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This is the last time you won't care about the NFL Draft

I'm for any excuse to use this picture of Tauren Poole.
I'm for any excuse to use this picture of Tauren Poole.

In the five months since Tennessee's last football game, the average UT fan has spent far, far more time talking about Andrew Luck (in relation to Peyton Manning) than any of the alma mater's draft hopefuls. That list appears to include only two names, three if you include Janzen Jackson along with Tauren Poole and Malik Jackson. All three aren't expected to hear their names called until Saturday, which would be a repeat performance from 2011 when Luke Stocker went in Round 4 and Denarius Moore in Round 5. None of this is to suggest that Poole or either Jackson won't ever contribute - Denarius caught 33 balls for 618 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season - but it is yet another indictment of what's become of Tennessee Football.

This is the back end of the three year recruiting failure that continues to be the greatest problem the Tennessee program faces. This year's senior class will in all likelihood continue the trend we've seen with the last two: Prentiss Waggner and Dallas Thomas could find their way to the draft, but beyond them there are unanswered questions about Herman Lathers' health, and a concern that Mychal Rivera is undersized for an NFL tight end. And considering that there are only thirteen seniors on the roster to begin with, options will be extremely limited next April.

But in a good news/bad news situation, Tennessee's juniors should ensure that this is the last time we'll have to wait until Saturday to hear a Vol's name called at the NFL Draft.

The triumvirate of Tyler Bray, Da'Rick Rogers, and Justin Hunter could all be good enough to become projected first round NFL Draft picks; Bray has been a Top 10 selection in every 2013 mock I've seen for the last year. We'll save the worry over the potential impact of losing all three as early entry casualties for another day, and simply focus on the positive for the NFL Draft: Tennessee hasn't had three players taken in the first round since the 2002 Draft (John Henderson, Donte Stallworth, Albert Haynesworth), and hasn't had three players from the same side of the ball taken in the first round since the 1991 Draft (Charles McRae, Antone Davis, Alvin Harper), which is the only time that's happened in school history.

Whether you think those three will eventually become that good or not, they are clearly good enough right now to make all of us think that this fall might be the first and only time we see all three of them together for a full season. But even just one of them going pro and being selected in the early rounds would signal a thankful end to Tennessee's talent drought.

How far have we fallen? Here's a look at the number of first round picks and players taken overall under Phillip Fulmer's watch:

  • 1994: 5 Players Drafted - Heath Shuler Round 1
  • 1995: 6 Players - James Stewart Round 1
  • 1996: 8 Players
  • 1997: 3 Players
  • 1998: 8 Players - Peyton Manning, Terry Fair, Marcus Nash Round 1
  • 1999: 6 Players - Al Wilson Round 1
  • 2000: 9 Players - Jamal Lewis, Shaun Ellis Round 1
  • 2001: 5 Players
  • 2002: 10 Players - John Henderson, Donte Stallworth, Albert Haynesworth Round 1
  • 2003: 8 Players
  • 2004: 4 Players
  • 2005: 3 Players
  • 2006: 5 Players - Jason Allen Round 1
  • 2007: 6 Players - Justin Harrell, Robert Meachem Round 1
  • 2008: 3 Players - Jerod Mayo Round 1
  • 2009: 1 Player - Robert Ayers Round 1

If you include Fulmer's last team in the misery, it's been a terrible run for the Vols. We can easily spin the last three years to ask why Lane Kiffin didn't win more games:

  • 2010: 6 Players - Eric Berry, Dan Williams Round 1
  • 2011: 2 Players
  • 2012: 2 Players (projected)

It should also be noted that under Fulmer, the Vols had a player drafted in the first two rounds every year except 2004, when Gibril Wilson was the first Vol taken in Round 5. So if projections hold this weekend, this will be the first time the Vols have gone consecutive years without a player taken in the first two rounds since 1974-75, and will be the first time four or fewer Vols have been drafted in a two year span since 1962-63.

Change is coming.