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Pick of the litter

Kwame Geathers, left, won't be drafted as high up as teammate John Jenkins, but the two massive defensive tackles will have NFL homes soon. US Presswire, AP Photo

ATHENS, Ga. -- Kwame Geathers looked around the room at former teammates conducting interviews after Georgia's pro day workouts.

Seated next to him was fellow defensive lineman John Jenkins. A few feet away was outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. On the other side of the room was linebacker Alec Ogletree. All three could potentially be first-round picks in the NFL draft, which begins tonight in New York City.

Asked what it means to have such elite talent come from one program and as many as 10-12 prospects hoping to hear their names called during the three-day draft, Geathers made an obvious observation.

"It's a statement of we're an elite program," said Geathers, who could become a mid-to-late-round pick after leaving the Bulldogs following his junior season. "We're one of the best programs in this world."

When it comes to producing NFL talent, Geathers is absolutely correct. At the start of the 2012 season, Georgia had 35 players on active NFL rosters -- a total that tied with Texas and LSU for second among all colleges and trailed only USC's 42.

Such a claim is immensely valuable for Mark Richt and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail each year as they seek to reload their roster with more talent to continue the cycle.

"When you send guys to the league, that's important," Richt said. "We do it about as good as anybody and we might not have the most, but we'll probably have the top five, 10 schools or something as far as draftees. And we're very high in regard to the number of players that are in the league from our school compared to others, so that's important."

The Bulldogs had seven players picked last season, threatening to match the program's all-time record for one draft -- eight -- set in 2002. The record is in serious jeopardy of falling this year, however, with eight Bulldogs -- Ogletree, Jones, Jenkins, Geathers, defensive end Cornelius Washington, safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerback Sanders Commings and receiver Tavarres King -- all ranked in ESPN Scouts Inc.'s list of the draft's top 150 prospects.

Other Bulldogs such as safety Shawn Williams, defensive end Abry Jones, cornerback Branden Smith, receiver Marlon Brown and linebackers Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard also could get an opportunity either as draft picks or undrafted free agents.

"Really if I can just get a shot, a foot in the door, I feel like I'll be fine," said Brown, whose injury-plagued career ended with a torn ACL suffered against Ole Miss in the ninth game of his senior season. "I feel like I can go somewhere and just grind and work hard and show them that I can play once I get there. So that's what I'm hoping for."

Jones, Ogletree and Jenkins are the headliners, with all three ranking among ESPN Scouts Inc.'s top 26 prospects. If any member of the group goes in Thursday's first round, that would finally end an eight-year drought -- dating back to David Pollack and Thomas Davis in 2005 -- since a Georgia defender became a first-round pick.

All three players faced immense scrutiny after the season -- Jenkins for his weight, Ogletree for a series of off-the-field issues and Jones for a 2009 injury suffered at USC that preceded his being diagnosed with a narrowing of the spinal column.

Jones skipped workouts at the NFL combine in order to be cleared of major medical concerns, but then a lackluster performance at Georgia's pro day workouts caused further skepticism. Nonetheless, most mock drafts project the two-time All-American as a mid-first-round pick -- typically to New Orleans at No. 15 or Pittsburgh at No. 17 -- despite concerns about his longevity or measurable skills.

"I'm pretty sure somebody's going to snatch him up in the first round and be thrilled," Richt said. "They could be thrilled to get him where they got him."

Of course it will likely be several years before Jones ultimately proves Richt's prediction true or false. But as he and the other Bulldogs come off the draft board over the next three days, they will have successfully used their time in college as the launching pad to a professional career -- and that's a valuable statement for Richt's program.

"It's important to these guys that have a dream of playing in the NFL," Richt said. "They want to know if they come to Georgia that they'll have an opportunity to do that."