The 2018 NFL Draft wrapped up this weekend with three players from Tennessee hearing their name called. Rashaan Gaulden headed to the Panthers in the 3rd round, John Kelly saw his name called by the Rams in the 6th round, along with Kahlil McKenzie — who will head to the Chiefs and play offensive guard.
So now we shift gears to 2019. Which rising players will have a shot at getting drafted next year? Let’s dive in.
Marquez Callaway (6-2, 199, Junior)
If this staff knows what’s best for them, they’ll load up No. 1 with targets. After Callaway bailed Butch Jones and Larry Scott out against Georgia Tech, they rewarded him with — well — virtually nothing. Callaway was seldom targeted for the rest of the season, which was just incredibly dumbfounding to everyone.
Callaway is a physical 50-50 ball winner who can get up with the best of them. If he’s going against man coverage, odds are Callaway is coming down with the football. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where Callaway blows up and declares early for the NFL.
Nigel Warrior (6-0, 194, Junior)
One positive that came out of the dreadful 2017 season was the play of Warrior, who emerged as a leader and a playmaker down the stretch for Tennessee. Now a junior, Warrior is expected to lead this new look defense. We’ll see if a new staff can elevate his game to another level. He’s certainly got the athletic ability to do so.
Jauan Jennings (6-3, 209, R-Junior)
Yes, Jauan Jennings is officially back as a redshirt junior. The embattled receiver was set to become the No. 1 target for Tennessee last season, but went down in the first quarter of the first game of the season with a wrist injury. He’s back now after being given another shot by Jeremy Pruitt and AD Phillip Fulmer.
The football ability is undeniable, but Jennings is going to have to keep it together off the field to get back on the NFL’s radar. With another potential two years, it’s possible he can become a draftable player once again.
Shy Tuttle (6-2, 309, Senior)
Tuttle’s main issue at Tennessee has been health. He said that he’s as healthy as he’s ever been just a few weeks ago, so fingers-crossed that he can put together a full season in 2018.
The former five star recruit is still strangely somewhat of an unknown at this point. He’s going to be playing a new position at nose tackle this fall. It’s possible that he could flash enough to get into late round consideration.
Kyle Phillips (6-4, 263, Senior)
Phillips wasn’t quite the force Tennessee needed on the outside last year, but he did flash some moments of interior disruption. He’s going to be handling the five-tech (34DE) position this season, which should maximize that. A productive season could get him on the NFL’s radar.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. (6-1, 238, Senior)
Here’s another guy that just needs to stay healthy. Kirkland missed a chunk of time in 2016 and the entire season in 2017. He was expected to be one of the leaders of the 2016 team, which had high expectations.
Finally, Kirkland is set to return. Pruitt said that he was getting close to returning at the end of the spring. It sounds like he’s going to be ready for camp, so we’ll see if Kirkland can put together a full season in the middle of Tennessee’s defense.
Jonathan Kongbo (6-6, 264, Senior)
Jonathan Kongbo was supposed to be the replacement for Derek Barnett, who was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft after breaking Tennessee’s career sack record just months before. That didn’t work out.
Kongbo totaled just 2.5 sacks in 2017 and never really showed any of the dominant traits that made him a top ranked recruit. He’s likely going to be working more on the inside this year, so maybe there’s hope for him to develop an interior game.
Chance Hall (6-4, 315, Senior)
Tennessee was dealt a huge blow losing junior tackle Chance Hall in camp last year. It was just the first ding to the offensive line, which became a huge problem by the end of the year. Hall is back now, per Pruitt, despite some doubt.
I’m interested to see where they play him, too. He didn’t handle quickness great out on an island at tackle, so it would make some sense to get him a look at guard.