Four former Tennessee Volunteers were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft in April. The New Orleans Saints took Alontae Taylor with a second-round selection, followed by the Chicago Bears taking Velus Jones Jr with a third-round pick. In addition, Matthew Butler was taken by the Las Vegas Raiders in the fifth round and Cade Mays was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round. Rounding out Tennessee’s list was Theo Jackson, who was selected by the Tennessee Titans in his hometown of Nashville in the sixth round.
All in all, Tennessee’s five NFL Draft picks are the most players that Tennessee has sent to the league through the draft since 2017 (six). Tennessee eclipsed 2021 and 2020 by three players, 2019 by five players, and 2018 by two players. And that was all done after just one year with Josh Heupel and his staff at the helm.
While all five of Tennessee’s former players are settling into their new homes, two, in particular, have stuck out according to recent reports and stories.
Alontae Taylor, a four-year player at Tennessee, unquestionably ended his career as one of the most impactful leaders on the Vols’ football team. Not because he had to, but because that is just the type of person and player that Taylor is. Now, less than a month into officially being a New Orleans Saints player, Taylor is already figuring out how to translate his leadership qualities to his new teammates.
“I feel like I am a born leader,” Taylor said in a post-workout interview posted by the Saints’ social media team last week. “I feel like it’s natural for me. I understand that building relationships is the most important part and so I’m building a relationship with all of the guys that are here now. And then just looking forward to building a relationship with the veteran guys whenever we get in with them.”
Taylor’s fearless nature has always been a positive on the field, but its importance may not have always been seen off the field as frequently. Alontae Taylor is the type of person to have that necessary fearless mentality when getting to know people or stepping into the batter’s box, to use a reference from a different sport, when trying to rally the troops.
“It’s just always who I am,” Taylor said in the interview. “It’s just who my personality is. I can’t go anywhere without feeling like I’ve got to say something or I’ve got to lead by example. So it’s just naturally who I am.”
With Taylor’s rookie minicamp now in the rearview mirror, he will be reporting to the next one week from Tuesday for the start of OTAs, or organized team activities. Taylor, who will don No. 27 with the Saints, will then officially begin mandatory minicamp on June 14 through 16.
Saints CB Alontae Taylor pic.twitter.com/4b0V21ZfTX
— NOF (@nofnetwork) May 14, 2022
Speaking of fearless mentalities, former Tennessee wideout Velus Jones Jr is the living embodiment of that trait on the football field. Tennessee fans watched along for two years as Jones Jr dazzled and dodged past opposing defenses with breakout speed and jaw-dropping change of direction. And that’s exactly what the Chicago Bears love about him.
“He can handle this league, you can see that already,” said Luke Getsy, Chicago’s offensive coordinator, via NBC Sports. “Then, the speed just jumped at you on the tape. When that guy gets the ball in his hands, he looks like 4.3 on the field. Not many guys can do that, and I think that is what stood out about this guy. He has a chance to score every time he touches the ball.”
Throughout his time at Tennessee, Jones Jr was known for the unexpected. Whether it was a press conference tangent going back to his pee-wee football days or discussing the “NightHawk” nickname unprompted after the Vols’ victory against South Carolina, the key is to expect the unexpected. This is exactly what the Bears have seemingly realized early on.
“He’s all business, man,” Luke Getsy said via NBC. “He came in in a suit. He was ready to go. He takes great notes. Bought his own whiteboard, you know. He came in ready. He was focused, he’s a business approach. So, I’m excited, he’s somebody that’s going to be all-in, focused on trying to figure everything out. It’s a lot for all of those guys right now but I loved the way he came in, his approach.”
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) May 10, 2022