Georgia Tech’s Thomas, Watts drafted on final day

Jemea Thomas and Brandon Watts arrived at Georgia Tech in 2009 with something less than jaw-dropping recruiting rankings. Watts was a three-star linebacker from Washington County High, the 68th-ranked player in the state in the 2009 signing class. Thomas, from Fitzgerald High, was the 36th-ranked athlete in the nation and the 27th-ranked player in Georgia, also a three-star.

Watts, a two-year starter at linebacker, and Thomas, a fan-favorite defensive back, got the last laugh Saturday, as Thomas was selected in the sixth round by New England and Watts went in the seventh and final round to Minnesota. They followed defensive end Jerry Attaochu, who was picked in the second round Friday night by San Diego as an outside linebacker.

“It was amazing,” Thomas told Patriots reporters on a conference call Saturday. “My whole family was here screaming. We were waiting on it, and when it came, it was a wonderful moment for all of us.”

After going undrafted, defensive end Emmanuel Dieke agreed to terms on an undrafted free-agent contract with the New York Giants, who were impressed with him after a private workout.

Also undrafted, cornerback Louis Young, a three-year starter, agreed to terms with Denver. Defensive tackle Euclid Cummings, who thrived this season in a 4-3 defense with new line coach Mike Pelton, will go to camp with Tampa Bay.

Adam Bakow, the agent for A-back Robert Godhigh, wrote in a text message that he was hopeful that Godhigh could catch on with the Falcons, although it likely wouldn’t happen until later this week.

It was Tech’s first draft with multiple players selected since the four-player draft in 2010 following the ACC championship season — Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Morgan Burnett and Jonathan Dwyer — and just the third time since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994 that three Tech defensive players were selected. It was in no small part because of the fact that Tech’s senior class was larger than it had been in recent years.

For Watts and Thomas, it was a victory for proving recruiting rankings wrong (again), but also for demonstrating their worthiness of a shot in the NFL despite physical shortcomings. Thomas is 5-foot-9, and only one of the 43 defensive backs drafted is shorter. But his superior instincts and ball skills made him a clutch playmaker who likely will have to earn his way onto the Patriots’ roster via special teams.

“At Tech, I played it all,” Thomas said. “I played every position in the secondary, so whatever they want me to come in and play, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Watts lacks the typical heft for a linebacker — at 225 pounds, he was the second-lightest linebacker selected out of 34 — but his agility made him a productive player for the Jackets.

Fate and Watts’ burning speed intervened on Tech’s Pro Day on March 28. Watts was timed in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash and also demonstrated his explosiveness with strong scores in the broad jump and vertical jump. Further, Watts did his linebacker drills along with Attaochu, whom most of the scouts present clustered to watch. Watts’ smooth performance almost certainly raised his profile.

The Vikings were among teams who later sent a coach to work him out privately. Likewise, the Patriots also dispatched a coach to drill Thomas leading to the draft.

Last season, first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof received considerable credit for turning around a defense that improved from 28.3 points per game in 2012 (tied for 65th in the country) — the average was 30.2 points per game when coordinator Al Groh was fired after six games — to 22.8 points per game last season (tied for 29th). The NFL’s selection of the three was clear evidence of the impact that they, not to mention other players such as Dieke, had on the improvement.

Attaochu flew to San Diego on Saturday to meet with team officials and local media. He told a story of how he thought that San Diego would be a nice place to play, similar to feelings he had about Tech after watching the Jackets beat Miami in 2008.

“This is definitely the place I need to be,” he said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Sports

Georgia stays at No. 6 in Coaches Poll
Georgia stays at No. 6 in Coaches Poll

The Georgia Bulldogs were off this week as they prepared for their game in Jacksonville, Fla., against Florida. And while a team ahead of Georgia—Ohio State—lost, the Bulldogs were also jumped in the poll by another Big Ten team—Michigan. Because of that, the Bulldogs stayed at N o. 6 in the Coaches Poll heading...
QB corner: Matt Ryan on the Giants 
QB corner: Matt Ryan on the Giants 

Here are three questions with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan about the Giants:  On what he sees from the Giants’ front: “They’ve got a good rotation. They use a lot of different fronts. ... They mix up three-down man packages. They do a lot of different things and shuffle in a bunch of different guys.” On how linebacker...
MNF showdown of two teams trying to turn around poor starts
MNF showdown of two teams trying to turn around poor starts

While the football buzzards are flying around Giants quarterback Eli Manning, no one is questioning if Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is washed up. Ryan has been a touchdown-passing machine as the Falcons, mostly because of injuries, have gotten off to a 2-4 start. Ryan takes a hot hand into the game against Manning and the Giants (1-5) in a Monday...
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart: Pass protection needs work, Andrew Thomas banged up
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart: Pass protection needs work, Andrew Thomas banged up

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs’ celebrated offensive line had plenty to work on during the bye week coming off a rough outing at LSU. Quarterback Jake Fromm was sacked three times and hurried on at least two others in the 36-16 loss to LSU, the Tigers’ shifting fronts and...
Saturday football and volleyball scores

On the football field, the Fitzgerald Hurricanes held Early County to just 3 points to claim the 21-3 win and pick up their third region win of the year. They remain undefeated in class AA region 1. North Atlanta came out on top of a 47-32 barn-burner with Dunwoody to claim their second region win of the season. Whitewater took on Riverdale as the...
More Stories