The 2019 NFL draft wrapped up this weekend in Nashville, and the Vols failed to see a single player drafted this year. Much of that had to do with the roster turnover associated with a coaching change, but it was a rough weekend for the Vols.
Looking ahead now to 2020, there will be several players that should hear their name called in Las Vegas during the NFL Draft. Let’s take look at who has a best chance to get drafted next year:
Should be Drafted
These are the guys that you can feel pretty good about landing somewhere in the 2020 Draft. Unless something crazy happens, these guys will break the one year drought:
Darrell Taylor (6-4, 255lb, Senior)
Under Butch Jones, the most memorable moment of Taylor’s career came on via a hot mic before the Virginia Tech game at Bristol. Last year, however, he started to put it together as we saw his unique size and athleticism translate to on the field success. Heading into his senior year, he is probably the best draft prospect on the entire roster. If he had declared after this past season, he probably would have ended up around the 5th or 6th round. If he can produce consistently this year, he has all the intangibles to potentially be a second or even first rounder.
Marquez Callaway (6-2, 199lb, Senior)
Last year we saw Callaway take over as the true WR1 in the Volunteer offense, and he didn’t disappoint. The passing game struggled at times, large in part to the offensive line, but Callaway was consistently a bright spot. With a better offensive line and offensive coordinator, as well as another year to build chemistry with Jarrett Guarantano, he has the potential to put up some big numbers. With a good combine, Callaway may be one of the best receiver prospects in the draft.
Jauan Jennings (6-3, 216lb, Senior)
On paper, Jennings has everything you could ever want in a wide receiver. He is big, strong, athletic, has strong hands, and is one of the best blocking receivers I have ever seen. However, we are all still waiting for him to stay healthy and put it all into a complete season. We all have seen what he is capable when healthy, but his injury concerns and off the field history will hurt his stock. Regardless, he has too much potential for a team not to take a chance on him.
Nigel Warrior (6-0, 199lb, Senior)
Warrior was a guy a lot of people figured would be at Tennessee for three years and then head to the pros. Things started clicking for him in the second half of his sophomore year, and with his new head coach being a renowned secondary coach, a breakout junior campaign was expected. However, Warrior struggled with consistency last year and now is back for a final season. If he can take the next step and breakout, he could see his named called early in 2020. Even if he doesn’t take the next step many are hoping for, he is still a very draftable player.
On the Bubble
Tennessee has several players that look like future NFL players, and pending their performance in 2019, could find their way into the draft.
Dominick Wood-Anderson (6-4, 264 lb, Senior)
The former highly-touted JUCO recruit didn’t see his name on the stat sheet nearly as much as he would have wanted last year, but a lot of that was due to factors outside of his control. The offensive line was just so bad last year, that Wood-Anderson was often needed to stay in and help with protection. In Jim Chaney offense, he is certain to get more chances to make some plays this year. If he can play up to his potential, it is easy to imagine a guy with his size and athleticism finding himself somewhere in the draft.
Daniel Bituli (6-3, 243lb, Senior)
Bituli has had some pretty phenomenal games as a Vol, including 23 tackles against Georgia Tech. Last season, he began to really anchor the defense, and grew a lot under Pruitt. He is a big, smart player that is a pretty sure tackler. He needs to improve his coverage skills and his combine performance may be a little questionable, but with a good senior season, it is more likely than not he works his way into the late rounds.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. (6-1, 225lb, Senior)
Kirkland’s career at Tennessee has certainly been an interesting one. He has dealt with a plethora of unfortunate injuries and almost transferred at one point. When he is actually on the field he has been one of the Vol’s better defenders. Of course, now there is talk he may sit out his senior year to make sure he is healthy and prepare for the draft. If he doesn’t play at all this year, his next stop is probably somewhere as an undrafted free agent, but if he does play a complete 2019 season, and play well, he could sneak into the later rounds.
Emmit Gooden (6-2, 302lb, Senior)
Gooden came in to his junior season with high expectations, largely due to his role in the Netflix reality show Last Chance U. However, it took him a little longer than expected to get comfortable and carve out a role on the defense. The last quarter of the season though, he really started to find his own, and was praised as one of the best players on the defense in the closing stretch. If he can continue to build on that success, improve his pass rush, and show some versatility, then he could become a draftable player.
Baylen Buchanan and Tyler Byrd are also guys that could have a professional future, but their shot will likely come via undrafted free agency.
Potential to Leave Early
There are several more guys that may make the decision to move on and declare early for the draft.
Trey Smith (6-6, 337lb, Junior)
Smith arrived in Knoxville as one of the highest ranked commits in Tennessee history and his impact was felt immediately. After his freshman year, there was talk that he could be a top 10 pick if he declared early two years later. Sadly, Smith has seen his playing career fall into jeopardy after two different instances of blood clots being discovered in his lungs. It is still unknown if he will ever be able to play football again, but things are looking up for his junior season. If he is able to play the entire year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go ahead and declare to try to seize the opportunity just in case the clots were to come back. If he were to declare, it is hard to really determine just how teams would evaluate him, but he could easily be a draft pick.
Ty Chandler (5-11, 201lbs, Junior)
If the Orange and White Game is any indication, Ty Chandler is sure to have a big role in Chaney’s offense. He is simply a playmaker and the coaching staff is going to try to find a way to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. If he were to have a big year next year, he may decide to forgo his senior season and avoid taking another year of hits to take a shot at the pros. His versatility perfectly fits today’s NFL and with a big year, he could be a later round guy.
Jarrett Guarantano (6-4, 215, Junior)
This may be a bit of a stretch, but if you care to dive into the advanced statistics show that he was actually one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC last year. Now imagine a situation where the offensive line greatly improves the protection and Chaney’s offense allowed Guarantano to have a breakout year. Suddenly an athletic quarterback with great size and a strong arm coming off a big year becomes an above average prospect. In a situatuon like this with a quarterback obbsessed NFL, it suddenly wouldn’t be that crazy to think he could leave early and even hear his name called pretty early in the draft. Is it a stretch? Yes. But could it happen? Also yes.