A.J. Green delivered the long-expected news Sunday: He will forgo his senior season at Georgia and enter the NFL draft.
For months, if not years, the star wide receiver had been expected to leave UGA after his junior season for the riches of pro football. And while he didn’t veer from the predicted course, he insisted that finalizing the decision came harder than many thought it would.
“Throughout the last couple of weeks, it was pretty hectic, just making a sound decision for my family and [me],” Green said from his home in Summerville, S.C.
He said he told Georgia coach Mark Richt of his intention on Friday but added that he wasn’t certain of the decision until Saturday.
Green is generally projected as a top-five NFL pick, with some draft analysts suggesting that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck’s decision last week to stay in school could put Green in contention to be the No. 1 overall selection.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me,” Green said. “This is a longtime dream since I was a little boy. I feel like my skills are up to par to make this jump. I feel like I proved myself in one of the best conferences in college football from day one.”
A three-year starter at Georgia, Green ranks third in school history in receptions (166) and receiving yards (2,619) and second in touchdown catches (23). His numbers would be larger if not for injuries that sidelined him for three-plus games in 2009 and an NCAA suspension that cost him the first four games of the 2010 season.
Green was suspended for selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000 to a person the NCAA considered a sports agent.
Now, Green is in position to make tens of millions of dollars from his first NFL contract.
Even so, he said, “it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made, just leaving the brotherhood I have made at Georgia. . . . I’m going to really miss the guys and the coaches.”
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Green captivated Georgia fans with his leaping ability and knack for making improbable catches. But the Bulldogs had generally disappointing seasons during his three years, posting records of 10-3, 8-5 and 6-7, respectively, and he expressed regret that the team did not win an SEC championship during his time in Athens.
“It hurts. That’s what I came there for,” he said. “But things happen for a reason. I’ll keep working, and I’ll be a Bulldog for life.”
The Carolina Panthers have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and Green acknowledged it’d be nice to play so close to home. Charlotte is about 200 miles from Summerville.
“I’m pretty sure a bunch of my family and friends could make that trip easily,” he said.
But he isn’t assuming anything. “You never know with that draft,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun process. I’m going to work [to be drafted] as high as I can.”
Richt wished Green well, saying in a statement: “A.J. has made an immeasurable impact on our team over the past three seasons. . . . I’ve enjoyed the blessing of working with him and getting to know his family, and we wish him all the success in professional football. Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.”
Georgia awaits word from several other juniors who are weighing whether to enter the draft: outside linebacker Justin Houston, cornerback Brandon Boykin and offensive guard Cordy Glenn. Offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant said Friday that he will stay in school for his senior season.
– Tim Tucker