Tennessee had three players forgo their senior seasons in favor of declaring early for the 2018 NFL Draft after the 2017 season. Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, running back John Kelly, and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie all elected to put their names into consideration for this year’s draft rather than return for another year as a Vol.
And Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer believes some of those players might have been better off returning for the 2018 college football season.
In an interview with Emily Proud of WATE Sports, Fulmer stated that he’s rooting for all the Vols who are up to be drafted this year, but some “probably should be here still.”
“I’m for everybody who wants to go out and be drafted. I’m pulling for all those kids,” Fulmer said. “I think a couple of them probably should be here still. But they chose that, and life goes on and we’ll go on without them. But I hope they get drafted and make it and do super.”
Phillip Fulmer on #Vols Draft prospects: “I think a couple of them probably should be here still.”
Who do you think will be the first #VFL taken? pic.twitter.com/byvB3uMuDR
— Emily Proud (@emprosports) April 27, 2018
So far, Gaulden’s decision has paid off for him. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 85th overall pick in the third round on Friday night. John Kelly will likely be taken on the last day of the draft, and there’s a chance McKenzie will also be selected on Saturday.
But could some or all of those players have improved their stock if they played under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt this upcoming season?
We’ll never truly know, but someone like McKenzie especially could’ve benefited from another year in college to try and put up some better production than what he did while at Tennessee. But McKenzie also dealt with injuries during his Vol career, and the allure of making NFL money as soon as possible definitely has its appeal. Kelly probably could’ve benefited from the Vols’ new offensive system, but he was ready to test the NFL waters. Not only that, but running backs have arguably the shortest shelf life of any position in football, so Kelly might be making a financial decision just like McKenzie.
The NFL Draft has already completed the first three rounds this year, and the final four rounds will conclude on Saturday. The draft resumes at noon on Saturday with the beginning of the fourth round.