It’s been well documented by many people, including yours truly, how poorly the University of Tennessee has been represented in the NFL draft the last two seasons.
Luke Stocker and Denarius Moore were the only selections in 2011, and Malik Jackson was the only Vol picked in April, taken in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos.
With just one selection in April, it would seem the answer to this question is just a formality. However, there are other Volunteers who will have a chance to prove themselves after signing free-agent contracts.
Running back Tauren Poole (Carolina), linebacker Austin Johnson (Baltimore) and long snapper Nick Guess (San Diego) each signed deals to put themselves on an NFL roster.
Before we discuss who will have the best rookie season, let’s talk about the others.
Jackson seems like the obvious answer considering he was the lone Volunteer selected. He looks to be a defensive end in the NFL, and he has the talent to be a good player. However, Denver already has two pretty good defensive ends on the roster.
Fellow former Vol Robert Ayers has the left side locked down, while Elvis Dumervil occupies the right. Jackson will work his way into the rotation in 2012 but not enough to make an immediate impact.
Johnson signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens, but there’s something standing in the way of him and the top of the depth chart. That something is 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis. Don’t count on Johnson getting many reps this fall.
Guess isn’t an option either. It’s not because he’s not good enough to play, but rather the amount of impact a long snapper can make is limited.
So which former Vol will have the best rookie season in 2012? The answer is Tauren Poole.
Shortly after the draft, Poole signed a free-agent contract with the Carolina Panthers. For the last four years, the Carolina running game has featured the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
At 29 years old, Williams is closing in on the end of his prime, and injuries have caused setbacks in two of the last three years. An injury in 2012 would leave the Panthers looking for another workhorse to hand the ball off to.
Poole burst on the scene during his junior season in Knoxville, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. His senior campaign was not near as strong, but Tennessee’s run game as a whole was one of the worst in the country.
During his career wearing the orange and white, Poole, at times, showed great vision and the burst to get him to the next level of the defense. His running style should translate well to the NFL and provide him opportunities as early as this season.
Being an undrafted free agent may scare some from choosing Poole in this case, but he wouldn’t be the first former Tennessee running back to have success after going undrafted. Arian Foster seems to be doing okay for himself.