Tennessee has had nine total players drafted over the last two NFL Drafts. There were six Vols taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, and three more Vols were selected in last year’s draft. Before that, though, the Vols went two-straight years without getting a single player drafted into the NFL. That drought ended a 50-year streak of at least one Vol being selected in the NFL Draft.
This year, it looks like the Vols could end up not having a player drafted for the third time in five years and end their budding two-year streak.
The Vols didn’t have a single player invited to this year’s NFL Combine. That doesn’t guarantee that they won’t have anyone drafted, but it means the chances are slim. There were 338 invites sent out to players from the NFL, and not a single one was given to a Vol.
Tennessee has several draft eligible players this year, but very few are thought of very highly. On CBS Sports’ big board of draft eligible players, only underclassman Quart’e Sapp appears on the board when looking at the draft class by position rankings. And the redshirt junior only barely squeezes in, coming in at the very last spot on the linebacker board as the No. 44 overall linebacker in this year’s draft class.
Last year, there were 39 linebackers drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. So unless Sapp really improves his standing between now and April, it’s highly unlikely he gets drafted.
So does this mean Tennessee will have another year where no Vol get selected into the NFL during the draft weekend?
In the famous words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Defensive lineman Kyle Phillips appears to be Tennessee’s best shot at not striking out during the 2019 NFL Draft. Phillips picked up some momentum at the East-West Shrine Game this winter, and his senior season at Tennessee finally saw him cash in on some of his five-star potential.
Phillips had easily the best year of his UT career in 2018, totaling 56 tackles, five sacks, eight tackles for loss, an interception, five passes defended, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a blocked kick. He also returned that interception for a touchdown, earning him the Piesman Trophy — a new award given annually by SB Nation to a “big man” making an exceptionally athletic play.
Right now, Phillips is training down in Boca Raton, Florida at the XPE Sports training facility, and his athleticism has turned heads while there.
In an article on NFLDraftScout.com, Phillips is featured in part of their “Path to the Draft” series. Ric Serritella of NFL Draft Scout calls Phillips a “hybrid defensive lineman” who is “agile, athletic, and extremely quick.”
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman came into Tennessee as a five-star defensive end prospect but was moved to defensive tackle because of injury issues in UT’s interior defensive line. He eventually moved back out to defensive end, and he served as a defensive end for Jeremy Pruitt in his 3-4 defensive scheme this year.
According to Serritella, that versatility is both a blessing and a curse for Phillips. It shows that he’s gifted enough athletically to play multiple positions, but it leaves NFL scouts questioning where exactly he would fit best.
“NFL teams are split as to whether they like him more lining up inside or outside along the defensive line,” Serritella writes. “His frame and athleticism could possibly even allow for him to line up as a 3-4 outside linebacker. While his position at the next level remains a mystery, one thing is for certain. His speed is sure to grab the attention of talent evaluators come pro day on March 14th.”
Serritella isn’t the only one enamoured with Phillips’ speed and athleticism, though.
In the accompanying video in the article, Tony Villani of XPE Sports is interviewed about Phillips. And he says that the Vols’ defensive end has actually tested better than a lot of the edge rushers at XPE Sports who have been invited to the NFL Combine this year.
“Kyle Phillips is a long, lean kid who came in and pre-tested a lot more athletic than a lot of the D-ends we have that are going to the combine,” Villani said. “He’s going to do very well on the testing drills. (He’s) a very, very long and reaching guy that has some smooth muscles and speed to him.”
In his Tennessee career, Phillips totaled eight sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 41 total games.
Last season, 23 defensive ends were drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. That was the fourth-most by any position group. The most-drafted group was linebackers with 39. There have been at least 20 defensive ends drafted in five of the last six NFL Drafts, and that position grouping led all positions in the 2013 draft when 30 defensive ends were selected through the seven rounds.
If Tennessee doesn’t want to get shut out in this year’s NFL Draft, Phillips is their likeliest option. But he still has a lot to prove.
Phillips will have a chance to show off that athleticism even more when he participates in drills and testing in front of NFL scouts at Tennessee’s Pro Day in March. He and several other Vols will be on UT’s campus for Pro Day on March 14th.