RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Aside from realizing that NFL Monday Night Football’s 2019 season debut match-up between the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints may already be a Game of the Year candidate, football fans everywhere might have realized that, despite the decade-plus of turmoil the program has faced, the University of Tennessee continues to produce star-level NFL talent.
Alvin Kamara, who began this season as the primary running back for the first time in his professional career, totaled more than 1,900 all-purpose yards and finished with 23 total touchdowns in his two-year Tennessee career. Now, he’s a budding star in the NFL.
Last season, Kamara and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey became just the second and third players, respectively, in NFL history to accumulate more than 1,500 rushing and 1,500 receiving yards in their first two professional seasons. The only other player to achieve that feat is Hall of Famer Herschel Walker.
But Kamara wasn’t the only former Vol to make headlines on Monday Night Football.
Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle was signed as an undrafted free agent to the Saints after the 2019 NFL Draft. On Monday Night, he made his NFL debut, recording one tackle and half a sack.
According to CBS writer Chris Trapasso, however, two current Vols may join the likes of Tuttle, Kamara, and others as Vols in the pros.
Trapasso put out a new 2020 NFL first round mock draft this week, and included in the first 32 picks of his mock draft are two current Vols.
On the defensive side, senior edge rusher Darrell Taylor is predicted by Trapasso to be drafted 27th by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would join Tennessee’s all-time sack leader and 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett.
“Taylor has major juice around the corner and knows how to use his hands to beat blockers,” according to Trapasso.
Taylor has improved statistically every season since coming to Knoxville. Last season, the Virginia native finished with eight sacks, including a monster four-sack performance against Kentucky en route to a 24-7 victory over the Wildcats, earning him SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Going even higher to the Miami Dolphins with the 18th overall pick will be fan-beloved offensive lineman Trey Smith, according to Trapasso. Although Smith has had health issues in the past and is still battling blood clots in his lungs, Smith has proven to be one of the strongest and most skilled offensive linemen in the nation.
“While Tennessee has gotten off to an atrocious start, Smith has been healthy and dominant,” Trapasso stated. “He has insane upside based on his natural power and freakish athleticism. The Dolphins get Tua [Tagovailoa] a promising offensive tackle,”
Smith came to Tennessee as ESPN’s No. 1 overall high school prospect for the class of 2017, and he has done nothing but live up to the hype when he’s been on the field.
During his Tennessee career, Trey Smith has accumulated Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2017, and he was named to the 2019 Wuerffel Trophy Preseason Watch List for community service.
Smith sat out spring practices in 2018 after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. He was cleared to play late in fall camp, and he started the first seven games of his sophomore season before the blood clots came back. Smith had to be sidelined the remainder of the season, and his career seemed in jeopardy.
Again, Smith was held out of spring practices this year, and it wasn’t until the last week of fall practice before the start of the 2019 season that Smith was cleared to play. Smith didn’t start the first game of this season, but he played extensively against Georgia State, and he earned a start at left guard in Week 2 against BYU.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Darrell Taylor and Trey Smith will become the first Vols since Derek Barnett to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, one thing is certain: the University of Tennessee, even its darkest ages, is capable of producing NFL talent.