Assessing Georgia Tech’s 2017 draft candidates

September 19, 2015  South Bend, Indiana - Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chris Brown (2) gets double coverage from Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive back Demond Smith (12) and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets linebacker P.J. Davis (40) in the first half at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday, September 19, 2015. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia Tech linebacker P.J. Davis has led the Yellow Jackets for the past two years in tackles. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Adam Gotsis and D.J. White continued Georgia Tech’s draft successes, becoming the seventh and eighth former Yellow Jackets selected in the past three drafts. Who might follow in 2017? A look at Tech’s pro possibilities.

Center Freddie Burden

Only one offensive lineman recruited by coach Paul Johnson has been drafted – Shaquille Mason. Omoregie Uzzi was probably the second-best lineman in Johnson’s tenure and had a good chance to be drafted, but concerns about his knee prevented him from getting a shot. Burden could well be the second, though. He has plenty of size for center and would seem to have the requisite quickness and explosion. He has the potential to play at an All-ACC level, although all-conference selections for offensive linemen can be a bit dubious. Regardless, consistently playing near his peak will get him in the picture.

Kicker Harrison Butker

Butker might be the most talented player in the class. He was 12th in the country in touchback percentage and, has been well-documented, has demonstrated a capacity for clutch kicks from long distance. However, he needs to be more consistent on field goals (he was 7-for-11 last season and 11-for-18 as a sophomore) and probably would be helped by more field-goal opportunities. (Tech’s 11 field-goal tries tied for third fewest in the country last season.) He’s got a tough road ahead of him, though, as the number of available spots is pretty limited. One kicker was drafted this year, Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, and, according to at least one blog, there were only 13 kickers signed as undrafted free agents.

Linebacker P.J. Davis

Davis has been the most productive member of the class, having led Tech in tackles for the past two seasons. He has good instincts, hits with power and plays with great effort. His toughness is without question, having played through much of last season with ankle problems. But it would be difficult to say he has been a dominant player, which, obviously, goes a long way to gaining scouts’ attention.

He’ll also face the challenge that he’s not the ideal size at 5-foot-11. Not that 6-0 is some sort of magical height that turns players into Pro Bowlers, but only two linebackers under that height were drafted. One of them was Steven Daniels, a first-team All-ACC pick from Boston College who didn’t get taken until the end of the seventh round. It probably didn’t help Quayshawn Nealy (6-0), who signed as an undrafted free agent last year despite his strong college record. But, at the least, based on Davis’ productivity, I’d feel confident saying that someone will give him a chance at least as an undrafted free agent.

Defensive tackle Patrick Gamble

Gamble will get a chance, I’m fairly sure, if as an undrafted free agent. He can play tackle or end, has good size and presumably will have the experience of two years as a starter. There aren’t many who play with his effort. But, like Davis, he hasn’t been a dominant player – he had one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss last season. He’ll have the added challenge of playing this season without Adam Gotsis to draw attention.

To become a draft selection, his productivity will have to increase. It may not show up in sacks, necessarily, but consistently disrupting the run game and collapsing pockets will (again, obviously) get him noticed.

Quarterback Justin Thomas

Barring unforeseen changes in the offense, Thomas will almost certainly be asked to change positions, possibly to cornerback. It wouldn’t be the first time, as he was recruited by most colleges with the idea of switching positions. But he would seem to have the capacity to play cornerback or perhaps slot receiver and possibly return kicks or punts. It’s entirely possible he could get drafted. Among others, former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was taken in the sixth round on Saturday. Michigan’s Denard Robinson was picked up in the fifth round in 2013.

The rest

Defensive tackle Francis Kallon has the potential but needs to play with more consistency. Defensive end Rod Rook-Chungong has been solid, but is small for end (6-3, 245) and has to show dynamic playmaking ability. A-back Lynn Griffin will likely test well, but for starters needs to just get on the field and show what he can do. Long snapper Trevor Stroebel has been pretty clean for his career and may get a chance to snap on both on both field goals and punts, which would help. A-back Isiah Willis would seem a longshot. B-back Marcus Allen and defensive end Kenderius Whitehead would need a significant uptick in playing time to get consideration.

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