Georgia failed to meet expectations last season. That didn’t hurt the Bulldogs on draft day.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford went to the Detroit Lions with the top overall choice Saturday, and running back Knowshon Moreno was picked at No. 12 by the Denver Broncos as Georgia became the first school to have two players selected in the opening round.
Coach Mark Richt said the early selections of Stafford and Moreno should be a boost to Georgia’s recruiting efforts.
“If a young man has talent and is plugged into our system, he’ll be able to answer a lot of questions the NFL needs to have answered,” Richt said. “We have a system that allows guys to take their talents and use some of the very same skills the NFL will expect them to do.”
From the day Stafford stepped on campus, Richt figured the strong-armed quarterback had a chance to be a high NFL pick. He didn’t even have to stay the full four years, deciding to enter the draft after his junior season.
“Maybe not the very first pick, but it wasn’t out of the question if he played well and matured,” Richt said. “You knew he would have a chance to be the first pick just because of what you knew about his physical skills.”
As for Moreno, “I wouldn’t say the day we signed him we could have predicted it,” Richt said. “But after watching him perform that second spring (before his redshirt freshman year), I thought the kid had a chance to be pretty special.”
The selection of Stafford at No. 1 was a mere formality after he agreed Friday to a six-year contract with the Lions, the first team ever to go 0-16 in a season. The deal includes $41.7 million in guarantees and a chance to earn as much as $78 million.
“It’s a huge relief,” Stafford said Saturday on a conference call. “I’m just extremely excited to be a Lion.”
Detroit hasn’t had a quarterback play in the Pro Bowl since Greg Landry in 1971. Long-term stability at the position has been elusive since Bobby Layne starred for them in the 1950s. In an interesting twist, Stafford and Layne both played at Highland Park High School in Dallas.
“I feel like you can’t write it any better than that,” Stafford said, even though he’s going to the NFL’s worst team.
Moreno was surprisingly picked by the Broncos, who bypassed their many needs on defense to grab a player who rushed for 2,734 yards and 30 touchdowns in only two seasons at Georgia. He was redshirted his first season and chose to enter the draft after his sophomore season.
Denver signed three running backs in free agency — J.J. Arrington, LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter — to compete with holdovers Peyton Hillis, Selvin Young and Ryan Torain. Now, the Broncos have Moreno, too.
“The draft is like a lottery and you never know what’s going to happen,” Moreno said. “You saw a little bit of that today. But I didn’t really know what was going to happen, but I’m really excited about it and I’m happy it did.”
He follows two other Georgia running backs who went to Denver: Terrell Davis, who starred for the Bulldogs from 1995-2001 and won a Super Bowl MVP, and Olandis Gary, who played in the Mile High City from 1999-2002.
“I’m a high-motor guy,” Moreno said. “Tough, hard-nosed, a hard runner, can make you miss at times. And just competitive. I love to play the game and I bring that energy to my team. So, we’ll see how that goes.”
Georgia started last season ranked No. 1, but blowout losses to Alabama and Florida ruined their championship hopes. The Bulldogs closed the regular season with their first loss to state rival Georgia Tech since 2000.
Even though he never led Georgia to a title, Stafford became the school’s fourth player to be selection No. 1 overall. The others were Frank Sinkwich (by Detroit in 1943), Charley Trippi (by the Chicago Cardinals in 1947) and Harry Babcock (by San Francisco in 1953).
Another member of the Georgia offense, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, was taken by Cleveland in the second round with the 50th overall pick.
Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson had hoped to go on the first day of the draft. But his name wasn’t called through the first two rounds, so he’ll have to wait.
The draft concludes today with rounds three through seven.