1. Darrell Taylor, OLB
Though inconsistent, Darrell Taylor had a breakout season last year and easily had his best season as a Vol. Now, he returns for a pivotal redshirt senior season that could help him work his way into a potential first-round pick if everything goes right.
Taylor not only proved to be Tennessee’s best pass rusher last season, but he’s also at a position in high demand in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound outside linebacker is plenty capable of playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or gaining some more weight and playing with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 defense. That versatility will pay off big time for him.
For the third time in the last four years, the linebacker position was the most drafted position in the NFL Draft. There were 31 linebackers taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, and 39 linebackers were selected in the 2018 draft. Not only that, but 26 defensive ends were drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft. Taylor can play either of those positions, and they’re two of the most drafted positions year in and year out in the NFL.
Last season, Taylor won SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice, and he had some monstrous performances against both Georgia and Kentucky. Taylor totaled three sacks and two forced fumbles against the Bulldogs, and he tied a school record with four sacks against the Wildcats all while forcing a fumble and recovering it as well.
Unfortunately for Taylor, those two games served as the bulk of his production in 2018.
Taylor had eight sacks on the season, and seven of them came in those two games. The only other game in which Taylor recorded a sack was in UT’s season finale against Vanderbilt. Nine of Taylor’s 11 tackles for loss last season came in those three games.
If Taylor can improve his consistency and put up solid numbers in more than just two or three games this season, he should solidify himself as a pick in the first two days of the draft. If he really improves and shows he can also defend the passing game, there’s reason to believe he could work himself into the late first round.