After months of speculation about whether or not the Vols would have a player taken in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, Rashaan Gaulden proved the doubters wrong.
Gaulden, who declared early for the draft after finishing up his redshirt junior season in 2017 with the Vols, was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the 85th overall pick in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft on Friday night. He was the first and so far is the only Vol to be drafted this year.
Gaulden became the 355th Tennessee player to be taken in the NFL Draft, and he was the first defensive back since Cam Sutton in last year’s draft to be selected into the NFL. Sutton was taken with the 94th overall pick in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in last year’s NFL Draft. Gaulden is also the third Vol to be drafted by the Panthers in their franchise’s history. They drafted safety Deon Grant with the 57th overall pick in the 2000 draft and took quarterback Jerry Colquitt with the 191st overall pick in the 1995 draft.
Tennessee continued their tradition of having players drafted in early rounds with Gaulden’s selection. He was the eighth Vol taken in the first three rounds of the draft since 2013. And that includes two years (2015 and 2016) in which Tennessee had no players drafted at all.
Though he’s listed as a cornerback, some analysts and scouts believe Gaulden could eventually turn into a safety in the NFL. He played primarily at nickelback with the Vols, and he was a force on defense the last two seasons. He totaled 133 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes defended, a interception, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries combined in 2016 and 2017.
The Panthers were mediocre against the pass during the 2017 NFL season. They gave up 229.1 passing yards per game, the 15th-most in the league, and allowed 25 passing touchdowns, the 11th-most by any team last season. And they did all that while only intercepting 10 passes all year, tying them with a few other teams for the 6th-fewest in the NFL.
Gaulden isn’t likely to start for Carolina as a rookie, but he should be able to come in and compete with Carolina’s corners for some playing time. And he’ll likely be able to prove himself on special teams in his first year in the NFL.
The NFL Draft continues on Saturday at noon. Rounds four through seven will take place on Saturday, and that will conclude the 2018 NFL Draft.