Tennessee’s goose egg in the NFL Draft last weekend made some national headlines, as the Vols snapped a streak of having at least one player drafted every year since 1963, the sixth longest streak in the nation behind only Michigan (1938), USC (1939), Penn State (1951), Florida (1951) and Nebraska (1962).
A variety of circumstances led to that outcome. It primarily pointed to the lack of talent recruited by former coach Derek Dooley and the attrition that the program suffered during his tenure. Curt Maggitt, a potential draftee, opted to return to school for his senior season.
A.J. Johnson, who would’ve almost certainly been selected, was passed over due to ongoing legal concerns. And Justin Coleman, who had one of the best combine performances among defensive backs, was projected to be as high as a fifth-round pick (by NFL.com), but was ultimately passed over before signing a free-agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
Not much, if any of it, has to do with Butch Jones. Jones, in fact, has restocked the roster with talent that should restart the streak in the coming years. Jones was asked about it earlier this week in Memphis during one of the stops on the Big Orange Caravan.
“You view it a number of ways,” Jones said. “I’m excited for the opportunity that our (undrafted free agent) players are going to get. With Justin Coleman, Jordan Williams (Jets), Matt Darr (Dolphins) – they worked so hard. Justin Worley has the tryout coming up with the Browns. So there’s so much that goes into that. But also, we produce NFL players at the University of Tennessee.
“Players come here to have a great opportunity to play in the National Football League, get a tremendous, tremendous education, and be part of something special that’s bigger than them, and that’s Tennessee football, and that’s what we talk about all the time. Again, it’s all about recruiting, it’s all about developing. We don’t expect that to happen very often. But I am excited about those players and their opportunities. And like I told every single one of them, it’s not where you’re drafted – it’s the opportunity. And they’re going to have the opportunity to compete at a high level, and now it’s up to them to put their training to the test.”
The Vols have had 340 players drafted all-time and a recent mock draft featured cornerback Cam Sutton and receiver Marquez North in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.