Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, a graduate of Westlake (Atlanta)
, could become the first former Georgia high school player taken No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft in 30 years today when the Carolina Panthers make their choice.
The only Georgia player to go No. 1 in the NFL Draft previously has been George Rogers, also a Heisman winner, in 1981 to the New Orleans Saints. Rogers played at Duluth (Ga.)
before going on to South Carolina.
Over the past 10 years, two Georgia players have gone No. 2 – Ronnie Brown of Cartersville (Ga.)
and Eric Berry of Creekside (Fairburn, Ga.)
There have been 18 Georgia players taken in the first round since 2001. Brown and Berry have worked out pretty well, others not so much.
Here's a look at a dozen of the best draft picks from Georgia over the past decade:
* Jeff Backus (Norcross) –
The 18th overall pick in the 2001 draft to Detroit, Backus has started every game of his 10-year career, a streak of 160 starts at left tackle. No other player from the 2001 draft has played that many games.* Eric Berry (Creekside) –
Berry, the fifth overall pick in the first round to Kansas City in 2010, was named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season after registering 92 tackles and four interceptions. As a high school player, Berry played quarterback primarily and was named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's all-classification State Player of the Year in 2006 after leading his team to 37 wins in three seasons. He played at Tennessee.
* Deion Branch (Monroe) –
A second-round pick to New England in 2002, Branch has 451 career receptions and 34 touchdowns in a nine-year career. Branch was the MVP of the 2004 Super Bowl for New England after catching 11 passes for 133 yards in a 24-21 victory over Philadelphia. The only former Georgia high school players with more NFL receptions at wide receiver are Drew Hill of Newnan and Hines Ward of Forest Park. Branch was an unheralded high school player at Monroe of Albany before surfacing as a top-flight receiver with Louisville.
* Ronnie Brown (Cartersville) –
The second overall pick in the first round to Miami in 2005, Brown has not become the superstar that the Dolphins might've hoped, but he's had three seasons of rushing for more than 900 yards, peaking with 1,008 in 2006. His 4,815 career yards rank among the top 15 all-time among Georgia natives. In high school, Brown led Cartersville of northwest Georgia to a state championship in 1999.
* Charles Grant (Miller County) –
Grant, the 25th overall pick of the 2002 draft to New Orleans, was a starting defensive end for the Saints for eight seasons, including for the 2009 Super Bowl championship team, and had 47 career sacks. He was out of the NFL in 2010. As a high school player for Miller County, a small school in south Georgia, Grant set a Georgia record for touchdowns in a season with 45, a mark broken first by Darius Walker of Buford, now held by Washaun Ealey of Emanuel County Institute.
* Calvin Johnson (Sandy Creek) –
Johnson, the second overall pick to Detroit in 2007, made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2010, when he had 77 receptions for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was a starter as a rookie and had a league-leading 12 touchdown receptions in 2008, when he had 78 catches for 1,331 yards. In high school at Sandy Creek, a school in the southern metro Atlanta area, Johnson was a first-team all-state player before becoming an All-America receiver at Georgia Tech.
* Robert Mathis (McNair) –
A fifth-round pick to Indianapolis in 2005, Mathis is probably the best late-round pick of a former Georgia high school player in more than a decade. The sack specialist has made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons for the Colts and amassed 74 sacks in his career. Mathis was not a widely known player at McNair, a metro Atlanta school in DeKalb County, but a dominant pass rusher at Alabama A&M. He is McNair's only alumnus ever to make the NFL.
* Randy McMichael (Peach County) –
A fourth-round pick to Miami in 2002, McMichael was an instant starter in the NFL and caught at least 39 passes in each of his first six seasons in the league. His best year was 2004, when he had 73 receptions for 791 yards. McMichael was a honorable mention all-state player while at Peach County, a middle Georgia school a little south of Macon, in the mid-1990s.
* Marcus McNeill (Cedar Grove) –
A second-round pick to San Diego in 2007, McNeill became the first Georgia player to make the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons in the league since George Rogers (Duluth) of New Orleans in 1981. McNeill was fourth in the voting for offensive rookie of the year as he started at left tackle for NFL leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson. McNeill is a five-year veteran who has started in all 73 games that he's played. As a high school player, McNeill was only an honorable mention all-state player, largely because he played for mediocre teams.
* Dunta Robinson (Clarke Central) –
The 10th overall pick to Houston in 2004, Robinson has been a starter since his rookie year. He signed with Atlanta in 2010 for six years and $57 million, one of the top contracts ever awarded a cornerback. In high school, Robinson labored for a couple of subpar teams his junior and senior years at Clarke Central of Athens and made honorable mention all-state.
* Marcus Stroud (Brooks County) –
Stroud, the 13th overall pick of the 2001 draft to Jacksonville, is now a 10-year veteran who made three Pro Bowls with the Jaguars. He's been a starter at defensive end each season since his rookie year. At 32, he's been signed by New England after Buffalo released him in the offseason. In high school, Stroud led Brooks County, a small south Georgia school, to a state title in 1994 and made the cover of Sports Illustrated after his Signing Day switch to Georgia from Florida.
* Jon Stinchcomb (Parkview) –
A second-round pick to New Orleans in 2003, Stinchcomb has started all 16 games for each of the past five seasons for the Saints. He was the right tackle on the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl championship team. Stinchcomb made his first Pro Bowl in 2009. In high school, Stinchcomb was an all-state player and member of Parkview's first state championship team of 1997 (the Gwinnett County school would win four between 1997 and 2002) before going to Georgia.