ATLANTA — Natrez Patrick was kind of a big deal coming out of Mays High School in 2015.

From the film-intensive perspective of Rivals.com, Patrick (4-star talent) ranked as the nation's No. 3 weakside defensive end and the Class of 2015's No. 42 prospect overall ahead of current NFL players Kerryon Johnson (Lions), Ronald Jones (Buccaneers), former UGA star Roquan Smith (Bears) and quarterback Kyler Murray, the consensus choice to be the No. 1 pick in next week's draft.

Patrick had the speed, power, grace and body-frame upside (linebacker or defensive end) to be a prolific force at the college level; and after that, given Georgia's extensive track record of developing physical marvels into rock-solid pro prospects, an NFL career might have been in the cards.

The Atlanta native stayed relatively healthy, injury-wise, through his college years. That was the easy part.

The hard part involved Patrick staying out of the UGA coaches' proverbial doghouse, due to off-field issues, including three marijuana-related offenses.

As bad as things were under the direction of former coach Mark Richt, things could have been demonstrably worse under new head coach Kirby Smart, who didn't recruit Patrick to Athens ... and thus, seemingly had multiple reasons to remove the embattled defender from the program all together.

And yet, Smart never wavered from his adoptive or inherited commitment to Patrick ... an occurrence that still baffles the eternally grateful defender to this day.

"It was amazing. It was a blessing (to remain with the team)," said Patrick, in a recent one-on-one interview with 11Alive Sports reporter Alex Glaze. "I prayed so many times; and I've thought about it on so many nights. 'Why did they choose to save me? What (good) in me did they see?'"

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The UGA coaches might have seen more positives than negatives in Patrick during this turbulent time. But there weren't any free rides being handed out, either.

In a blunt exchange between player and program, UGA officials informed Patrick that he could only remain with the club ... provided he sought treatment at an in-patient drug-rehab facility.

"My lowest point was when I was in the rehab program (in Augusta, Ga.), looking at my team playing in California (Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma in January 2018). I was away from my team. I'm away from my coaches ... and I (thought to myself), 'This is not for me. This isn't what my life is supposed to be like.'

The 2018 season provided Patrick the chance to start his college career with renewed vigor and a clean mental slate. 

From a physical standpoint, it also entailed a career-high 13 games played last year.

Which begs the question: How will NFL scouts view Patrick in the coming days and weeks from the standpoints of reliability (staying clean, being on time, working hard) and versatility (inside linebacker or rush end)?

Patrick says his discussions with scouts and general managers have been fruitful; and according to him, they're happy to see Patrick take ownership of previous indiscretions.

At the same time, the UGA defender knows there are no promises come Draft Weekend (April 25-27).

And this older, wiser, more mature version of Patrick wouldn't have it any other way.