After a tumultuous season that ended with head coach Jeremy Pruitt and Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer being fired, three players turned their attention to pros. Trey Smith, Josh Palmer, and Bryce Thompson all called an end to their careers in Knoxville and entered the 2021 NFL Draft. Each was a contributor and valuable to the Tennessee Volunteers and will be dearly missed. Let’s breakdown these Tennessee draft prospects’ strengths and weaknesses to see how they can fit into the NFL.
2021 NFL Draft: Tennessee Prospects to Watch
Trey Smith originally signed with Tennessee back in 2016 as the fourteenth-ranked prospect and the fourth-ranked offensive tackle in the nation. He started his career off very well, starting all 12 games, and was named to the All-SEC Second Team. Things got a little rocky when Tennessee’s medical staff found blood clots in his lungs seven games into the season.
Smith was ruled out indefinitely and did not return till the beginning of his junior year. He had originally played left tackle in his first two years but moved to left guard in his third year. Smith earned First Team All-SEC and saw draft rumors circulating. He shocked much of Vol Nation and returned for his senior year, making him a great prospect in the 2021 NFL draft.
After a solid senior season, Smith turns his focus to the NFL and hopes to hear his name called early. Prior to last year, Smith was being projected to go in the first round by multiple analysts but has since fallen slightly. Smith’s football abilities are not what is causing the fall but rather his health issues. NFL teams have taken Smith’s blood clot incident seriously and factored it into their evaluation of Smith.
As a prospect, he is one of the best linemen in the 2021 NFL draft. He is physical and quick, with the ability to maul in space. However, he will need teams to overlook his health issues to be selected early and be the first of three Tennessee draft prospects off the board.
Josh Palmer came to Tennessee in 2017 and steadily increased his contribution every year. He caught nine balls for 98 yards his freshmen season and became a starter the very next year. His first season starting, Palmer had 23 receptions for 484 yards and three total touchdowns.
His last two seasons were very similar as he caught 34 passes for 457 yards and 33 passes for 475 yards. Perhaps his best game came against Georgia in 2020 where he caught two long touchdowns over perhaps one of the best secondaries in the SEC, if not, the nation.
With a team that lacked offensive identity and success, Palmer was often the only consistent piece. He displayed the ability to be physical at the line as well as run solid routes and get open in space. His best trait is going up and high-pointing the ball using tremendous body control.
He can be crucial for a team needing a consistent wide receiver in the 2021 NFL draft who will get you tough yards as well as be a factor in the red zone. Palmer’s stock rose after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and may be drafted in the later rounds. He could find himself having the best career out of the Tennessee draft prospects, depending on who drafts him in the 2021 NFL draft.
Bryce Thompson decided to enter the 2021 NFL draft in the early portion of the season, which came as surprise to much of the Tennessee fanbase. Thompson signed with the Volunteers in 2018 as a four-star prospect from Irmo, South Carolina.
He started all twelve games his freshmen year and showed a lot of potential to become an All-SEC defensive back. He earned Freshmen All-America honors the week after he logged three interceptions in one game. His play consistently improved but never was at the level that many fans thought he would get to.
Thompson is an athletic and instinctive corner who has the ability to cover in space. He was utilized in multiple positions under former coach Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, often playing at the starting position. Thompson’s game could translate well into the professional level, as he has the ability to become a consistent Nickel for any team. Thompson could creep in rounds three through five and really boost an NFL team’s defense. He is the most exciting of the Tennessee prospects in the 2021 NFL draft.
Final Thoughts on the Tennessee Draft Prospects
All three Tennessee draft prospects were integral to the Volunteers’ success these past few years, often being the best players on the field for this team. Each will be missed dearly on Rocky Top as they were key parts of, not only the roster but the community as well. It will be interesting to see where each gets their name called during the 2021 NFL draft, as they continue their athletic careers for many years to come.
Thank you for reading my article on Tennessee Volunteer prospects in the 2021 NFL draft!
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