It’s become a three day event. It’s now on primetime television.
This week’s NFL Draft is filled with lots of hoping and guessing by NFL fans and hours staring at ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair.
For some former Vols, however, this week is the start of their professional careers, even if they didn’t want to begin it this early.
“For me to have to go [pro], I don’t want to go all the way,” strong safety Eric Berry said following last season’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl. “I want to stay [here at Tennessee]. It’s been so much fun. I guess you could call it a sacrifice I have to make being in college and having so much fun.”
Berry chose to forgo his senior season at Tennessee after being a playmaker from the moment he stepped on campus. The All-American displayed the talents he showed the SEC the past three seasons in front of NFL personnel during February’s NFL combine by clocking in at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash and posting a 43-inch vertical jump, highest among defensive backs.
Berry is a consensus top-10 pick among experts, and some project him to go as high as fifth overall. Only three safeties have ever been picked as high as fifth in the draft.
“(Berry is the) ultimate playmaker in the (Baltimore Raven’s Pro Bowler) Ed Reed mold,” Kiper Jr. said.
Another Vol expecting to hear his name called early is former UT defensive tackle Dan Williams. Williams saw his draft stock rise as much as any player in college football last season after flourishing under the previous coaching staff.
Williams has the versatility to play in both a 4-3 defense and as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He is now considered to be a first round pick and could even climb into the top 10.
If both Berry and Williams, who are among 14 top prospects invited to attend the draft in New York City, are selected in the top 10, they would become the first SEC defensive teammates to go in the top-10 since 1993.
Running back Montario Hardesty was finally given the chance to shine during his senior season and elevated his draft stock tremendously. Hardesty rushed for 1,345 yards during the 2009 season and never fumbled on a rushing attempt during his entire college career.
Hardesty’s tough, physical “one cut and go” running style should translate well to a zone-blocking team in the NFL. But with durability concerns, Hardesty is projected to go somewhere between the second and third rounds of the draft.
Despite the hardships he endured at Tennessee, quarterback Jonathan Crompton’s play during the second half of last season and his offseason workouts have made the signal caller a potential mid-to-late round pick in the draft. Scouts like Crompton’s size and arm combination and his ability to learn multiple offenses, which he showed while at Tennessee.
Other Vols that could see their names called sometime later in the draft are outside linebacker Rico McCoy, defensive back Dennis Rogan and offensive lineman Chris Scott.
McCoy is a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, but the hard-hitting former Vol’s experience on special teams should translate well at the next level.
Rogan entered the draft after his junior season and, like McCoy, is undersized and ran a slower than expected 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. The Knoxville-native also has the ability to contribute in the return game.
While Scott played both tackle spots for the Vols, some scouts project him as more of an offensive guard at the next level.
Other former Vols that could possibly sign free agent contracts after the draft and appear in a team’s training camp are wide receivers Austin Rogers and Quintin Hancock, offensive guards Vladimir Richards and Jacques McClendon, tight end Jeff Cottam and long snapper Morgan Cox.