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Projecting Isaac Nauta’s Draft Stock

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Arriving at Georgia as a 5-star recruit, he has good speed, great hands, and a strong blocking ability, but he’s also one of those prospects who has better measurables than production.

About halfway through the 2018 season, Georgia suffered a crushing 20-point loss on the road to LSU.

With the Bulldogs headed into their bye week and then a date with the Florida Gators up next, there was plenty of debate at that time whether Georgia was still a serious contender for the College Football Playoff. The answer proved to be yes, but the defeat at LSU still ended up being a major reason why Georgia had to settle for a Sugar Bowl appearance instead of second straight trip to the College Football Playoffs.

For Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta, though, his team’s postseason aspirations were hardly the only thought on his mind. Nauta revealed to Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution at the NFL combine that he decided “about halfway through the season” that he would enter the 2019 NFL Draft.

“For me, I felt I’d played enough football games,” Nauta said according to the AJC. “Put up enough good tape. Physically and mentally, I was ready for the next step. Obviously, those evaluations are pre-combine before they get to know you as a person. There are lot of factors that go into where you can rise with that draft status. It was something that I felt I was ready to do, so I just went ahead and made that decisions.”

It’s hard to tell any young person that they should continue to provide their services for free when they could be making a living doing the same thing. Multiple NFL draft websites consider Nauta a Top 15 choice at tight end in 2019, which means he should be drafted this spring.

However, he may also come to regret not re-evaluating that mid-season decision because with a deep draft class at tight end, Nauta isn’t as high on draft boards as he could have been next year.

Elite tight end talents such as T.J. Hockenson along with Noah Fant, both from Iowa, and Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. could all be first-round picks. Last season, it took 49 selections for three tight ends to come off the board. So while that’s great for the depth of the position, it isn’t necessarily good for a depth tight end prospect such as Nauta.

Rather than being a potential Top 10 tight end, as he probably would be in the average year and could have been in 2020, he is ranked 13th at the position according to the draft rankings at CBS Sports and Drafttek.com. Both lists also have Nauta positioned as a late sixth-round selection -- between picks 207 and 210.

Even when not factoring the deep tight end class, prospects with sixth-round grades don’t come out of college when they still have eligibility remaining. Nauta will likely have to impress just to make an NFL roster.

Nauta possesses the pedigree to do just that. Arriving at Georgia as a 5-star recruit, he has good speed, great hands, and a strong blocking ability, but he’s also one of those prospects who has better measurables than production.

At Georgia, he never became a focal point of the offense, and as a junior, he posted just 30 receptions for 430 yards and three touchdowns. During his sophomore season, Nauta only recorded nine catches.

For that reason, it’s hardly a sure-thing he even hears his name called during the sixth round. Walter Football doesn’t have Nauta ranked among their Top 24 tight ends in the 2019 class, meaning they project the Georgia tight end to go undrafted.

This gels with the idea that he decided to declare for the draft well before the January deadline. Had he listened to these early projections, it’s very likely he would have returned to school, but again, Nauta already made his decision sometime in October.

It’s a decision he could prove to regret. Again, every player’s situation is different, and it’s up to every individual to choose their path to their own career and life. There’s no guarantee another year in college improves his stock, and in this sport, a horrific career-ending injury is always a possibility. Better for that to happen after signing a contract with guaranteed money.

Still, on the surface, Nauta could have benefitted from another year at Georgia. The deep 2019 tight end class could mean he has to find his first NFL opportunity through free agency following the draft.