Johnathan Sullivan, a defensive tackle who left Georgia after his junior season, is expected to follow former teammates Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud and Charles Grant as the school's latest defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round.
Seymour and Stroud were high first-round picks in 2001 and Grant was a late first-round pick last year.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said this week Sullivan was "a much more consistent and productive performer'' than Seymour and Stroud. Kiper also rates Sullivan ahead of linebacker Boss Bailey, Georgia's other near-lock to be a first-round pick Saturday. "I like the kid,'' said Kiper of Sullivan. "He's a good football player. He's not a workout warrior, but he plays like a top-10 guy.''
Kiper projects Sullivan to be picked as high as No. 11 in the first round. Most projections have Bailey, rated as the top linebacker in the draft, and Sullivan slotted close together somewhere between the 10th to 20th picks in the draft.
Sullivan calls those projections "real comforting" but he said Thursday he can't relax. "It still irritates me a little bit to know that I could still go in the second round or even the third round,'' Sullivan said. "Things could happen.''
Last year there were four defensive tackles drafted in the first round. There probably will be at least five defensive tackles picked in the first round Saturday, but Sullivan worries that teams could begin to make runs at other positions, thereby pushing some defensive tackles lower in the draft.
Most draft experts list Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy, Kentucky's Dewayne Robertson, Miami's William Joseph and Oklahoma State's Kevin Williams with Sullivan as the top defensive tackles. Ty Warren of Texas A&M and Outland Trophy winner Rien Long of Washington State could move up on some draft boards.
That gives Sullivan reason for concern as he plays the pre-draft numbers game in his head. Sullivan plans to watch the draft with his family at his home in Griffin Saturday.
After working out for scouts and coaches at the NFL combine in Indianapolis and Georgia's pro day in Athens, Sullivan has been flown to personal interviews with team officials for New England, Buffalo, Houston, the New York Jets and New York Giants.
"They want to know how have I been working out and would I mind moving that far from home, just things like that,'' Sullivan said, adding his answer was "It won't matter to me'' where he plays.
After Sullivan and Bailey, offensive tackle George Foster could be the next Georgia player drafted - perhaps joining the two in the first round or following in the second round. Offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb and tailback Musa Smith could give Georgia five players in the first two rounds.
Sullivan announced his plans to enter the draft soon after Georgia's Sugar Bowl victory over Florida State. The announcement was no surprise, due to Sullivan's high status with the scouts.
When he sought advice before making his final decision to enter the draft, Sullivan was told he should be taken by the middle of the first round. Those projections have not changed, though he says he also was told he could have gone higher in the first round if he returned for his senior year.
Sullivan said he began thinking about entering the draft after his junior season when he first visited Georgia as a high school recruit from Griffin. "On my first visit, it was like a recruiting pitch,'' Sullivan said. "My position coach (defensive line coach Rodney Garner) told me he wanted to have me in for three years and then let me go (to the NFL).''
In his three seasons, Sullivan recorded 154 tackles, nine sacks, two fumble recoveries and 53 quarterback pressures, while showing he could play at end or tackle.
Sullivan also was able to measure himself as a draft prospect by having played with Seymour, Stroud and Grant.
"By them being my teammates and lining up with them, I learned from them by watching them and then watching the impact they had on the league,'' Sullivan said.
The comparisons helped convince Sullivan he is ready for the NFL. Sullivan said the decision to enter the draft was easier than the agony of waiting for the draft.
Said Sullivan: "I'm just ready for it to be over with.''