It’s been two years since the Vols have had a single player drafted in the NFL draft, and Tennessee hasn’t had a player taken in the first round of the draft since then either. Offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James was selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Maimi Dolphins, but no Vol has been taken in the first round since.
But all that figures to change in 2017.
The Vols have several players on their roster who will be drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft whether it’s because they’re graduating seniors or juniors who will declare early, and there are a few who are already getting first-round grades.
Pro Football Focus already has out a way-too-early 2017 first round NFL mock draft, and in that draft are two current Vols. And one of them is projected to be taken very, very high.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett go No. 1 and No. 2 according to PFF, and then with the No. 3 overall pick, they have Tennessee’s Derek Barnett going to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here’s what PFF has to say about Tennessee’s premier defensive end:
Barnett brings a different style from Garrett, but he’s nearly matched his on-field production with a No. 30 national ranking as a true freshman in 2014 and a No. 2 finish at +54.7 last season. He stepped into the SEC as an excellent run defender as a freshman, then took his pass rushing to a new level as a sophomore with 62 pressures that ranked fifth in the nation. Barnett adds yet another piece to the ever-evolving Jaguars defense.
But Barnett isn’t the only Vol that Pro Football Focus has going in the first round.
With the No. 24 overall pick, PFF has the Dallas Cowboys taking Cam Sutton. PFF says this about Sutton:
After a strong 2014 that saw him post the second-best coverage grade of the returnees, Sutton took a step back in 2015. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he has the size that the NFL will covet, but he has to return to his 2014 ways when he allowed only 43.3 percent of targets to be completed and his 10 passes defensed tied for 10th in the nation.
So PFF seems to have faith in Sutton’s ability to bounce back after a dip in 2015. And apparently it will be good enough to vault him into the late first round.
Barnett figures to be a surefire first-round pick by every major media service out there. Sutton should get consideration, and Jalen Hurd and Jalen Reeves-Maybin could even be dark horse candidates to make it into the first round. Tennessee should at least have one first-round selection in 2017, but there’s a chance multiple Vols could be taken there.
The Vols will end their draft drought in the 2017 NFL Draft with a number of players expected to be drafted on the current roster. And there could be more than one Vol taken in the first round if everything falls into place.