Big week for the Bullard family as NFL draft nears

Apr. 24—There likely won't be a bigger week on the 2024 calendar for the Bullard family than this one.

Father James celebrated his 56th birthday Tuesday. Mother Shonda is finishing up graduate school as a family nurse practitioner Wednesday. Oh, and their son Javon is one of about 250 athletes whose dream will become reality as he prepares to hear his name called during the 2024 NFL Draft.

Pro teams will begin picking players in round 1 Thursday night. Day two Friday will consist of the second and third rounds while the remaining fourth through seventh rounds will play out Saturday.

Many draft pundits have Bullard, a former defensive back for The University of Georgia, slotted as a second-day selection in either round 2 or 3. One long-tenured expert, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., even has the former Baldwin High Brave as his favorite safety among this year's prospects.

A former All-County Defensive Player of the Year, Bullard in 2021 earned his way to Athens, where he played for head coach Kirby Smart and the UGA Bulldogs. After three years — including especially strong campaigns the last two seasons — Bullard declared for the NFL Draft not long after Georgia shellacked Florida State in the Orange Bowl. That New Year's Six bowl win put a bow on a collegiate career that included back-to-back national championships as well as defensive most valuable player honors in both the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State in The Peach Bowl at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the 2023 title game blowout against TCU in Los Angeles.

After some pondering, Bullard felt comfortable declaring for the NFL early.

"Really, I just felt like it was time," he told Union-Recorder sports editor Matthew Brown while visiting his high school alma mater for a basketball game in January. "The last two years at the University of Georgia have been nothing short of amazing. I can't ask for much more than two national championships, two defensive MVPs, all the people that I met. The friends. The teammates. The sky's the limit. It goes beyond football for me. I just felt like it was my time to take my talents elsewhere and achieve my goal."

From the parents' perspective, the Bullards say they will miss traveling to Athens and other college campuses on fall Saturdays, fellowshipping with other UGA parents, and watching Javon wear the power G on his helmet. But they are also beyond proud as their son sets off on this next big chapter of what has already been a storied life.

The couple spoke to the newspaper by phone Tuesday afternoon with draft party preparations already underway.

"I can't wait to see where he's going," Shonda said. "I'm really looking forward to that. There will definitely be tears of joy."

For James, he can't help but think about all the weekends over the last two decades spent driving to and from youth travel football games and track meets to watch his son compete.

"This has always been his dream, so there's no better birthday gift for me than to hear his name called," he said. "It's been a long journey traveling up and down the road every Saturday."

"He's always had us in the wind," Shonda added of her son, who was in the wind himself with an impressive 4.47 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The weeks and months leading up to the draft are somewhat like the recruiting trail transition from high school to college. Interviews are conducted and visits are held, but when it comes to the draft, it's the prospect who must impress the team rather than the other way around. James shared that Javon has had some form of contact with over half of the 32 NFL clubs, including an in-person visit out west to the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers and a Zoom call with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Asked if there was anywhere in particular they'd like to see their son go, the through-and-through Georgia sports fan father responded, "The Atlanta Falcons. He's been in red and black for so long, no sense in changing it now."

James knows the Falcons' track record, or lack thereof, when it comes to drafting former Georgia players, so his hopes aren't getting too high on that front. Mom is going to a place she goes often — to the Lord in prayer.

"I've always prayed for God to put Javon where he needs to be because he's going to deliver no matter where he goes," she said. "He loves the game. I just want him to be in a good place where he'll get a chance to play and have fun the way he always has."

While they wait to learn their son's pro football destination, another location has been known to them for years. Some draft prospects get invited to attend the draft where they can bearhug NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and hold up their new team's jersey after being drafted. Other players rent out swanky event venues, and still others opt for the comforts of home.

"Even in high school, we always asked him when he makes it to the NFL — because we had no doubt that he would — where he wanted to be for the draft," Shonda said. "He always said at home. When it came around three years later, I asked him again where he wanted to be. He said, 'Mama, I want to be at home with my family.'"

So at home the Bullards will be with a TV camera set up inside their living room to capture the family's live reaction once a draft announcement is made. Outside will be a tailgate-style party with many, many family members and friends expected to attend.

"Let me tell you, we were thinking about trying to keep it to a minimum," Shonda said. "That just wasn't going to work."

Exactly when those party attendees can begin ordering their Javon Bullard NFL jerseys is unknown as of yet. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Bullard as his 60th-rated player among this year's prospects. A lot of factors — team needs, draft strategies, how much they love a player — come into play, so, try as many media outlets might, it can be difficult to predict draft placement ahead of time. The consensus seems to center around day two in either the second or third round.

If that prediction comes true, Bullard could become the highest Baldwin High player ever taken in the NFL Draft. Linebacker LeRoy Hill currently holds that distinction as he was selected 98th overall (late third round) by the Seattle Seahawks in 2005.

When it becomes official, Bullard will be the first Baldwin High player to be taken in the draft since Florida's Maurice Hurt went in the seventh round to Washington in 2011.

Though not a Baldwin product or Milledgeville native, John Milledge Academy alum Harrison Bryant is the last to have played high school football locally and be selected. The former Gray resident was chosen 115th (fourth round) by the Cleveland Browns in 2020. The tight end just this offseason received his second pro contract after having been signed by the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency.