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Pair of Volunteers land on early 2021 NFL Draft Big Board

Will Tennessee have a first round pick next season?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The days of the Tennessee Volunteers having a minimal impact on the NFL Draft would seem to be over. After being shut out of the 2019 draft, Tennessee had two players selected in 2020. Darrell Taylor went in round two to the Seahawks, while Jauan Jennings found his home in round seven with the 49ers.

Next year looks even better for Tennessee. The headliner is obviously Trey Smith, who chose to come back for his senior season. But a few other names have a chance to go pretty high as well.

Incoming transfer Cade Mays was the highest ranked player on Bill Bender’s first big board over at Sporting News. Bender has Mays as a top 20 player in this class.

17. Cade Mays

Mays transferred from Georgia, and his ability to play multiple positions should push him to the middle of the first round. He’s the first of two Tennessee offensive linemen in our top 25.

Mays will join his little brother Cooper, who signed with Tennessee as a four-star recruit in last year’s class. Cade will be searching for immediate eligibility this fall, looking to create one of the best offensive lines in the country in Knoxville. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining, so it will be interesting to see if he wants to jump to the league after just one season as a Volunteer.

23. Trey Smith

Smith overcame blood clotting that threatened his career to get back on the field, and he would have been in the mix as a first-round pick this season because of his versatility. Another year of healthy production could vault him into the top 10.

Smith’s situation is more clear now — stay healthy and he’s a likely first round pick. Of course, medicals will weigh heavily into his draft stock as teams determine if his blood clot issues are truly in his past. Smith has now come back from two battles with blood clots, finally able to put together a full season in 2019. By the end of the year, Smith was back to being his dominant self. Another year of that and the NFL will be drooling.

Who else could be in this mix next year? I’d bet cornerback Bryce Thompson has a decent shot. He’s going into his third season as a starter and may have a decision to make after this year. Brandon Kennedy, Darel Middleton, Emmit Gooden and Josh Palmer are a few other options as things stand right now.