Tennessee Volunteers Football: Early Preview of 2013 NFL Draft

Daniel HudsonCorrespondent IIIMay 2, 2012

Tennessee Volunteers Football: Early Preview of 2013 NFL Draft

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    We are barely a week removed from the 2012 NFL draft, but why not start planning for 2013? After all, the Tennessee Volunteers had a pretty terrible showing in this year's draft—with just one player selected—but that shouldn't be the case next year.

    The Vols have a lot of junior-class talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. It would be bittersweet to see a lot of the players on this list go because, if they did decide to leave early, it would likely be the result of a stellar 2012 season.

    But that's worth losing a few juniors, right? Is anyone else tired of losing seasons? If Tennessee can get back on the right track this fall, here are a few players that you might see in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Tyler Bray

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    Every 2013 NFL mock draft I've seen has Tyler Bray going in the top five, if not No. 1 overall.

    The only thing holding him back is his size and his mental fortitude. Of course, Bray needs to have a very good (and complete) 2012 season, too.

    Bray came in as a tall, extremely lanky quarterback in 2010 and really hasn't changed a whole lot. Yes, he put on a few more pounds over last year's offseason, but he still looked somewhat comical.

    It's time to hit the weight room and the McDonald's.

    As for his mental fortitude, it's all about his on-field decision making and leadership. Bray took it upon himself this spring to double down as a worker and a leader, which was great to see. We'll have to watch for the decision making during the games this fall.

    In his career as a Tennessee Volunteer, Bray has averaged nearly 2,900 yards passing and 26 touchdowns per year. He needs to have a totally healthy year this fall and meet those numbers to be a top-five pick.

Justin Hunter

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    Justin Hunter was looking like a newer version of Randy Moss last year until his early exit from the season. The road back from a torn ACL is a long one, too.

    It's common belief that it takes two years for a player to find his step again after such a knee injury, which means Hunter's chances of leaving early have diminished.

    That's good and bad for Vol fans.

    It's good because we might get to see Hunter play a full-four years in Knoxville but bad because he isn't going to be quite the same player as we're used to.

    More than 25 percent of Hunter's catches have gone for touchdowns at Tennessee. He averages 22 yards per reception and is a threat to go deep on any play.

    If Hunter can rehab quickly and strongly and rack up 900 yards receiving with 10 touchdowns, he could go in the first round of next year's draft.

Da'Rick Rogers

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    In so many ways, Da'Rick Rogers is ready to play wide receiver at the NFL-level already.

    First, he knows his role. Relegated to No. 2-receiver duties at Tennessee (whatever that means), Rogers has never taken issue with quarterback Tyler Bray or fellow receiver Justin Hunter.

    Second, he's durable. Rogers has never missed a game in his two years as a Volunteer. While Bray and Hunter have had issues with injuries, Rogers has been a consistent threat every Saturday.

    Third, he's good! None of the above matters if Rogers can't actually play. Even though he had to catch passes from not one, not two, but three different quarterbacks in 2011, he managed a 1,000-yard receiving season and nine touchdowns.

    Rogers has very thick skin and walks with a strut that is vital for all NFL wide receivers. There isn't a ton of buzz around him for the 2013 NFL draft quite yet, but there will be when analysts see him as the next Anquan Boldin.

JaWuan James

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    This wasn't someone I considered until my message-board-obsessed roommate mentioned him to me. For offensive linemen, especially tackles, their junior year is a huge one.

    This year's top offensive lineman in the draft was USC's (hiss!) Matt Kalil. He was a junior. It's very difficult to leave early for the draft, but this is one position where NFL teams are ready and willing to pull the trigger on a youngster.

    JaWuan James is entering his junior season as a Tennessee Volunteer and is truly an SEC veteran.

    In the 25 games played while James has been a Vol, he has started in each and every one of them. I love that in an offensive lineman. He was key in protecting Tyler Bray in 2011, helping the offensive line give up the fewest sacks in the SEC.

    James has a decent chance of going in the first or second round in 2013, though I certainly wouldn't advise him to leave early unless he knows he's a first-rounder.

Prentiss Waggner

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    One of my favorite Tennessee Volunteers is Prentiss Waggner.

    Recruited by Phillip Fulmer, started by Lane Kiffin and maneuvered around the field by Derek Dooley, Waggner is one of the few players to have ever seen three different coaches while at Tennessee.

    It doesn't seem to have affected him one bit.

    The senior has been a stalwart in the secondary since he began starting in 2010. He has never complained about being waffled between cornerback and safety to fit the team's defensive needs, either. The truth is that he is the best player at both positions.

    Waggner is likely to return to his native cornerback this fall where he earned numerous All-SEC Team honors as a sophomore in 2010. He racked up five interceptions that year compared to only two last year—primarily at safety.

    He is best at cornerback, and if the Vols can manage the safety position without him, he could have a year that propels him into the first or second round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Other Notable Players

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    Mychal Rivera

    The Vols had high hopes for their redshirt junior tight end last year, but he was never able to be a consistent red zone threat. The much-improved Tennessee offense should help Rivera gather in more than one touchdown—as he did in 2011—and boost his draft stock.

     

    Dallas Thomas

    Similar to JaWuan James and Prentiss Waggner, Thomas has started in every game since 2010—a total of 25. He protected the blind side of three different quarterbacks at Tennessee. He is the key reason the Vols went from 90th to 14th in the nation in sacks allowed from 2010 to 2011. A senior, Thomas is likely to get drafted next year. It just depends how early.

     

    Willie Bohannon

    He isn't the most exciting player on the Tennessee defense, but the undersized defensive end could flourish as an outside linebacker in the Volunteers' new 3-4 defense. After seeing the Seattle Seahawks take West Virginia's Bruce Irvin 15th overall, you never know what could happen for Bohannon in the 2013 NFL draft if he has a strong fall.