Simply put, this could be one of the worst drafts ever for former Tennessee players. Pat Kirwan of NFL.com projects that only three ex-Vols will be picked this weekend – linebacker Jerod Mayo, tight end Brad Cottam and quarterback Erik Ainge.
If Kirwan is correct and only three Vols are tabbed, that will match UT's lowest draftee total of the past 15 years. The Big Orange had only three players selected in 1997 and again in 2005. The 1997 draftees were receiver Joey Kent (Round 2), running back Jay Graham (Round 3) and safety Ray Austin (Round 5). The 2005 picks were linebacker Kevin Burnett (Round 2), punter Dustin Colquitt (Round 3) and running back Cedric Houston (Round 6).
Tennessee has had fewer than three players drafted just three times in the past three decades – 1980, 1989 and 1993. The '80 draftees were defensive back Roland James (Round 1) and linebacker Craig Puki (Round 3). The '89 duo consisted of linebacker Keith DeLong (Round 1) and quarterback Jeff Francis (Round 6). The '93 draftees were defensive end Todd Kelly (Round 1) and defensive back Dave Thomas (Round 8).
Interestingly enough, Kirwan rates each of this year's draft-worthy Vols among the top seven prospects at his respective position.
He ranks Mayo No. 2 among all linebackers in the draft and projects the 6-1, 242-pounder as a first-round pick.
Despite a plethora of injuries during his college career, Cottam is Kirwan's seventh-ranked tight end prospect and rated a Round 3 to Round 4 selection.
Ainge, who started for most of his four seasons at UT, is Kirwan's seventh-ranked quarterback. The NFL.com analyst believes concerns about Ainge's arm strength and mobility will make him wait until Round 6 before getting a call, however.
Kirwan does not list Eric Young among the top 10 offensive tackle prospects or the top five guard prospects, suggesting he will not be chosen during the seven-round draft.
Kirwan does not list Jonathan Hefney among the top 14 cornerbacks or the top 10 safeties, hinting that he, too, could be undrafted.
Ditto for former Vols Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds. Neither is listed among Kirwan's top 11 defensive end prospects.
What follows are Kirwan's comments about the three ex-Vols he expects to be drafted this weekend:
2. Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
Height: 6-1 Weight: 242
College stats: 26 starts, 236 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 interception
Vital numbers: 4.54 40-yard dash, 4.29 short shuttle
Mayo is one of the fastest-rising players on draft boards. I have enjoyed watching his game tapes. He is a very aggressive attack athlete who can get cut by a guard and still get up and make a tackle at the line of scrimmage. He has the instincts and skills to play all of the linebacker spots. He reminds me of Al Wilson, but faster. He needs to do a better job of keeping blockers off his legs at the NFL level. He might struggle early with good play-action passes that will trigger his downhill attack style and catch him out of position. Draft projection: Round 1.
7. Brad Cottam, Tennessee
Height: 6-7 Weight: 270
College stats: 21 receptions, 1 TD
Vital numbers: 4.63 40-yard dash
Cottam has had injury issues and lacks great production. He opened some eyes at the Senor Bowl in that there was more to this guy than originally believed. He impressed me getting down the seam and splitting safeties. He's the tallest tight end in the draft and has very respectable numbers from his workouts. The 4.27-second short shuttle for a player this tall is impressive, as well as the 36 ½-inch vertical. Any team looking for a tight end -- such as the Giants got when they picked Kevin Boss last year -- will like what they see in Cottam. He could easily play pro football at 285 pounds and still beat linebacker coverage. Cottam could be a surprise pick in this draft. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4.
7. Erik Ainge, Tennessee
Height: 6-5 Weight: 225
College stats: 37 starts, 8,700 yards, 72 TDs, 35 INT
Vital numbers: 4.98 40-yard dash, 4.60 short shuttle
Ainge was a late addition to the Senior Bowl when Ryan and Brohm both turned down the invitation to play. He did not distinguish himself during the week in Mobile, Ala. I did watch enough Tennessee tape to believe he is better than his all-star game performance. He knows who to throw to, but he doesn't snap the ball off which some would think was a function of a broken finger on his throwing hand in 2007. He rarely creates with his feet, and will be an easy target for NFL defenses to attack. He reminds me of Kerry Collins and Drew Bledsoe in the pocket, but doesn't have their arm or quick decision-making skills. Ainge may be a multiple-year backup in the NFL, and could take sacks like David Carr if he has to play. Draft projection: Round 6.