittsburgh (17th pick), where he would fit in as an edge rusher in the 3-4.
“My main focus that I put out is … what kind of player I am,” Jones said. “I’m a leader in the locker room, on and off the field, great character. I’m a playmaker. I make plays. I love this game. I’m passionate about it. I’m dedicated to it. I’m going to enjoy it.”
His production in college was apparent with 28 sacks the last two seasons, but his 4.92 40-yard dash at Georgia’s pro day seemed to negatively affect his stock.
“He was a great college player, as productive as any player’s been in the SEC at that position for a while,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “The workout, it didn’t shock me, it surprised me.”
Jones posted a similar 40 time to Terrell Suggs when Suggs came out of Arizona State, but has flourished in the NFL, Kiper said.
“It’s going to take a bold team that doesn’t care about perception and justifying that because of a 40,” he said. “If he gets past 15 and 17, then you get past a point in the draft where you start falling.”
Teams also checked on Jones’ medical condition after he wasn’t cleared to play at Southern California following a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine, during his freshman season. He transferred to Georgia, where he played two seasons after sitting out a year.
Ogeltree, who led Georgia in tackles playing inside linebacker, has been dogged by off-the-field questions, the latest a DUI prior to the NFL combine. But the former safety is viewed as a player with the skill set for today’s NFL defenses.
“I can cover, fit in the run,” Ogletree said. “I’m very confident in my ability to play. … I definitely want to be a first-round pick.”
Although defensive players haven’t gone recently in the first round, it’s not like Georgia hasn’t been heard from early in the draft. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno went in 2009 and receiver A.J. Green in 2011.
“Even when I was here we didn’t have that,” defensive lineman Richard Seymour, a first-round pick of New England in 2001, said of offensive players going early in the first round. “Times change and we’re back on the map.”