With plenty of non-sleep this evening, I figured I would take a look at the UT players who were drafted this last year and see how their prospects look. With one preseason game under each of their belts, we have the first chance to see if the teams and fans have begun forming opinions of them.
Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots:
I realize that a lot of UT fans were disappointed to see Mayo go to the Patriots. After all, most UT fans became fans of the Indianapolis Mannings somewhere toward the end of the '90s. But if you can shelve your feelings about the Patriots for a minute, you'll realize that Mayo was one of the luckiest draftees of the year. Most early draftees go to really bad teams, get playing time before they're ready, and don't have an opportunity to learn from the best players at their position. (Seriously, even if you don't like the Patriots, you have to respect Bruschi.) Mayo, despite being drafted 10th overall, went to a really good team with really good player development and some really good veteran linebackers to learn from. In fact, the fit was almost too perfect; Mayo has one of the best learning environments in the league and has three aging linebackers to compete against.
In his first preseason game, Mayo looked really crisp. The highlight is one that's quite familiar to us Vol fans - Mayo destroying a running back at the line of scrimmage. But not only that, the New England fans over at Pats Pulpit are very high on his performance.
Conclusion: Mayo appears to be on the fast track to a stellar career. If he doesn't earn a starting spot this year, expect him to contribute heavily anyhow. Barring disaster, he'll be starting for Darth Belichik next year. The Force is indeed strong in him.
Brad Cottam, Kansas City Chiefs:
If you paid any attention to the draft, you know that most people thought the Chiefs stole the show. It didn't hurt their case that they had a kajillion draft picks. The one that got the attention of the blathering heads was Dorsey - a phenomenon we remember well when he was on the sideline in Atlanta and the announcers stopped following the game to watch him limp. In fact, when he was drafted, the fanatics over at Arrowhead Pride were skeptical. Remember that the Chiefs fans are used to Tony Gonzalez, one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, so their bar is set rather high. Fortunately for our boy, his preseason debut went rather well. So well, in fact, that some of the commenters at 'Pride may think he'll be the Chief's best pick of the draft. In fact, one of their editors started referring to him as "a certain tight end". That's a good sign for our guy.
I want to emphasize that the Chiefs were universally regarded to have the best draft: 12 players in all - enough to field a side and still have a replacement. Of that lot, they're already penciling Cottam in as the next best thing. That's a heck of an impression for a guy they felt lukewarm about.
Conclusion: Win. Don't expect the Chiefs fans to put Cottam highlights here anytime soon. Another success story appears to be in order for a Vol.
Erik Ainge, New York Jets:
Yes, the Jets drafted a quarterback. Yes, the Jets have had Pennington. Yes, the Jets traded draft picks for 4avre. Oy.
Yes, something kinda like this. (via Shiskababy)
Let's put the optimist goggles on first. Pennington is now with the Miami Dolphins. Despite his best hopes, Favre has very few years left (and perhaps only this one). In this situation, Ainge should be able to watch and learn without enduring the rookie QB beating that is all-too common in the NFL. It's not that he'll learn from Favre (who I don't believe is much of a teacher), but the coaches will get plenty of time with Ainge, and Ainge is a great student.
But as any good Vol fan does, I'll temper that with a dose of doubt. Ainge - like Pennington - has had recent injury setbacks that he's played through. He has his occasional mental gaffes that have gained him some notoriety. He's also not famous for his deep ball, even though I think he can throw harder than he's given credit for. So in short, the Jets may believe they've picked up Pennington 2.0. That may or may not be good for Ainge. We'll just have to see.
Conclusion: Indeterminate. We'll have to wait a few years on Ainge, which is typical for a late-round QB. He's in a learning environment; we know he'll work to develop and he'll listen well, so it's up to the coaches to guide him in the ways of the NFL. It's not a bad situation, though, and we can be reasonably hopeful for him.