By James Butler
The 2016 NFL Draft starts Thursday, and the three-day affair will serve as the launching pad for many of the players who can take the sport of football into the 2020’s, and some even into the 2030’s.
Southern Crescent area prospects will look to make an impact like some of the area’s greats such as Hines Ward (Forest Park), Jessie Tuggle (Griffin), and the recently retired Calvin Johnson (Sandy Creek). Current players like Cordy Glenn (Riverdale) and Morgan Burnett (North Clayton) can also serve as inspiration.
Last year’s 2015 NFL Draft saw three Southern Crescent products get drafted as North Clayton’s Amarlo Herrera went in the sixth round to Indianapolis, Ola’s Tre McBride went in the seventh round to Tennessee, and Griffin’s Xzavier Dickson was selected in the seventh round by New England.
Herrera has a chance to earn a starting inside linebacker spot with the Colts this season, while McBride experienced success late last season with the Titans. The wideout came on as a kick returner and caught his first NFL touchdown in a loss to Houston last December.
Even better, as former Riverdale offensive lineman Michael Ola has shown, players who do not get drafted can still find success in the league. Ola went undrafted in 2011, but has started 19 games at tackle over the last two seasons with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
The Southern Crescent alumni featured in this draft preview are not expected to be Day one, Round one selections, and some may have to go the undrafted free agent route themselves, but all five of these players have something to offer an NFL team. All five also ply their trade on the defensive side of the ball, so what follows can be described as “hard-hitting” analysis.
D.J. White CB 5-foot-11 193 pounds Union Grove Georgia Tech
High School Career: White got his career started under former Wolverine head coach Steven Collins, before finishing up under Paul Burgdorf in the 2011 season. In addition to being a defensive stalwart that few teams wanted to test with its passing game, White served as an offensive and special teams’ weapon for Union Grove.
College Impact: White became a starter at cornerback for the Yellow Jackets in 2013, his true sophomore season, and never looked back. He ended his career with seven interceptions, including four as a junior, and was named a team captain as a senior.
NFL Projection: While not considered “big” for a cornerback in today’s game, White has good size and he plays to it. He is capable of contesting deep throws down the field, and most importantly, does not show any panic on such throws. I think those attributes would make him a good Cover 3 corner, but he also excels in press man coverage. I see defensive back friendly teams like Seattle, Minnesota, and Cincinnati as being perfect fits for him.
Draft Slot: 3rd-5th rounds
Antwione Williams LB 6-foot-3 245 pounds Lovejoy Georgia Southern
High School Career: Williams wrapped-up his Lovejoy career in 2010, one season before the start of the Wildcats’ back-to-back state championship game appearances. His career ended in an upset in the first round of the state playoffs to Glynn Academy as Lovejoy came into the game undefeated. As a junior and senior, Williams was all over the field defensively, contributing against the run, rushing the passer, and defending passes.
College Impact: Williams had a 2015 for the Eagles reminiscent of his high school days as he had a team-leading 107 tackles to go with 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and three pass breakups. He was also no slouch in a redshirt junior season that saw him finished second on the team in tackles with 65.
NFL Projection: Williams played strong side linebacker at Georgia Southern, but due to his size and ability, I think he can fill a diverse group of responsibilities for NFL teams. He can be an asset in Nickel defenses as both a pass rusher and pass defender, while still being sturdy enough against the run to be on the field for the first two downs. He has had a private workout with Tampa Bay and that is one potential landing spot for the Lovejoy alumnus.
Draft Slot: 5th-7th rounds
Ufomba Kamalu DL 6-foot-5 295 pounds Starr’s Mill Miami Fl.
High School Career: As a senior, and just a few years after coming to the United States from Nigeria, Kamalu helped Starr’s Mill to the Class-AAAA State Championship Game. The Panthers lost to Chattahoochee, but Kamalu produced a season that saw him get named First-Team All State. In high school he had the measurements (6-4, 245 pounds) of a defensive end, which indicates he has some of the athleticism of a smaller player.
