ATLANTA — NFL scouts wishing to take a last look at Charles Grant's 2001 highlights will have a short search for game film. All that is needed is one game — Georgia's 24-17 loss to Auburn. The explosiveness Grant showed while recording 13 tackles and four sacks for a loss of 20 yards may push him all the way into the first round of the NFL
The four sacks were the second-highest total for any player in Georgia history.
Grant started 23 games at defensive end in his three years at Georgia. With more big games as a junior in 2001, he might be a top 10 pick Saturday. Instead, he finished with six sacks for the season, but still he is listed as high as a top 15 pick in some mock drafts.
Only a second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick by The Associated Press and the league's coaches, Grant nevertheless is a first-team all-star by NFL scouts and draft experts.
The encouraging projections had Grant feeling confident Wednesday as he talked about the probability of being a first-round pick.
"My mama always told that hard work pays off,'' Grant said as he sat in the Atlanta offices of his agent, Pat Dye Jr. "I'm just hoping for the best.''
Added Grant: "When I made my decision, when I said I was coming out, there was no looking back. I never regretted leaving Georgia.''
When he was considering his draft options after finishing the 2001 season with 63 tackles, Grant was told he probably would be a second-round pick. Is Grant's rise in fortune a reflection of his talents or a sign that NFL teams are simply desperate for defensive ends who have exhibited signs of being able to take over a game?
"I think it's a little combination of both,'' said Atlanta Falcons national scout Mike Hagen.
"You've got a lot of potential and a lot of athletic ability. That coupled with the fact there are not too many true defensive ends coming out this year, and he is considered a true defensive end, although he is a little on the short side.''
Without question, North Carolina's Julius Peppers — probably the No. 2 overall pick — will be the first defensive end taken in the draft. Grant is part of a group that falls behind Peppers, including South Carolina's Kalimba Edwards, Syracuse's Dwight Freeney, Florida's Alex Brown, Alabama-Birmingham's Bryan Thomas and Kentucky's Dennis Johnson.
Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Grant as the No. 5 end in the draft. The Sporting News ranks Grant sixth-best among ends.
Because teams usually make a rush for the top defensive ends, Grant probably will be taken in the middle of the first round. Even if Grant falls to the second round, it will be difficult to argue with his decision to bypass his senior season and enter the draft this year. It also is difficult to overstate the impact of the Auburn game on Grant's standing in the draft.
"I think it showed the whole world that I am probably one of the best players in the country,'' Grant said.
For defensive ends, the NFL draft is a market where the supply does not meet the demand. Grant already has overcome one reconstructive knee surgery in his college career; now was the time to take advantage of the market.
Said Hagen: "Because of the lack of abundance of players at that position, I think he will be drafted higher than maybe his production warrants.
"When you're looking at defensive linemen and you're talking about who are at the top, there are only a handful of defensive tackles and defensive ends. It's a premium and it has been that way the last four or five years.''
Grant says he can be more than just a pass-rush specialist.
Said Grant: "I think a lot of teams look at me as old school, a complete player. They're looking at me being able to play the run, to get to the quarterback, to play every down. I feel you can keep me in the whole game.''
Last year, seven of the first 13 picks in the draft were defensive linemen. That total included Georgia defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, who were high first-round picks despite not posting eye-catching statistics. This year, Tennessee probably will have two defensive tackles taken in the first round — John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth.
Grant plans to watch the draft from his parents' home in Miller County. "We'll be chillin','' Grant said.
That's easy for one of the hottest players in the draft.
Charles can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com