Both players told Georgia coach Mark Richt on Monday that they will skip their final year of eligibility with the Bulldogs and enter this year’s professional draft.
“They both felt that considering all the factors involved, the best decision was to enter the draft this year,” Richt said in a statement released by the school. “Charles and Danny are within reach of graduation, and I certainly indicated to them the hope they would finish their degrees. In the final analysis, we always want what’s best for each player, and in these two cases, both were confident this was the right decision.”
Johnson’s choice is not a surprise. The 6-foot-2, 275-pounder indicated last month that he was beginning to think strongly about leaving early. In his first year as a starter, Johnson led Georgia with 9.5 sacks and 19 tackles-for-loss. He also had a team-best nine pass breakups and 27 quarterback pressures.
And he will be going out with a bang. Johnson dominated Virginia Tech in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl with two sacks and three tackles-for-loss.
His departure means Georgia will have to replace both defensive ends in 2007. Senior Quentin Moses, who passed up early entry last year, also will be gone. This year’s backups, Marcus Howard and Rod Battle, junior college transfer Jarius Wynn and redshirting freshman Kiante Tripp appear to have the best chance to fill those voids.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Johnson as the second-best junior defensive end in the country. Longtime draft analyst Frank Coyle, who operates www.draftinsiders.com, said Johnson’s draft stock will be greatly affected by how he performs at the NFL Combine.
“Juniors have to work out well,” Coyle said.
At Hawkinsville High School, Johnson was named the Class A defensive player of the year as a senior while leading the Red Devils to the state championship.
Ware’s name, meanwhile, barely shows up on anyone’s draft radar. He was the Bulldogs’ third-string back most of the season but moved up to second-team after a season-ending injury to Thomas Brown. If Ware had returned, he would have been battling Kregg Lumpkin, Brown, redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and potentially incoming freshman Caleb King for playing time.
Ware rushed for 326 yards this season, the lowest total of his three-year career with the Bulldogs.
It was unclear Monday if Johnson and Ware had signed with an agent or planned to sign. If they don’t, they could change their mind, pull their name out of the draft and retain their final year of college eligibility.
“Of course, we wish them the very best and appreciate their contributions to the Georgia program,” Richt said. “They will always be part of our Bulldog family.”
Junior cornerback Paul Oliver also is considering an early exit, but he has yet to announce his decision.