Tennessee Football: 5 Vols Ready to Play in the NFL Right Now
The University of Tennessee has consistently put player after player into the NFL. Regardless of what the team's record has been, players have moved on to play football at the next level.
The Vols have had 330 players selected in the NFL draft, and countless others who have signed free-agent contracts.
Looking at the 2012 roster, there are plenty of players with the talent to play professionally. Some need some seasoning in the college ranks before they are ready; others are almost ready to go now.
Here are five Vols who are ready to play in the NFL now.
(After the latest happenings in Knoxville, this list looks slightly different. Da'Rick Rogers has been indefinitely suspended, and therefore is not on this list.)
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The defensive back from Clinton, Louisiana has bounced around the secondary during his time in Knoxville. However, it finally looks like he will finally be able to settle into his natural position of cornerback.
Out of necessity, Waggner has been forced to play in the back end of the secondary. His most explosive plays, though, have come while he's been at cornerback.
Waggner has the size at 6'2" to play against taller receivers, and has shown a knack for making big plays happen.
Is he going to be the next shut-down defensive back in the NFL? It's not likely.
However, he has the talent and athletic ability to be a consistent contributor in the pro ranks.
Justin Hunter was well on his way to a monster season when a torn ACL prematurely shut him down in 2011. The knee has now completely healed, and it is back to the field for the Virginia Beach, Virginia native.
The Vols will be leaning on Hunter to produce in a big way, especially now with the latest developments with Da'Rick Rogers (as reported by AP via Yahoo News).
Hunter has great talent, great size, and track-star speed. Put all of that together, and you have a major weapon for quarterbacks to throw to. Fortunately for Tyler Bray and the Vols, Hunter still has a couple years of eligibility left.
He still needs to prove that he has fully recovered from the injury, but there's no doubting the ability Hunter has, and he's going to get paid to play one day in the near future.
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Dallas Thomas has helped anchor the Tennessee offensive line over the last two seasons, during a time in which the Vols were constantly playing players with very little experience.
Thomas spent the last two years playing the left tackle position. That's changing this fall.
Sophomore Antonio Richardson is going to man the tackle position, sliding Thomas inside to left guard. Together, the Vols have a pretty good combination on the left side.
CollegeFootballNews.com considers Thomas to be one of the top 15 guards in the entire country.
Given Thomas' experience on the outside, he should be just fine at the guard position. The ability to play both positions makes him that much more of a wanted commodity in the NFL.
Much as Dallas Thomas has anchored the left side of the offensive line, Ja'Wuan James has taken control of the right side since he stepped on campus two years ago.
The massive right tackle has started every game of his college career, and barring injury that's not going to change until he moves on to the pro ranks.
James learned on the job during his freshman year, a year that led to an All-SEC Freshman team selection.
Since that point, he has been rock solid on the right side, and the Vols are looking forward to another season with him blocking Tyler Bray's front side.
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The Tennessee tight end entered the 2011 season with the unenviable task of trying to replace what Luke Stocker did offensively for the Vols.
Early in the season, he was exactly what the Vols were looking for. He had at least five catches and 50 yards against Cincinnati, Florida and Georgia.
However, as the season went on, the numbers started to drop off. A lot of that can be attributed to the loss of playmakers around him. With Justin Hunter going down against Florida and Tyler Bray going down against Georgia, it made things much more difficult for Rivera.
Entering the 2012 season, Rivera is battling a knee injury, but recently said that he is 100 percent heading into the opening game against North Carolina State.
There are big expectations placed on his shoulders. The Valencia, California native has been named to the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given every season to the country's top tight end.
He has NFL size, and great hands to go with it. A job will be waiting for him once his collegiate career is complete.