Tennessee Vounteers Football: Which Seniors Will Be Drafted?
Tennessee is lucky enough to keep most of its starters going into 2012. No young players have declared for the draft yet, and the only full-time starters that are graduating are Tauren Poole, Austin Johnson and Malik Jackson.
Of course, there are quite a few players that are graduating (13 to be exact). Which ones have a chance at being drafted and how early? Read on to see where I think they will go:
Tauren Poole, RB
Tauren Poole had a rough season because of nagging injuries all season. He rushed 163 times for 693 yards and five touchdowns. Not terrible, but it's way short of what was expected of him after he rushed 1000 yards in 2010.
He did have some impressive games against LSU and Alabama, getting 70 and 67 yards in those respective games. That doesn't sound great, but you have to remember how impossible it is to run against either of those teams, then also factor in that he only had 19 carries in each.
Against Cincinnati (early in the year when they were good), Poole put up 101 yards. This is significant because Cincinnati held NC State to negative rushing yards just two weeks later.
Poole's draft stock will depend on his combine performance. If he does well, teams will see that his injuries are taken care of and will ignore a lot of the bad tape. If he doesn't do so well, they'll start to think that 2011 was no fluke.
He'll be drafted, likely between the third (if he does well in the combine) to the fifth (if he struggles) round.
Malik Jackson, DE
I was hoping Malik Jackson would have a breakout season this year, but he fell short of my (very high) expectations, but he still did well enough to make the All-SEC squad.
Jackson had 57 total tackles (most of them solo) with 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two deflected passes. That's a pretty good season.
He's also the ideal size for a 4-3 defensive end at 6'5" and 270 lbs. He's also got a long enough frame to add the extra weight it'd take to play end in a 3-4. But, unfortunately, he's no Quinton Coples, so he'll be drafted late.
He'll probably go in the sixth or seventh round, but an impressive combine performance could get him some hype.
Austin Johnson, MLB
He only had one year as a starter, but it was a pretty good one. Austin Johnson led the Vols in tackles with 81 total tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack. However, the stat that really helps him is his four interceptions. That's a lot for a middle linebacker.
He's not as undersized as Nick Reveiz, Tennessee's last middle linebacker, so Johnson could have an outside chance at getting drafted. What he needs, since he may not be invited to the combine, is a big performance on his pro day and a good agent.
But if his measurements are correct, he's big enough to play in the NFL. That along with the four interceptions and some speed on his pro day could get him over the hump into the late rounds.
Ben Martin, DE
Ben Martin didn't begin the season as a starter, but he got more playing time in as the season progressed. He totaled 18 tackles, nine solo and nine assisted. That is far from impressive.
Still, a lot of that could be attributed to his non-presence on the field. In 2009, he had 34 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble before sitting out the 2010 season with a medical red-shirt.
He won't get drafted, but he's the right size for the NFL (6'3" and 265 lbs.), so he could definitely be signed in undrafted free agency if he has good measurables on Tennessee's pro day. Otherwise, he might want to start looking at the UFL and Canada.
The Other Guys
Other than those I already named, Tennessee has nine players graduating: quarterback Matt Simms, linebackers Daryl Vereen, Shane Reveiz and Jake Storey, wide receiver Anthony Anderson, punter Chip Rhome, long snapper Nick Guess, and defensive backs Art Evans and C.J. Fleming.
While some of them had their moments (Evans caught the Vol's first interception this season and Simms kept Tennessee competitive against Alabama), none of them really have a chance of getting drafted.
Some, like Simms, may be able to make a career in the UFL or Canada, but for most of them, football is over. On the bright side, many of them got a free degree, and that's always helpful.
Then there's the fact that they'll be able to say, for the rest of their lives, that they got to play for the Tennessee Volunteers, and that in and of itself, is something to be proud of.