The selection of Darnell Wright in the first round of the NFL Draft will almost certainly have repercussions for the Tennessee football program for the foreseeable future. In just one pick, the Chicago Bears changed the way the Vols will be perceived by prospects across the nation, especially offensive linemen, for years to come.
Skill-position players, especially receivers, were already well aware that Tennessee coach Josh Heupel could turn good prospects into superstars. That has been readily apparent. However, for those that weren’t paying close attention to Tennessee since Heupel took over in 2021, the Vols do, indeed, run the football and take great pride in doing so. They were sixth in the SEC last season with 199 yards per game. Not too shabby.
Read about how Wright’s selection may impact recruiting HERE.
Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee has also proven he can develop some pretty good pass protectors, especially Wright, who was at his best against Alabama defensive end Will Anderson last season. Anderson, who was selected third in the draft on Thursday, wasn’t a factor in Tennessee’s win against the Crimson Tide. Anderson had zero sacks, only 1/2 a tackle for a loss and just three tackles overall as he was essentially seized up by Wright throughout the game.
Tennessee has a rich history of producing top-flight offensive linemen. Perhaps Elarbee, who landed his best job when he was hired by Tennessee, is proving to be more than just a journeyman coach or a tagalong to UT head coach Josh Heupel. Mays certainly thinks so.
“I think it’s a testament to Coach Elarbee and a testament to the level of talent that we have,” Mays said when asked about Wright and the run of former Vols in the draft. “If I’m a player, I want to become to be part of that, try to follow in those footsteps. It was a whole different world when I was getting recruited.”
Yes, it was. The Vols only had two players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft when Mays signed with Tennessee. As for this year, Tennessee had five players selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. Back in 2018 when tight end Jacob Warren signed with the Vols, Tennessee had just three players selected, one in the third round and two in the sixth.
“Man, I think that it’s just time, right?” Warren said. “There’s been all this work that all these guys have done and you’ve watched a lot of guys climb (up draft boards)”
There doesn’t seem to be any changing the Vols’ trend of providing the NFL with a consistent pipeline of players considering Tennessee’s talent level has continued to increase. In fact, Warren and Mays figure to be drafted in 2024, which is just one year away.
“It is crazy to put it in perspective that in 12 months that could be me,” Mays said.
And if the Tennessee trend continues, Mays won’t be alone.