*(Note: After the 1st round, the only thing I would change from this pre-draft post is replacing the Texans with the Cardinals for Josh Dobbs, since Houston took QB Deshaun Watson in the 1st.)
Absent from having a player selected in the NFL Draft since 2014, the Tennessee Volunteers are relevant in the draft proceedings again, and in a pretty big way. The ability for Butch Jones and the UT football coaches to sell getting his players to the NFL in recruiting is now there.
The Vols should have 5-to-7 players selected. 6 is the number I anticipate. Six draft picks would be the most for UT since 2010 when Eric Berry was the first Vols player selected in that draft, #5 overall by the Chiefs. Should the number rise to seven drafted, that would be the most players selected from Tennessee since the 2003 draft when eight were taken.
Where are the best team fits for each of the University of Tennessee players expected to be drafted in this week’s NFL Draft?
Here are my final matches of UT players with NFL teams. This is a combination of player skills, team needs at that position and available draft picks in their projected range. These matches are more about what makes the most sense for each player and team combined rather than a mock draft prediction.
5 Best Fits For The Vols
DE, Jr, 6’3, 265
5 Best Team Fits: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit
Top Fit: New Orleans Saints
Summary: The Saints need difference-makers all over the defense. A pass-rushing, high-motor, identity-generating DE like Barnett would be a great start. I believe Barnett is more likely to be drafted by a 4-3 defensive team. That doesn’t mean 3-4 teams don’t like him or won’t draft him, I just think the chances are greater for the 4-3 teams because he’s a more natural fit in that defense. Typically 3-4 teams want much bigger ends than Barnett. If a 3-4 team wants to use him as a lighter, more explosive end (i.e. Chargers with Joey Bosa at 269) then it makes perfect sense. If a team projects him as an OLB that rushes the passer some and drops some, like the Texans initially did with Jadeveon Clowney, I think that’s a mistaken use of his talents. The five teams listed are all 4-3 teams with high needs at DE, but there are more that will be interested in the Vols all-time sack leader.
Last Vols Player The Saints Drafted: WR Robert Meacham – 2007 (1st Rd, #27 overall)
Predicted Round: 1
RB, R-Jr, 5’10, 215
5 Best Team Fits: Green Bay, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Philadelphia
Top Fit: Indianapolis Colts
Summary: All these teams could utilize the dual-threat ability to run and pass-catch that Kamara brings to the table. I would imagine the Colts address defense in the first round, but then get Andrew Luck a talented offensive weapon he desperately needs with their second pick. The Colts utilize the screen game, and Kamara would excel in that offense. Plus, how great would it be for Kamara to possibly work with future hall-of-famer Frank Gore and a top-tier quarterback in Andrew Luck? Kamara would also be reunited with former Vols teammate, LB Curt Maggitt. The Saints need a compliment to Mark Ingram, and they were the first to hold a private workout with Kamara, so that’s a strong possibility as well.
Last Vols Player The Colts Drafted: OL Jacques McClendon – 2010 (4th Rd, #129 overall)
Predicted Round: 2
QB, Sr, 6’3, 210
5 Best Team Fits: New Orleans, Cleveland, Houston, LA Chargers, NY Jets
Top Fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Summary: The projection for Dobbs has changed more from teams looking to upgrade their back-up quarterback situation (Colts/Titans/Seahawks) to teams with high needs for a starting QB right away or in the near future. The Browns obviously worked closely with Dobbs at the Senior Bowl, but it certainly sounds like Cleveland will address the QB spot early in the first round, somehow. The Chargers worked Dobbs out before UT’s Pro Day. LA is certainly looking for the successor to the aging Phillip Rivers. The teams that are most desperate for a QB may draft one in the first round before they get to Dobbs’ range. If Dobbs does go to one of those QB-less teams he could end-up in a position where he immediately gets to compete for a starting job. I think a situation where he can be a back-up and learn for a year or two (LA) would be best for all. As you’ll see below, the last Chargers draft pick, was also the last Vols QB selected in the NFL Draft.
