After several lean years in the NFL Draft, Tennessee returned to prominence last week. Darnell Wright came off the board in the first round, while Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Byron Young followed on day two. In total, Tennessee had the second most players come off of the board in the first three rounds of any other school.
Josh Heupel has quickly transformed Tennessee back into what it should be. That pipeline should continue to roll going forward. Looking ahead to 2024, there are several names that could hear their name called next April.
Let’s take a look at who that could be.
QB Joe Milton: If Milton declared this past year, would he have been drafted? It’s possible, at least in terms of a late round flyer, due to his world class arm strength. If nothing else, he would certainly get his shot with some team after the draft. But forget all that — Milton has a chance to turn himself into a legit NFL prospect this fall. He’s already drawing some Anthony Richardson comparisons.
The size, the arm, the athletic ability — Milton has it all. We just haven’t really seen it all together at the same point in time. This is his third and final chance to put the pieces together, which will by far be his best opportunity to prove he can be a pro quarterback. He’ll have a loaded set of weapons, running an offense that finished last season ranked No. 1 in all of the FBS. It wouldn’t take much for an NFL front office to fall head over heels here.
WR Bru McCoy: NFL evaluators have known about McCoy for years now, thanks to his notorious recruitment a few years back. Now settled in in Knoxville, McCoy will be a primary target for Milton this fall. He’s going to put up numbers, using his big frame and power to keep the chains moving for Josh Heupel’s offense. McCoy looks the part, and a big year of production could send him flying up boards ahead of the 2024 draft.
TE McCallan Castles: Castles has yet to take a snap for Tennessee, but he’s already on the NFL’s radar, thanks to his work at UC Davis. Castles now has a chance to put out some SEC level tape, which would solidify him as an NFL prospect. He’ll get plenty of playing time following the departure of Princeton Fant.
OG Javontez Spraggins: The big, nasty, powerful guard has already received some first-round love. The 6-3, 325 pound prospect doesn’t play at a premier position, but he has all the makings of a starter at the next level. Following this season, Spraggins will have 35+ starts, barring injury.
C Cooper Mays: Mays isn’t a powerhouse, but he’s got plenty of experience and enough agility to find a home in the NFL. Teams may want him to add a little bulk, but Mays could find his way into the final fews rounds due to his bloodline and experience.
DT Omari Thomas: Big Omari Thomas came into his own last year, taking over for Matthew Butler. You won’t see his impact on the statsheet, but Thomas is disruptive on the interior. His 6-4, 320 pound frame is readymade for the NFL. Thomas should be in line for a big year, now in year three under Rodney Garner.
LB Aaron Beasley: Anybody that scouted Byron Young against Clemson more than likely found their eyes wandering to Aaron Beasley, who had the best game of his career. Taking over full time in the middle of Tennessee’s defense, Beasley is now the leader of the defense. The former safety has speed, and would fit in nicely in today’s NFL.
WR Dont’e Thornton: Little projection here, but hang with me. You’ve seen Tennessee receivers like Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Velus Jones Jr. thrive in this offense. Now you’re adding a 6-5 burner to the equation? I’m betting Thornton has a big year catching passes from Joe Milton this year, and his size/speed combo will be very attractive to NFL teams. He’s just a junior, but a big year could send him to the pros a year early.