College Impact: Kamalu spent the first two years of his college career at Butler Community College in Kansas, redshirting the first year, and playing well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Miami his second year. By his senior year at Miami, Kamalu had worked his way into the starting lineup and delivered with 47 tackles and four tackles for loss.
NFL Projection: Kamalu played both 3-4 defensive end and 4-3 defensive tackle for the Hurricanes, so he can conceivable be somewhere on the draft board for every NFL team that is looking for defensive line help. I like him as a 3-4 four end who will do a nice job of handling his responsibilities in the run game. He also has a good ratio between his 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle times (5.01/4.58), showing he can redirect and make plays downfield. At the end of the weekend, Kamalu could be getting a shot to stick in the NFL with 3-4 teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Green Bay, San Francisco, or Tennessee. Even 4-3 teams who value one run-stuffing defensive tackle, like Seattle, are possibilities.
Draft Slot: 6th round-UFA
Chris Mayes DL 6-foot-3 338 pounds Spalding Georgia
High School Career: Mayes’ physical attributes and level of play made him a highly sought after recruit despite playing only two years (2009 and 2010) of football. Georgia beat out programs like Oklahoma, Michigan State, Louisville, and Miami for Mayes’ signature. Listed just a shade under 300 pounds during those days, he combined for 27 tackles for loss and five sacks during his junior and senior seasons. The big man was also athletic enough to play basketball as a prep athlete.
College Impact: After playing the 2011 season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Mayes took a redshirt season before enrolling at Georgia for the 2013 season. He experienced his ups and downs as a Bulldog, but left on a high note as he earned the starting nose tackle job as a senior and was voted as one of team’s most improved players. Mayes compiled 41 tackles in 2015, but showed his value by accounting for 20 of them in four games against run-heavy teams in Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Florida.
NFL Projection: Mayes played nose tackle in college and a 3-4 nose tackle is where he projects in the pros. However, some 4-3 teams might see him as a 1-technique defensive tackle. He has the skill set for either roles as he combines a massive frame with natural strength (33 reps on the bench press), and decent athleticism. With only six years of playing organized football, and only 19 college starts, NFL teams can look at Mayes and decide they can mold him into someone who can succeed in their defense. Like Kamalu, Buffalo and Green Bay are teams that may have interest in Mayes, but also like Kamalu, the deep pool of defensive line talent in this year’s draft may push him further down the board than in some previous years.
Draft Slot: 6th round – UFA
Mike Hilton DB 5-foot-9 184 pounds Sandy Creek Ole Miss
High School Career: Simply put, Hilton was the “man” for Sandy Creek. Perhaps just as good as a running back as he was a defensive back, Hilton put up gaudy rushing numbers while splitting carries in the backfield before being the Patriot workhorse as a senior in the 2011 season. Of course he was superb as a safety as well, as he intercepted nine passes in the 2010 campaign. He started on two state championship teams, helping produce a 41-game winning streak that was ultimately stopped by a Deshaun Watson-led Gainesville team in the 2011 Class AAA quarterfinals.
College Impact: Hilton proved he was more than ready for college ball as he started five games as a true freshman, four at Ole Miss’ hybrid nickel corner/safety-linebacker position and one at cornerback. He would go on to start for his remaining three seasons and add strong safety to the list of positions he has started at. Hilton led the Rebels with 71 tackles as a junior, but the 12.5 tackles for loss and 15 pass breakups he had last season, speaks to the diversity of his skill set. He was also Ole Miss’ recipient of Chucky Mullins Courage Award as a senior, and wore the storied number 38.
NFL Projection: Because of his lack of size, many are looking at cornerback as Hilton’s best shot at making it in the NFL. However, he has shown the toughness to play safety in the box, and his coverage abilities will only be enhanced covering tight ends and running backs as well as wide receivers in the slot. In fact, Hilton earned Pro Football Focus’ highest pass coverage grade for any SEC safety last season, excelling particularly covering the slot. His ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage also offers a lot of scheme versatility for defenses. A smart defensive coordinator will be intrigued by what Hilton offers.
Draft Slot: 7th round-UFA