Last Vols Player The Chargers Drafted: QB Jonathan Crompton – 2010 (5th Rd, #168 overall)
Predicted Round: 3
DB, Sr, 5’11, 182
5 Best Team Fits: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tennessee, Kansas City, San Francisco
Top Fit: Baltimore Ravens
Summary: With Sutton’s character, toughness and mentality, he has Steelers/Ravens/Patriots written all over him. I didn’t include the Patriots because they have other higher priority needs unless they trade Malcom Butler. The Steelers would be a great scheme fit as well, but they’ve invested numerous draft picks and free agent signing since last year. They may go in another direction even though Mike Tomlin got a first-hand look at Sutton and the Vols at UT’s Pro Day. Baltimore has to upgrade their secondary across the board, and Sutton has shown the ability and willingness to play outside corner, nickel or safety. The Ravens zone scheme projects well to how the NFL sees Sutton. Another plus for Baltimore is the three draft picks they have in his round range in the 2nd or 3rd round. With the depth of DBs in this draft, he could slip to the fourth. Sutton also brings great punt return potential to add to his value. There hasn’t been a huge buzz about Sutton, but I think that’s by design with teams not wanting to alert others around the league about the player they love. He’s such a good football player though that it was extremely difficult to cut the list down to five. I could have easily listed 12-15 teams as fits here.
Last Vols Player The Ravens Drafted: DT Aubrayo Franklin – 2003 (5th Rd, #146 overall)
Predicted Round: 3
WR, Jr, 6’3, 200
5 Best Team Fits: LA Rams, Baltimore, Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago
Top Fit: Arizona Cardinals
Summary: This is one of my favorite team/player fits among the Vols. The Cardinals need to improve their wide receiver group. Larry Fitzgerald is likely in his final year. The rest of the group is fast, but small overall. Malone could fill that Michael Floyd role they no longer have. What better receiver and NFL player could Malone have to learn the ropes from then Fitzgerald? Bruce Arians gets the Cardinals front office to draft off talent, and Malone absolutely has that. Malone believes in himself as well. He’s coming off of a year where he improved greatly and produced with 50 catches and 11 touchdowns. I think he’ll be a better NFL receiver than any of the most recent WRs from the U. of Tennessee.
Last Vols Player The Cardinals Drafted: DT Dan Williams – 2010 (1st Rd, #26 overall)
Predicted Round: 3
LB, Sr, 6’0, 230
5 Best Team Fits: Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, Detroit, Miami
Top Fit: Atlanta Falcons
Summary: The draft is wide open for team potential for Reeves-Maybin because of his third-day round projection, his versatility and his ability to play elite special teams. It’s impossible to know how his medical concerns impact every NFL team on their draft board. The Falcons do have an outside linebacker need. Atlanta also doesn’t get as caught-up in size as some teams, but prefer speed, leadership, toughness and productivity. Atlanta has shown that by drafting plenty of productive SEC defenders in recent years like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Jalen Collins. Reeves-Maybin would instantly improve special teams on a Super Bowl contender close to home. This would be a very nice fit.
Last Vols Player The Falcons Drafted: DE Demetrin Veal – 2003 (7th Rd, #238)
Predicted Round: 6
Other UT Players To Watch For NFL Draft/UDFA
Jason Croom: TE, R-Sr, 6’5, 246
Corey Vereen: DE, Sr, 6’2, 249
Dylan Wiesman: OL, Sr, 6’4, 310
Malik Foreman: DB, Sr, 5’10, 190
LaTroy Lewis: DE, R-Sr, 6’4, 256
Teams with a lot of picks are always ones to watch as greater possibilities to land a player. The Bengals and Browns have the most draft picks at the moment with 11. The Broncos, Chiefs, Redskins and 49’ers are next with 10 selections. The Falcons and the Bills have the fewest currently, with only 6 draft picks.
Enjoy the draft. I’ll have a recap of what happened after the draft for UT and SEC players.