NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While three Tennessee players were selected in last weekend’s NFL Draft, the one that wasn’t has drawn just as much or more chatter.
This time last year, Volunteers left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson was listed as a consensus first-round draft pick by nearly every respectable NFL Draft pundit. Even following a mediocre junior season in 2013, the mammoth tackle was still considered no worse than a third-round draft pick this year, if not higher.
But by the time the drafting of 256 players in seven rounds over three days ended on Saturday night, Richardson was surprisingly not among those selected. He wasn’t able to join drafted Volunteers that included right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round (No. 19 overall) by Miami and a pair of sixth-rounders — right guard Zach Fulton by Kansas City (193rd) and defensive tackle Daniel McCullers by Pittsburgh (215th).
Instead, Richardson was relegated to signing an free-agency contract with the Vikings.
"Never saw this coming," said Richardson via Twitter about not being drafted. "With that being said, this doesn’t shake me."
Nobody else saw Richardson going undrafted either, unless you are one of the 32 NFL general managers who passed on the 6-foot-6, 327-pound Nashville, Tennessee, native. He was named second-team All-Southeastern Conference last season by the Associated Press.
In his complete mock draft released before the start of the NFL Draft last Thursday, FoxSports.com draft expert Peter Schrager predicted Richardson would be taken late in the third round by the Packers with the 98th overall pick.
Richardson and neither Vikings general manager Rick Spielman or coach Mike Zimmer have commented this week during rookie orientation. The Vikings will conduct rookie minicamp starting on Friday.
Apparently, the combination of Richardson’s poor workouts at the NFL Combine in February and so-so effort at Tennessee’s pro day on April 2 were red flags. There is also a report that he has a micro-fracture of his left knee that could require surgery.
"I’m getting healthy," said Richardson following his pro day workout, "and I’m just getting healthier and healthier week by week. And wherever I go, I’m going to compete and try to get me a spot."
At his pro day, Richardson did not participate in the bench press and 40-yard dash. But he did have a vertical jump of 31 inches and a broad jump of 9 feet, 4 inches, which would have been third-best among offensive lineman at the Combine.
"I tried to show them that I was healthy because people were saying that I’m not healthy, his knees are hurting," said Richardson, "so the stuff like the vertical jump and broad jump shows that I’m explosive."
Apparently impressing scouts was James, who became the 27th Volunteer since 1989 and 45th overall to be drafted in the first round. In all, there have been 335 Tennessee players selected since the draft’s inception.
"I’m a tough, smart offensive lineman," said James after being selected by the Dolphins. "I pride myself on being smart and not making many mistakes. I bring athleticism to the table and a lot of experience, too, being able to play that many games at the position in the conference I did."
James (6-6, 311), a Suwanee, Georgia, native, started 49 games the last three seasons for the Volunteers at right tackle. Like Richardson, he was also a second-team All-SEC selection.
"As we went through the process, we were looking for tough, smart, productive players and guys who have produced at a high level for a long time," said Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey, "and (James) fit the criteria of what we were looking for. As we scouted Ja’Wuan through the process, at every step of the process, he definitely fit as a Miami Dolphin."
Fulton (6-5, 323) was the second Volunteers offensive lineman selected. The Homewood, Illinois, native was a three-year starter and can play all five line positions.
"He’s more of a road grader," said Chiefs area Scout Pat Sperduto of Fulton. "At Tennessee, they had four different offenses while he was up there and a couple head coaches. So, he had gone through a lot of change, and he adjusted and adapted to all the different styles that they had to."
In McCullers (6-7, 352), the Steelers get a large defensive lineman who can play all three of the down positions in their 3-4 defense. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native had 72 tackles the last two seasons, including 33 in 2013 that included four-and-a-half for lost yardage.
"I was getting a lot of talk about my playing leverage and playing intensity on every play," said McCullers of pre-draft analysis. "I’m working on it. I feel like I can be a dominant player if I just get in the best shape possible. I’m trimming down, working on my feet and quickness every day."
Volunteers other than Richardson to sign undrafted free agent contracts were guard Alex Bullard (Lions), long snapper J.R. Carr (Redskins), running back Rajion Neal (Packers), kicker Michael Palardy (Jets), linebacker Dontavis Sapp (Cowboys), defensive lineman Jacques Smith (Falcons) and center James Stone (Falcons).