Tennessee Football Trio Land in Early NFL Draft Rankings

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    Cedric Tillman

    Tennessee Football Wide Receiver Cedric Tillman. Photo via Tennessee Athletics

    A trio of Tennessee football players is already getting spotlighted as future NFL Draft disrupters.

    In his latest NFL Draft 2023 prospect breakdown rankings, ESPN’s Todd McShay went through the Top 50 draft prospects overall. In addition, McShay also separated each position and listed the best prospects at each.

    While Tennessee did not have any prospects land in McShay’s Top 50 prospects list, three Vols do land on the position watch lists.

    Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman has the highest ranking of Tennessee’s three for his group, coming in as the No. 7 ranked wide receiver in McShay’s wideout rankings. Tillman lands as the No. 3 receiver representing the SEC behind LSU’s Kayshon Battle (No. 1) and Alabama’s Jermaine Burton (No. 4).

    Tillman ended his fourth Tennessee season last year as the Vols’ leading receiver in receptions and yards. The Nevada native racked up 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 64 receptions in 13 games. Tillman had standout performances against Georgia and Alabama during the 2021 season.

    Tennessee Football: What Opposing SEC Coaches Are Saying About Hendon Hooker

    Next up is Tennessee edge rusher Byron Young, who currently is ranked by McShay as the No. 10 outside linebacker in the NFL Draft prospect pool. Young is the fifth highest SEC representative in his group behind Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr (No. 1), Georgia’s Nolan Smith (No. 2), LSU’s BJ Ojulari (No. 4), and Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr (No. 7).

    In his first season at Tennessee in 2021, Young emerged as a dynamic pass rusher with raw power and potential. Young ended his debut season in Knoxville with 46 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks.

    Despite his 31-touchdown, three-interception season as the SEC’s leader in quarterback rating last year, McShay isn’t as high on Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker as he is on the other SEC quarterbacks.

    McShay has Hendon Hooker listed as the No. 13 NFL Draft quarterback prospect from college football this year. Some notable names that Hooker sits behind are Alabama’s Bryce Young (No. 2), Kentucky’s Will Levis (No. 3), Florida’s Anthony Richardson (No. 5), South Carolina transfer Spencer Rattler (No. 9), and LSU’s Jayden Daniels (No. 10).

    On one hand, it is important to note that McShay isn’t ranking the top college quarterbacks. He’s ranking them by their NFL Draft projection.

    There’s no way that Hooker is the sixth-best quarterback in the SEC entering the season after the numbers he put up, after starting on the bench, in Josh Heupel’s first year. However, from this perspective, Hooker doesn’t seem as low as the sixth-best draft prospect from the conference either.

    Ultimately, though, those things don’t matter. Pre-season projections don’t matter, either. For all of these players, including the three that are representing Tennessee, the chance to turn themselves into undeniable NFL prospects will happen this upcoming season. Gaps will widen and shorten between certain players as they battle it out to reach a good draft spot in next year’s NFL Draft.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.