The time for rampant speculation is almost over. No more big boards, no more prospect rankings, no more hours of film review. The 2021 NFL Draft is set to begin Thursday, and thankfully it still includes a handful of Tennessee Volunteers.
In fact, there’s a chance that a couple of former Tennessee players hear their name in the first two days. For as rough as the actual college football season was, it’s refreshing to see guys live out their childhood dreams and make it to the big leagues. If you’re looking for a more self-serving take? It never hurts to have NFL players shouting out your school on Monday Night Football.
Here’s where we think Tennessee’s NFL Draft prospects will get selected on Thursday night.
OL Trey Smith
Clint: Mid 2nd Round
Smith has too much going for him to fall very far, even with the concerns about blood clots. The fact that he was able to play over 600 snaps last season is probably reassuring to a few teams still wondering about his health. As a football player, Smith has the ideal build for an NFL guard, and could even pitch in at right tackle if a team needed him to. He really does have all the tools and proven production of a first round pick. While it’s unlikely he hears his name called in the first 32 picks, Smith is a great player with an NFL future.
Terry: 3rd Round
This is a fascinating draft season with limited access to medicals. You’ve got to wonder how that might affect a guy like Trey Smith, who has a history of medical issues that forced him off of the field twice. On the field, Smith looks every bit the part of starting NFL guard. But his blood clots may create a bit of a slide on draft night. Let’s just hope it’s not too far.
DB Bryce Thompson
Clint: 6th Round
Once you get to the last few rounds, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. At that point it’s completely up to how you did in your interviews with the various teams. For Thompson, there’s a lot to like with his frame, his production in college, and the instincts he’s shown throughout his career. Unfortunately, he tailed off after the 2019 campaign and didn’t improve near as much as we thought he would. It begs the question: Does he actually have more room to improve? That’s up for an NFL team to decide. I think he ultimately gets picked up as a late round flyer. Decent chance of being a “steal” down the road.
Terry: 6th Round
Bryce’s decision to leave was a bit of a surprise, now it’s time to find out if his decision will pay off. The former four-star athlete took to the cornerback position quickly, becoming Tennessee’s top option as a freshman. Eight career interceptions later, Thompson bolted for the NFL Draft. Nothing really stands out when you look at his measurables, but that production along with three years of starting experience should find him a home late on Saturday.
WR Josh Palmer
Clint: Late 3rd Round
It’s a shame that Tennessee’s offense was stuck in the Mesozoic Era for Palmer’s entire career. He flashed a lot of good traits that have him quickly shooting up draft boards: he runs clean routes; locates the ball exceptionally well; and gets open at every level of the field.
Palmer’s biggest issue? An absolutely loaded wide receiver draft class. There’s a group of about 10-12 receivers in front of Palmer who have athletic gifts he simply can’t match. They have a “superstar” ceiling, whereas Palmer simply has a “high level starter” ceiling. That’s still good enough for a pick in the late 3rd round, where a team wants a smart player who can come in and contribute early.
Terry: 4th Round
Palmer is the latest of a long line of what-could-have-been prospects for Tennessee. The former three-star prospect emerged quickly with the Volunteers, but was forced to play in an offense that was frankly stuck in the mud. Quarterback issues plagued his time in Knoxville, but his flashes were truly brilliant (check out that Georgia tape). While the production isn’t there, he’s got a great excuse for it. Palmer tore up the Senior Bowl and opened plenty of eyes. He’s got a shot to go on Friday night, but I think he ultimately ends up having to wait until Saturday.
OL Brandon Kennedy
There’s plenty of football players who were never anything special in college, that still make a nice living in the NFL as practice squad members. I think this is where Brandon Kennedy is headed. He was a fine center while at Tennessee, and never seemed to be the main issue with the offensive line. He did exactly what was asked of him. Kennedy will never be the biggest or strongest guy on the field, but he can snap the ball and hold his own. Kennedy’s injury history with a torn ACL and knee surgery is likely holding him back as well.
Agreeing with Clint here. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about Kennedy’s athletic ability or strength, but he’ll bring smarts and experience to the table. His injury history is a clear red flag, and again — teams haven’t been able to do the amount of homework that they usually would. Kennedy has a battle ahead of him this offseason, but has the potential to become a depth piece if he lands in the right situation.