This past April, Tennessee temporarily restored its reputation as a football factory when six players were selected in the NFL draft.
However, given the current roster and the abundance of way-too-early mock drafts circulating around the Internet, that rediscovered reputation might be put on hold.
On practically any site that updates its mock drafts on a regular basis, finding a player representing the Orange and White is difficult to find. According to Walter Football, only one player is ranked top 10 at their position, and that player is punter Trevor Daniel, who ranks fourth. Can someone say Punter U? The next highest-rated player is Evan Berry, the No. 12 ranked safety, a position he’ll rarely play in the NFL.
Despite receiving a top-25 preseason ranking for the third consecutive season, the talent cupboard appears bare in Knoxville. But if there’s anything that is predictable about college football, it’s that its unpredictable. Every year, a player that flew under the national radar suddenly becomes a first-round pick. So while a certain segment of the fan base might have a pessimistic attitude toward the 2017 Tennessee Volunteers, there are five players who have tremendous potential to either get drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft or in a draft down the line.
As previously mentioned, Berry is technically a safety, but in the NFL, his primary area of focus will be as a return specialist. Thus far in his collegiate career, Berry has averaged 34.2 yards per kick return with four touchdowns, which are eye-popping numbers that truly make him an elite return talent. He has yet to return a punt or catch a pass. He only has one carry for six yards, but given Berry’s natural athletic ability, Butch Jones should utilize him in other areas. If Berry becomes a Swiss army knife, then he’ll definitely get drafted.
No position can increase — or decrease — its draft stock quicker than quarterback. Cam Newton went from laptop thief/Community College superstar to the Heisman Trophy winner and eventual No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. This is simply the nature of the sports — teams are willing to overdraft quarterbacks because of desperation. Dormady might start this season and leave or start for the next two seasons, but regardless of how long he plays, he has all the measurable attributes a quarterback needs: Size (6-foot-4, 222 lbs), arm strength, and deceptive athleticism. What we don’t yet know about the Texas native is his accuracy over the course of an entire game, as well as his ability to handle the pressure of being the starting quarterback underneath a gigantic microscope.
This may be a premature coronation, but Trey Smith has the makings of a future top-10 pick. He’s an absolute behemoth, standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 320 lbs. Along with his size, Smith also has the technical chops to not only bulldoze defensive linemen and linebackers in the running game, but protect the quarterback’s blind side. Although Tennessee’s offensive line is littered with experience, Smith has the natural ability to receive early playing time.
The running back position continues to decrease in value season after season. So much so that NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has said on multiple occasions that he wouldn’t consider drafting a running back in the first round. Although John Kelly won’t turn into a first-round pick, he could be a Jordan Howard type who slips into the later rounds and produces 1,000-yard seasons right away. Kelly must solve his fumbling problems, but if that issue is resolved, then he has a legitimate chance to set Tennessee’s single-season rushing record. If he accomplishes that, he’ll declare and take his relentless running to the NFL.
Let’s give credit to Jauan Jennings. He started out as a quarterback, but has smoothly transitioned into the No. 1 wide receiver role. His numbers won’t grab your attention, but something has to be said of his size and physicality on the boundaries. He can make all the tough catches, and proved last season he can make the catch.