By Jimmy Hyams
From 1964 to 2014, Tennessee had a player taken in every NFL draft.
Forty were first-round picks. Twelve were top 10 picks. Nineteen times, at least six were drafted in a given year.
But now, for the third time in five years, the Vols are unlikely to have a player selected in the NFL.
That’s the opinion of NFL draft analyst Mike DeTillier, who’s been evaluating college talent for 33 years in South Louisiana.
“I’d say probably not,’’ DeTillier said when asked on SportsTalk WNML radio if any Vols would be taken.
“It’s part of you trying to build a program.’’
Nick Saban has faced that twice at SEC schools. In his second year at LSU, the Tigers had one player drafted. In his second year at Alabama, the Tide had no one drafted.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who inherited UT’s first winless team in SEC play, won’t be fielding many calls about players leading up to this year’s draft.
“Coach Pruitt’s got a big job on his hands,’’ DeTillier said. “He really does. The one thing he’s got to do first, he’s got to win the vast majority of the top players in the state of Tennessee.’’
Thus far, that hasn’t happened.
While the state of Tennessee is producing top-notch Power 5 caliber prospects in record numbers, the Vols are not taking advantage. During the early signing period, the Vols got only three of the top 20 rated high schools players in the Volunteer State.
Others went to Georgia, Ohio State, LSU, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida State, etc.
Last year, Pruitt landed six of the state’s top 25 players and one has declared for a medical hardship.
But in the Class of 2020, Tennessee has offered at least 15 of the top 20 in-state players.
“That’s the biggest hurdle for coach Pruitt,’’ DeTillier said. “He’s got to stop the bleeding. He’s got to keep those players in the state of Tennessee, then branch out.’’
If Tennessee has any players drafted this year, they likely would be defensive linemen Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle or Alexis Johnson. Linebacker Q’arte Sapp declared early for the draft, but he is probably going to sign as a free agent.
Of note, DeTillier thinks Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts would be a “late-round pick’’ in the NFL draft if he declared early.
DeTillier thinks Hurts could be like Taysom Hill of the Saints, a versatile player who could help on special teams.
Could Hurts help his draft stock considerably if he transferred to another school and improved his passing skills?
“You used the word considerably,’’ DeTillier said. “I think he could upgrade his stock, but I’m not sure about considerably. … He’s improved as a passer but you’re always going to get that erratic nature.’’
DeTillier thinks the 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray of Oklahoma could be successful in the NFL “depending on the scheme.’’
DeTillier added: “He’s a rare athlete. His improvisation skills are tremendous. He’s smart with the football, he’s accurate. His running skills are off the chart. In the right scheme, he can play in the NFL.
“And don’t give me that stuff about his height.’’
DeTillier mentioned short quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Steve Young, Fran Tarkenton and Russell Wilson having had productive NFL careers. Two are in the Hall of Fame. Brees will join them. Maybe even Wilson.
DeTillier said the toughest thing for a pro athlete to do is hit a breaking ball. Murray has signed a $4.66 million contract with the Oakland As.
“I wouldn’t totally rule out the fact Kyler Murray may one day end up playing in the NFL,’’ DeTillier said.
DeTiller thinks more college players will continue to skip bowl games to prepare for the NFL.
Do NFL executives have an issue with that?
“They really could care less,’’ DeTillier said.
DeTillier’s draft board is stocked with defensive players. Of his top 12 rated players, eight are defensive linemen.
“This is the best defensive line draft I’ve done in 33 years,’’ DeTillier said. “It’s that good.’’