Even after bad year, Vols set for draft harvest
Tennessee's total number of players drafted next month could exceed the Volunteers' win total from last season.
Although the Volunteers went 5-7 last fall with a defense that statistically ranked among the worst in school history, their offense featured several potential draft picks. That group showed its potential Wednesday during Tennessee's Pro Day event.
Wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter are possible first-round draft picks. Quarterback Tyler Bray is projected to go in the first three rounds. Offensive guard/tackle Dallas Thomas, tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Zach Rogers are expected to get drafted as well. They can't help but wonder how a group so talented couldn't earn a bowl bid last season.
''It's something I wish we could have back because I know we could have won so much more games,'' Hunter said.
No college had as many as five players drafted last year after posting a losing record in 2011, though Miami had six players selected while coming off a 6-6 season. Clemson and Georgia each had six players drafted in 2011 after going 6-7 the previous fall.
Bray threw Wednesday to Patterson, Hunter, Zach Rogers and Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers among others in front of a crowd of NFL officials that included Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said the performances by Bray and the receivers reflected much of what he'd seen on game tape. They showed plenty of upside while also displaying some inconsistency.
''I think I did OK,'' Bray said. ''There's a few throws I'd like to have back, but we've been working hard. The receivers ran great routes, ran hard all day.''
Bray said he has added 23 pounds since the end of Tennessee's season, a gain that earned notice when he arrived for the NFL Scouting Combine last month. Bray weighed in at 229 pounds Wednesday.
''The touch is still there,'' Bray said. ''I just might have a little more zip on the slants and quick routes.''
Patterson, Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers didn't participate in the 40-yard dash after all three had run that event at the combine. Patterson was timed at 4.42 seconds, Hunter at 4.44 and Rogers at 4.52 at the combine.
''I was going to run the 40, but I had a lot of people saying don't even do it because your time was already good at the combine, so don't waste your time doing it,'' Patterson said.
Hunter posted a broad jump of 11 feet, 6 inches and a vertical jump of 40 1/2 inches to improve upon his combine performances in both events. Hunter also ran the 3-cone drill in an unofficial time of 7.2 seconds. Hunter had a broad jump of 11-4 and a vertical jump of 39 1/2 inches at the combine.
Da'Rick Rogers, projected to go in the first three rounds, had a vertical jump of 38 inches. Patterson posted unofficial times of 7.19 seconds in the 3-cone drill, 4.4 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 11.72 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle.
Patterson is projected as a first-round pick in most mock drafts, while Hunter is projected to go in the first or second round. There's a possibility they could end up playing for ex-Vols coach Derek Dooley, who joined the Dallas Cowboys staff as wide receivers coach after Tennessee fired him.
''That would be cool,'' Hunter said. ''I had him for three years, so I know how he coaches and everything so I'd probably be used to him.''
Rogers said it felt somewhat strange to be back on his old campus after leaving the Vols less than two weeks before the start of the 2012 season. Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech after the Vols indefinitely suspended him. Rogers said positive drug tests caused his suspension.
''At first it was a little bit surreal,'' Rogers said. ''You come back and it's like, `Gosh, I haven't been here in a while. I put in a lot of sweat and tears here.' It feels good. All the guys welcomed me back in.''
Thomas didn't participate in any events Wednesday after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder during Senior Bowl workouts. Thomas said the injury shouldn't affect his status for the start of this season.
While many of the Vols' top draft prospects only performed selected drills, Zach Rogers and fullback/tight end Ben Bartholomew did everything.
Rogers had unofficial times of 4.51 in the 40, 4.34 in the 20-yard shuttle, 11.18 in the 60-yard shuttle and 6.72 in the 3-cone drill. Bartholomew, a fullback at Tennessee, caught passes from Bray to show his receiving ability, had 30 reps on the bench press and posted unofficial 40 times of 4.68 and 4.71.
''I think (Zach Rogers) is going to be a mid-round bargain for somebody,'' Mayock said. ''The Bartholomew kid - the fullback/tight end/H-back - will be another guy who will be a late pick or a priority free agent, and has a chance to make a team.''