Thomas Davis, the No. 14 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers, played safety for the Bulldogs, and David Pollack, the No. 17 overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, played defensive end, but both are expected to begin the next step of their careers as linebackers, according to NFL observers and personnel.
Davis and Pollack became the fifth and sixth UGA defensive players taken in the first round since 1999. They also were two of the 10 SEC players taken in the first round Saturday, tying the conference’s record for most players selected in an opening round.
Wide receiver Reggie Brown was the third Bulldog taken, going with the third pick of the second round (No. 35 overall) to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bengals then returned to Georgia’s stockpile of talent and made linebacker Odell Thurman the fourth new pro of the day, selecting him with the 16th pick of the second round (No. 48 overall).
Quarterback David Greene and wide receiver Fred Gibson were still waiting to hear their names called when the third round began after 9 p.m. Saturday. Rounds four through seven will be held today.
Davis, who skipped his senior season to enter the draft, was announced at his official selection as a linebacker by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and that’s where he’ll play, according to ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen.
“I think it’s noteworthy that they announced Thomas Davis as a linebacker,” Mortensen said during the network’s broadcast of the draft. “He’s moving.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt has compared Davis to All-Pro NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks of Tampa Bay, Mortensen said. Brooks played at Florida State while Richt was an assistant coach in Tallahassee.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper called Davis “one of the best tacklers in this draft, a kid who does a heck of a job getting after the quarterback.”
“As a tackler, if he gets near you, he gets you down,” Kiper said on the air. “He does not miss tackles. When I talked to people in the league, they said just mark him down as a football player, and we’ll find a place for him. He’s a football player.”
The Bulldogs planned to use Davis at linebacker in 2002, but a season-ending injury to Kentrell Curry changed that and set Davis on a course that would end with two All-SEC selections at safety. Davis, the first collegiate safety taken in the draft this year, said Saturday he’d be happy to play linebacker in the NFL. If he is moved, he will join former Bulldog Will Witherspoon in the Panthers’ linebacker meetings.
“(Carolina coach John) Fox said the team is going to put me in the best position to help me and the team,” Davis said in comments posted on the team’s Web site. “I would be very comfortable with (playing linebacker). I am just looking forward to seeing what Coach Fox and his staff is expecting of me.”
Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis left no doubt about where he plans to use Pollack.
“We drafted him to play outside linebacker,” Lewis said during a conference call after the selection. “He brings us an outstanding pass rusher from that position. He’s a guy that, at 260 pounds, really is a fine athlete.”
Pollack will line up at defensive end for the Bengals in some third-down situations, Lewis said.
“That would be something I would love to do,” Pollack said of the dual role during the conference call with Lewis. “I’m eager to get up there and start to soak up everything like a sponge. I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult. I just think it’s going to take a lot of work.”
The only knock against Pollack entering the draft was his short arms, Kiper said.
“Will offensive lineman be able to get into that body and neutralize that charge? Marvin Lewis will find a way to maximize the ability of David Pollack if he can overcome the short arms and the fact that he was bounced around a little at the point of attack,” Kiper said.
Pollack’s pick marked the second straight year the Bengals have taken a Georgia defensive end. The team selected Robert Geathers in the fourth round last year. Pollack was the second collegiate defensive end taken this year, behind DeMarcus Ware of Troy and one spot ahead of Wisconsin’s Erasmus James.
“I know there were some teams heartbroken, hoping he might slip a little bit more,” Mortensen said. “We know a team in the top five that might have shocked people by taking him.”
Brown was the seventh wide receiver taken in a draft considered very strong at that position. Despite the strength of his position, Brown said he was surprised and disappointed that he fell into the second round.
“I was kind of stressing there for a minute,” he told The Telegraph. “I thought I’d go a lot earlier, but, ‘Hey, I’m happy with this.’”
If the Eagles are able to meet Terrell Owens’ contract demands and keep him in Philadelphia, Brown will line up next to one of the NFL’s top pass catchers next year.
“You get to go in and play with one of the best receivers in the league. It’s kind of a privilege to see what he does to get him so good,” Brown said. “Pretty much the feeling I got from having a talk with them was that I would be coming in and catching a lot of balls for them.”
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, who worked Saturday as an analyst for ESPN, was impressed with the selection of Brown.
“It takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of TO, who now feels like he doesn’t have to make all the plays at wide receiver,” Holt said. “(Brown) is strong enough, he’s smooth enough off the line of scrimmage, and he will go get the football. I think this was a very, very good pick.”