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Tennessee football: Projections for all seven Vols invited to NFL combine

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Tennessee football had seven players invited to the NFL combine this week. That’s a sure sign that the Vols’ talent level is improving, primarily from player development and utilizing the transfer portal. The actual draft should be further proof of the Vols’ rise.

Tennessee had only four players invited to the combine last year and just five players drafted. It would be stunning if Tennessee didn’t have at least six players drafted this season and possibly seven.

Here’s a look at the football Tennessee players invited to the NFL Draft and their standing in April’s selection process and where they are likely to be picked:

LB Jeremy Banks

Banks has plenty of ability. He was one of Tennessee’s most explosive defenders and most talented players last season. However, his role in the South Carolina debacle will be a topic of conversation when NFL teams ask Tennessee football coaches about him.

Projection: Fifth round

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P Paxton Brooks 

Brooks punted 38 times last season. Of those, 11 were downed inside the 20-yard line and two went for over 50 yards. Of his 94 kickoffs, 28 were touchbacks.

Projection: Seventh round/Undrafted

QB Hendon Hooker

Hooker has been an en vogue name lately despite coming off of a torn ACL he suffered against South Carolina that may cost him his rookie season in the pros. Hooker throws an incredible deep ball, has mobility and is a once-in-a-generation type of leader. In order to prove himself in the NFL, Hooker will need to improve his accuracy, footwork and show he has the ability to read the entire field, which isn’t required in Tennessee’s offense under coach Josh Heupel. Hooker’s leadership skill should bump him up a few picks in the draft.

Projection: Third round

WR Jalin Hyatt

Hyatt has all the records one could ask for, including the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver. However, it’s a bit unclear if Hyatt’s monster season was more of his doing or a product of Heupel’s offense. Hyatt can fly, but he’ll be asked to do more than just run fast in the NFL. Route running will be what defines him as a pro.

Projection: Third round

WR Cedric Tillman

After a season beset by a high ankle sprain, Tillman is still considered more talented as an overall receiver than Hyatt. He’ll likely go higher in the draft despite not having near the numbers. He’s much bigger than Hyatt, meaning he’s a better fit in the NFL.

Projection: Second round

OT Darnell Wright

There has been talk that Wright could slip into the first round of the draft after his impressive performance in the Senior Bowl. That would be quite a feat despite being projected as a right tackle, which is considered less valuable than a natural left tackle. However, Wright played both positions at a high level as a Vol. That versatility will be a bonus for whatever team drafts him.

Projection: Late first/early second round

EDGE Byron Young

Young’s dedication to football will be a reason to pick him higher than a team might otherwise. He turned himself from a Dollar General assistant manager to a likely mid-round pick. Where Young is selected in the draft will largely depend on how he tests in explosion and quickness drills in the combine. 

Projection: Third round


Wright and Hooker seem to have the right mindset to exceed their draft projections. Young is an all-around good player in every facet. Hyatt needs to find a team that plays multiple receivers and will give him time to learn. Banks and Tillman would scare me if I was an NFL general manager. As for Brooks, he’s a punter.

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