Gaither and Mahelona were the last two players selected in the draft’s fifth round earlier today. Gaither went to the Philadelphia Eagles with pick 168 and Mahelona went to the Tennessee Titans moments later with pick 169.
The selection of the two ex-Vols brought to four the number of former University of Tennessee defensive players picked in the draft with five of the seven rounds completed. Defensive back Jason Allen was picked in Round 1, end Parys Haralson, Gaither and Mahelona in Round 5. No Vol offensive players had been selected through the first five rounds.
Gaither, a 6-2, 230-pound outside linebacker, ranked second among Vol tacklers last fall with 78. He registered 7.5 tackles for loss, including 4 sacks. He forced a team-high four fumbles and recorded five quarterback hurries. He is best known for his skills in pass coverage.
After joining the Vols from junior college, Mahelona starred in 2004 with an SEC-best 18 ½ tackles for loss. A preseason Playboy All-American, he was a marked man in 2005. Routinely double-teamed, he registered just 35 tackles last fall. Although he had but two sacks, he recorded 11 quarterback hurries.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper noted that Mahelona played “his best football” as a junior and “played at a high level” throughout the 2004 season. However, Kiper said Mahelona dropped on draft boards in 2005 because he did “not take it to the next level this past season.”
Interestingly, Mahelona will be competing for playing time with former Vol Albert Haynesworth, who was the Titans’ first-round pick in 2002.