Tennessee was hit hard by attrition due to the transfer portal as well as the NFL draft this offseason. Key contributors left the program after the Pruitt tenure on Rocky Top came to an end. With Josh Heupel taking over, a completely new style of football will be installed, but many players departed before having a chance to see that through. Let’s take a look at some of those players and determine this year’s top five Tennessee NFL draft prospects.
Headliner Tennessee NFL Draft Prospects
When it comes to Tennessee NFL draft prospects going into next year, Cade Mays may be the name that has the most buzz. Heading into 2020, Mays was projected to go in the first round in many mock drafts. A shaky season, though, slowed the buzz down. Mays will be returning next season and will look to improve his stock once again. Heupel’s offense has the potential to attract more attention, something that was not present under Pruitt. Mays transferred over from Georgia after two years in Athens but had a rocky start as he was not granted immediate eligibility till the second game of the season. Mays’s “mean and nasty” playing style will be on display in the upcoming season.
Another headliner will be fifth-year wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. He transferred from USC last year and had a semi-productive season for the Vols. Jones caught 22 balls for 280 yards and three touchdowns. He has the ability to stretch the field and take the top of the defense. Jones’s speed also translates to special teams as he returns kickoffs and has the ability to return punts as well. With Heupel’s explosive offense, Jones is set to improve his stock and put up big numbers this year.
Unproven Tennessee NFL Draft Prospects
Tennessee has a lot of talent that is draft eligible but have not met their full potential yet. Upcoming senior cornerback Alontae Taylor fits that category. Taylor was a four star recruit in 2018 and started at cornerback since his first year in Knoxville. He is a very physical run support corner as well as great with jamming at the line. This, however, does result in him getting beat in pass coverage at times and consistency is something Taylor struggles with. Taylor’s athleticism yields massive potential and Volunteer fans are hopeful they see it under new coaches Tim Banks and Willie Martinez.
Another player that has produced but not yet shined is Darnell Wright. The former five star has shown the star ability as well as bust tendencies. There are plays that Wright gets out in space and mauls defensive players but also juxtaposes that with plays where he flat out gets beat in pass protection. Wright has all the physical tools to become a first round pick and will look to transform his game this upcoming year with new Offensive Line coach Glen Elarbee.
Wild Card Tennessee NFL Draft Prospects
There are a lot of these players on Tennessee’s roster and to narrow it down to just a couple is a daunting task. One that sticks out is Jaylen McCollough. McCollough is a physical run support safety and flies downhill to make tackles in the backfield. His main weakness is making plays on the ball in the air. McCollough, really the secondary as a whole, seemed to be out of position on many pass plays and let receivers get behind them. He had been playing with a nagging foot injury throughout the course of last year which may have slowed him down.
With new coordinator Tim Banks being a proven developer of secondary, McCollough will look to improve his play and maybe create some buzz in the NFL draft world. Banks will need more of his defensive backs to turn into Tennessee draft prospects for him to turn the defense around.
The last one is very much a toss up in the sense that he is a completely new name on Rocky Top. Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee just a few months ago from Virginia Tech and will look to win the starting job in Heupel’s explosive offense. Hooker was in Heisman conversation entering the 2020 season but injuries as well as inconsistent play resulted in him leaving Blacksburg. If Hooker does win the starting job, he has the potential to turn Tennessee’s offense into one of the best in the country with his athleticism and become one of the Tennessee draft prospects.
With a very young roster, lots of players stand to gain from the new system and culture being put in place by Josh Heupel and crew. There are some experienced names that will look to lead Tennessee back into success as well as improve their own draft stock. If Heupel turns things around at Rocky Top, then these six players will not be the only Tennessee draft prospects. Should be exciting times ahead for Big Orange Nation despite the events that transpired under the Pruitt tenure.
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