For the first time in the history of the modern NFL Draft (since the AFL merger in 1967), Tennessee placed only one player - first round selection Robert Ayers - in the seven rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Connections are sure to be made between this moment of negative history and the downfall of Phillip Fulmer, and perhaps rightfully so. It should be noted that Ayers is the fifth Vol to be taken in the first round in the last four seasons, and that the Vols have had a player selected in the first round 21 of the last 30 years, and have sent 32 players to the first round of the draft in total since 1980. Jerod Mayo's first round selection last season turned into an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year season, so while this isn't really a developing trend, it is a historic moment.
It would take a cataclysmic event to not put Eric Berry and Dan Williams in next year's NFL Draft, not to mention a handful of others who should hear their names called at some point next April. But Ayers' solo experience once again makes us question how much of the 2008 Vol struggles were simply a lack of talent, as opposed to Clawfensive struggles or other misfortune. And likewise, the offensive futility seriously damaged the draft prospects of several Vols, most notably Arian Foster.
Much of that 2008 talent - or lack thereof - will still be wearing orange in September. And regardless of the new season's outcome, much of the blame for struggling may continue to be placed on Phillip Fulmer instead of Lane Kiffin - if the Vols struggle again in 2009, Fulmer will be blamed for devoiding the program of talent, and if the Vols succeed (or perhaps just improve, which isn't asking much in the win column), Fulmer will be blamed for a poor coaching effort by comparison.
Either way, it's a new experience for the Vols to only have 1 of the 256 most NFL ready upperclassmen in college football. Let's hope it's back to normal this time next year.