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Which Tennessee Players Could Be Taken In The 2021 NFL Draft?

Tennessee guard No. 73 Trey Smith looks on after the Vols’ 42-41, double-overtime win against the Yellow Jackets on September 4 in Mercedez-Benz Stadium.


Is it too early to be looking ahead to next year’s NFL Draft? Probably. But pushing the envelope is what we do here at Fanrun. We’re barely a week removed from the most recent draft, and we’re already on to the next one.


Although only two former Vols were taken in the draft last weekend, next year will assuredly be different. Tennessee as a program is currently on the upswing.


The fact that there are a *ton* of potential prospects for next year’s draft currently on the roster reflects that.


Here, they’ve been broken up into four distinct groups: possible first rounders, senior defensive linemen, those that need to keep trending up, and those who will need to improve if they want to get drafted.


Disclaimer: all of this is based off of information we currently have. Please don’t send me a “GOTCHA” tweet this time next year after one or two of these guys isn’t drafted because he was hurt for half the season or something.


Possible First Rounders


Trey Smith, OL, Sr.


Smith may have gone in the first round of this year’s draft if he elected. His All-SEC junior year wasn’t even a guarantee given his health issues in 2018, but he has shown he has the issues pretty much under control.


If he can start every meaningful game this season and continue being the dominant force he has been, he could go on night one. Maybe the top half of round one to a team looking for help at guard.


Cade Mays, OL, Jr.


There are a lot of “ifs” as it pertains to Mays, here. If he can get cleared to play this year by the NCAA, if he plays as well at Tennessee as he did at Georgia, and if he decides to declare for the draft, Mays will be just as likely to go night one as Smith.


He can play quite literally anywhere along the line, which could be useful for an NFL team looking for versatility and depth.


Bryce Thompson, CB, Jr.


Cornerbacks are a hot commodity in the NFL these days. 27 corners were taken in this year’s draft. If Thompson can play at a starting level for a third consecutive year and continue to stay out of trouble off the field, he may be a fringe first round pick at the end of next season.


Of course, that’s contingent upon whether he wants to make the jump to the NFL or use all four years of his eligibility.


Senior Defensive Linemen


Aubrey Solomon, NT, Sr.


Emmit Gooden, DT, RS Sr.


Darrel Middleton, DT, Sr.


Did you know that there were more defensive tackles/nose tackles selected in this year’s draft than defensive ends? For all the talk of edge-rushers being the second-most important position in the game, that stat suggests DTs and NTs are pretty important, too.


Any of the above three could make an impact for Tennessee this season. They all have their own varied history of injuries and none of them started their careers at Tennessee. Yet they all have the potential to make a difference on defense this year along the defensive line.


Solomon took the majority of starts of this group last season. Best case for him, he continues to be the guy at his position on a very good defense, and he maybe goes day two of the draft.


Worst case, he gets hurt or loses his starting spot. In which case his size alone (6-5, 315 lbs.) may be enough for an NFL team to take a flier on him day three.


Gooden was the guy in this group before a season ending injury in fall camp took him out of the picture. If his injury doesn’t hamper him, he’ll be pushing for plenty of playing time.


He is the small fry of this group. . .at 6-3, 290 lbs. He’ll probably be a day-three choice unless he can beat out Solomon for his old starting spot.


And then there’s Middleton. At 6-7, 305 lbs, he showed multiple times last season that he can be a bully against NFL level talent (go watch the Bama tape if you don’t believe me).


On his worst day, he is a hole-stuffer with the ability to pressure passes with strength alone. Again, his size alone could make him a day-three pick.


All three of the above are probably going to see plenty of the field this season. Whoever takes the most snaps could possibly make a case to go day two of the draft. The other two could go day three or be UFA.


Keep Trending Up


Josh Palmer, WR, Sr.


Since he has set foot on campus, Palmer has been the third guy behind Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. With both of them in the NFL, now, Palmer is now all set up to be the main target in this Tennessee passing offense.


He has already shown the ability to high point the ball and make some people miss with the ball in his hands. He should be a top target on deep routes and in the red zone this year.


Wide receiver is always a “need” for most NFL teams, if not a “want.” But it is also one of the more crowded positions each NFL Draft. If Tennessee has a good showing this year throwing the ball, and Palmer performs well at the Combine next year, he could be a fringe day-two pick in the draft.


Shawn Shamburger, CB/Nickel/Star, Sr.


To put it simply, Shamburger was a beast last season at one of the toughest roles in the modern game. Corners have made careers for themselves based on their ability to play the nickel role (just ask VFL Justin Coleman).


If he can continue to improve, he could already be a day-three flier for a team in need of nickel help. But if he can show this year that he is just as capable defending WR1’s on the outside, he has the potential to jump up to day two.


Alontae Taylor, CB, Jr.


Okay, okay, this one may be a bit of a reach. Taylor has been good, but not great during his time on campus. He regressed ever so slightly between his freshman and sophomore years.


But that isn’t a bad thing considering he was pretty good his freshman year. Has his performance so far been worthy of being drafted into the NFL? I’m not so sure.


But if there is any coaching staff than can coach up a DB, it’s this one at Tennessee. If Taylor shows out this year, he may decide to test the Draft waters instead of coming back for a fourth season.


Brent Cimaglia, K, Sr.




Cimaglia is going into this season as the best kicker in the SEC. He was 2nd Team All-SEC last year, and there was a decent argument he should have been first team.


All he needs to do is keep it up, and he may be one of the handful of kickers inevitably taken in each NFL Draft.


Needs To Improve


Brandon Kennedy, C, RS Sr.


Kennedy is going into his sixth college football season with a history of injuries and versatility. He has the ability to play anywhere along the line, with center being his best position.


If the 24-year-old can stay healthy and perform well this year, a team may be willing to take a chance on him despite his injury history and age.


Ty Chandler, RB, Sr.


Chandler can run, catch, and return. Versatility is a must for running backs going to the NFL these days, and Chandler is versatile.


All he needs to show is a little more consistency, which may be tough with how Eric Gray performed last season as a true freshman. Depending on how Chandler and Grat split their workload this year, Chandler may be able to sneak into the back end of next year’s draft.


Jarrett Guarantano, QB, RS Sr.


Oh boy.


JG’s pro prospects could be a post on its own. But for now, let’s just say, if JG plays well enough this season to hold onto his starting job all year, he may be an option for a team in later rounds.


Ideally, though, he has an all-conference season and he’s a lock to go in the Draft. If the past couple years are any indicator, there’s no telling what will happen next with JG.

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