Once a football factory for the NFL, Tennessee’s program has fallen far short of that in recent years.
In the past 8 NFL Drafts, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (2013), offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James (2014) and defensive end Derek Barnett (2017) are the only former Vols to be selected in the first round. In that same span, there have only been 17 former Vols selected in the entire draft. Tennessee had no players selected in the 2015 and 2016 draft. That was the first time a Vol hadn’t been drafted since 1964.
Compare this recent 8-year run to the previous 8 seasons when things were more harmonious in Knoxville. From 2003-2010, the Vols had 36 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 7 first-round selections. Oh, the good ole’ days.
More of the same is expected this week.
So who will be the next UT player to draw Mel Kiper’s special attention? Well, it probably won’t occur in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, there are players on UT’s roster that could find their way into the first round — with some development and, more important, good fortune.
Jauan Jennings has shown flashes of elite talent. However, the senior receiver has also shown a penchant for getting hurt and embarrassing himself on social media. Those actions resulted in him being dismissed from UT before being allowed to return to the team. Even if Jennings has a standout senior season in 2019, those factors will be red flags for NFL executives and will likely affect his draft status. Senior Marquez Callaway could also boost his NFL stock this season, but being selected in the first round seems unrealistic.
Quarterbacks tend to be drafted higher than other position players. However, it would take a monstrous finish to Jarrett Guarantano’s career to catapult himself into the NFL’s first round. Offensive lineman Trey Smith certainly looked like a potential first-round pick after starting his first 19 games at Tennessee as a freshman and sophomore. However, Smith’s career has been sidelined twice by blood clots. The junior can bounce back with a strong run to finish his career in the eyes of NFL scouts. Clearly, Smith has the ability.
The same can be said for linebacker Darrell Taylor. If the senior can have a career year, he could creep up the draft board. Still, the first round seems unlikely.
In all likelihood the Vols will have to depend on an underclassman to make a splash in the NFL Draft. The most likely seem to be cornerbacks Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor. The two sophomores showed enough ability last season to think they could be elite talents.
As for freshmen, 5-star offensive lineman Wanya Morris is the first to come to mind. He leads a group of highly rated incoming freshmen who could earn their way into the first round one day — if recruiting rankings hold true. That list would include offensive tackle Darnell Wright, linebacker Quavaris Crouch, receiver Ramel Keyton, defensive back Jaylen McCollough and defensive lineman Emmit Gooden.
So who will be UT’s next first-round NFL draft pick? There is a great chance that he hasn’t played his first game in an orange and white jersey.
There’s just too much uncertainty with UT’s young, up-and-coming players. Those players had better prove their worth and UT coach Jeremy Pruitt had better produce some first rounders — or he might not be around to see where his students are drafted.