The fourth-year junior outside linebacker made it official Friday through the school what had been anticipated for months – that he is declaring for April’s draft.
“There is nothing like the Bulldog fans and I will forever be proud to wear the ‘G’,” Jones said in a statement issued Friday evening. “I think this decision comes at the right time for me and my family and I look forward to seeing what the next level holds for me.”
Jones, who leads the nation in sacks, is a projected top-10 overall pick. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists him as his No. 1 prospect. If he indeed goes in the top 10, he’d be the first Bulldogs defensive player selected that high since defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan went No. 6 in 2003.
“I’m not just going to train to be in the top 10 or top five, I’m going to train to be the No. 1 draft pick,” Jones said last week.
Jones joins inside linebacker Alec Ogletree as Georgia juniors announcing they were declaring for the draft.
Still to make their decisions known are quarterback Aaron Murray and nose guard Kwame Geathers, both redshirt juniors.
“I’m still thinking about it,” Geathers said Friday. “It’s coming up pretty soon that I’m going to make a decision.”
Asked whether he had an idea what he would do, Geathers said: “Not yet.”
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to make their decisions.
Murray is back home in Tampa, Fla., with his family, coach Mark Richt told Tim Brando, of CBS Sports, on his radio show Friday morning.
“The last day or two he’s been talking with his folks,” Richt said. “I talked to him on the phone (Thursday) night. He’ll be back in town Saturday.”
Richt said he will meet with Murray in person, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will speak to him by phone.
“I think when he has a feeling in his heart that he wants to do, he’ll just say it and move forward,” Richt said. “I don’t think he’ll be wishy-washy on it. I think he’ll just nail it down when he knows that he knows and that will be it.”
Richt said after two consecutive trips to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and losing, if Murray came back it would be to win this time. He also said Georgia returning all but receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown on offense is another reason.
“He doesn’t want to walk away from a machine that’s working really good,” Richt said. “He’s been a big part of it, too. … He’d be walking away from a pretty good situation offensively.”
Coaches and teammates have talked for weeks like Jones was turning pro.
“Two years, two-time All-American, how much more can you do?” Richt said last week in Orlando during bowl practices.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Jones leads the nation with 14½ sacks, 24½ tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. He was named a finalist for just about every defensive player of the year award this past season.
He had two sacks in Georgia’s 45-31 Capital One Bowl victory, breaking David Pollack’s single-season record in 2002. He also broke Pollack’s single-season tackle-for-loss record.
He finished his career with 28 career, tied for third on Georgia’s all-time list.
“He’s made an impact ever since he walked back on our campus,” Richt said.
Jones was praised by graduate assistants for his work on the scout team while sitting out a season after transferring from Southern California, where the doctors would not clear him to play after he sustained a spinal injury during his freshman season.
Freshman Jordan Jenkins could be the next elite pass-rusher for Georgia.
“Guys tend to step up,” Richt said last week about life at Georgia after Jones. “We had Justin Houston and he led the league in sacks and we were thinking what are we going to do when Justin leaves? … We’ll have some guys that will be able to step up and make plays.”