Tennessee Football: 7 Current Vols Who Boast NFL Promise
Peyton Manning, Reggie White, Jamal Lewis, Leonard Little, Jason Witten and Arain Foster—the list goes on. For quite some time, Tennessee was considered a heavy producer of NFL-talent. In the glory years under Phil Fulmer, the Volunteers rank fourth among all Division I schools with 83 players being drafted in the NFL.
In a blink of an eye, Fulmer was gone, and in came Lane Kiffin and shortly thereafter Derek Dooley. With 35 current Vols earning NFL paychecks, has the one-time NFL player-producing superpower slowed?
There is no doubt that fewer and fewer Vols seem to go pro after the Kiffin/Dooley takeover. But all signs point to a rebound, with several current players on the roster who are likely to be playing on Sundays in the near future.
Here are seven current Tennessee players who boast the most NFL promise.
Yes, the JUCO transfer has yet to play a snap for the Orange, but Daniel McCullers is about as good as prospects get.
Earning a 4-star rating on Rivals, the 6'6", 380-pound defensive tackle will have immediate impact in the Vols' new 3-4 scheme. Expected to start right away at nose-tackle, McCullers is highly praised for his size, strength and ability to take on blockers.
Choosing UT over Alabama, McCullers comes out of Georgia Military College as the No. 38 overall JUCO player after recording 27 tackles and 15 sacks as a freshman.
Undoubtedly, McCullers is huge. However, he is surprisingly athletic and is often compared to the likes of former Alabama great Terence Cody and current Patriot Vince Wilfork.
McCullers possesses all the physical intangibles of any successful nose-tackle. He is anticipated to walk into a starting role, and high hopes are mounted for the newcomer.
A standout true freshman, Curt Maggitt played in 11 of 12 games, starting eight at strong-side linebacker. Maggitt showed flashes of brilliancy, finishing the season with 56 tackles (third on the team). Maggitt even surpassed UT royalty: He recorded the fourth-most tackles for a true freshman, ahead of Vol great Reggie White.
Playing in the speed-ridden SEC, Maggitt seemed to have no problem adjusting to the level of competition. The backer finished the 2011 season ranked second among all SEC freshmen with 5.1 tackles per game.
At a stout 6'3", 227 pounds, the young talent has an innate ability to defend the pass. Maggitt has quick feet and speed that makes him one of the best drop linebackers in the league. However, he is not a one-trick pony. He also possesses the ability to come up to the line of scrimmage and stop the run.
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson
The sophomore has yet to start a game at Rocky Top, but that does not mean the 6'6", 329-pound tackle isn't creating a buzz.
Earlier in the week, the UT football program released their first depth chart of the spring, and what do you know? In his first season of eligibility, Antonio Richardson finds himself starting at left tackle over three-year starter Dallas Thomas.
Richardson has enough accolades out of high school to share. A member of the US Army All-American Bowl, the prospect earned a 4-star rating on Scout and was named the No. 8 overall offensive tackle on ESPN.
With highly praised quickness and footwork, the newcomer allowed zero sacks in his junior year of high school, as well as adding 60 pancakes. Richardson is a rare combination of size and speed and will bring aid to a struggling Vols offensive line as well as draw the eyes of a NFL scout or two.
It is a moment any true Vol fan will never forget—Justin Hunter falling to the turf holding his left knee against the No. 16 Florida Gators on September 17. The then sophomore promptly underwent season ending ACL surgery that threw the Vols season into a downward spiral—and for good reason. Hunter’s physical intangibles are seldom matched by any other wideout in the country.
The 6'4", 200-pound would-be junior earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman Team honors after a first season with the Vols that saw Hunter break UT’s freshman record for receiving TDs with seven, which ranks tied for first among all NCAA FBS freshman receivers.
Playing in every game as a true freshman, Hunter led the team with an average of 25.9 yards per catch and is viewed as a big-play receiver. He is a constant deep-ball threat and stars in track as well as football. Hunter’s ability as a playmaker has been well documented in the very few games he has played in.
Hunter’s speed, size, wingspan and leaping abilities make him a constant threat to defenses in both redone situations and in mid-field.
Where to begin with the Vols mike linebacker AJ Johnson? The sky truly seems to be the limit for this young talent.
The 6'3", 244-pound Johnson earned five first-team freshmen All-American honors (Football Writers of America, The Sporting News, Fox Sports, Phil Steele and Yahoo! Sports), which broke the previous mark of four set by UT legend Eric Berry in 2009.
Johnson led all SEC freshmen last season with 80 tackles, en route to earning two SEC Freshman of the Week awards.
The Rivals No. 12 linebacker of the 2011 class was the only true freshman to have three double-figure tackle games in a season with 10-plus in three games in a row in UT football history.
Johnson truly seems to possess it all—speed, play recognition ability, shedding blockers with quick hands, pass coverage skills and more. Johnson is a defensive gem who will not go unnoticed by NFL scouts.
Surrounded by much off-the-field drama this offseason, Da’Rick Rogers still plays well enough to soften any possible "attitude problems." The one-time 5-star recruit according to Scout and Rivals, Rogers is perhaps the most talented player on the Vols roster.
The 6'3", 208-pound possession receiver was tabbed as a member of the 2011 All-SEC First Team chosen by the Associated Press. The big-bodied receiver creates coverage mismatches and presents a problem in one-on-one coverage schemes due to his size and physicality. If you don’t buy that, Rogers has the numbers to prove it.
Rogers led the SEC with 67 receptions and 1,040 receiving yards last season and became just the sixth Vol to post 1,000 yards.
Rogers is an all-purpose receiver who has plenty of upside in the eyes of NFL scouts.
The Peyton Manning comparisons can be heard from gate 21 of Neyland Stadium to every far-reaching corner of the state—Tyler Bray is certainly creating a buzz and unfortunately has little to show for it.
The skill set that the 6'6", 213-pound quarterback possesses are truly daunting. Bray has a versatile arm with the ability to air it out and threat tight windows in the short passing game. Unfortunately for both Bray and the Vols, the would-be junior has suffered many setbacks.
Starting the season sidelined behind Matt Simms, when finally given his chance, Bray went 4-1 as a starter, including a sweep through his first four games as a freshman—then the chatter began.
Bray was named to the preseason watch list of the Manning, O’Brien and Maxwell awards and looked to live up to the promise following a performance against Cincinnati that saw the QB set a school record for completion percentage (82.9%) and passing yards (405) en route to earning the SEC Player of the Week award.
Shortly after his impressive aerial assault of the Bearcats, Bray fractured the thumb on his throwing hand, missing five out of the Vols' six remaining games.
However, even with the small sample of playing experience, Walterfootball.com has Bray being taken sixth overall by the Oakland Raiders, and your very own Bleacher Report has the QB being scooped up 12th overall by the Cardinals in their respective 2013 mock drafts.