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Vols in the NFL Draft: The Last Quiet April, For Real This Time

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Thanks to injuries and key players returning to school, the Vols may go empty in the NFL Draft two years in a row. But after several false alarms, 2016 really does look like the last time Tennessee won't have a major presence in the draft.

Despite being the only Vol taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, things turned out just fine for Malik Jackson
Despite being the only Vol taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, things turned out just fine for Malik Jackson
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Four years ago we said April of 2012 would be the last time you, as a Tennessee fan, wouldn't care about the NFL Draft. That year Malik Jackson was the only Vol on the board, taken in the fifth round (though, you know, he's done alright for himself). Things were better the next year with Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, and Dallas Thomas going in the first three rounds and Mychal Rivera joining them in round six. But those draft picks didn't translate into success for Derek Dooley, which did translate into another coaching change, which then translated into another set of disinterested years in the NFL Draft.

Last year, when faced with the possibility and then the reality that the Vols would not have a player taken in the draft for the first time since 1963, we thought it represented the bottom again. The NFL Draft is always the last place a rebuild shows up, but we thought the Vols would be represented and represented well in 2016.

And then, unfortunately, Curt Maggitt and Marquez North got hurt. And then, fortunately, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Cameron Sutton all stayed in school.

So as we come to this year's draft, it seems likely the Vols will add another zero or one to this chart:

Vols in the NFL Draft 2
If no one takes a chance on Maggitt, North, or a Vol Pro Day workout warrior like Brian Randolph or Owen Williams, adding another zero to that list would leave us with this breakdown:

  • 6.8 players taken per year from 1994 (the first year the draft went to seven rounds) to 2003
  • 4.0 players taken per year from 2004-2010
  • 1.7 players taken per year from 2011-2016
Again, this says a lot about why the Vols went 40-47 from 2008-2014. But we would have already stopped connecting those dots if Tennessee's three underclassmen hadn't returned to school. Which means next year, the Vols could have a huge weekend at the NFL Draft.

Along with Kamara, JRM, and Sutton, it'll be interesting to see where Josh Dobbs falls in NFL Draft conversations. CBS Sports lists him as the third best pro QB prospect among rising seniors, though I'm sure there will be some underclassmen above him in the conversation. And while there are no guarantees, I don't think anyone is expecting Derek Barnett or Jalen Hurd to be back for more with the Vols in 2017.

That's six names you can easily put on the board for next year's draft before we even start talking about guys like Corey Vereen, Dylan Wiesman, or a surprise big year for another junior like Ethan Wolf. Six Vols taken in next year's draft would be the best year since 2010, seven the best since 2003.

It's coming, along with, we hope, so many other good things for Tennessee this year. So, for real this time, this is the last time you won't care about the NFL Draft with Tennessee.