Tennessee ready to make overdue impact in this year’s draft
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s draft drought is about to end in resounding fashion.
After not having a single player drafted each of the last two years, Tennessee has a chance of getting two players selected in the first round April 27 in Philadelphia. Defensive end Derek Barnett and running back Alvin Kamara are projected as potential first-round picks.
“It would mean a lot,” Kamara said. “It would just increase the visibility of an already visible program.”
Tennessee’s increased star power was evident from the NFL presence Friday at the Volunteers’ Pro Day. Tennessee athletic department spokesman Ryan Robinson said this year’s event drew a total of 89 representatives from all 32 NFL teams, whereas last year 51 officials from 24 teams showed up.
They got to see such potential draft picks as quarterback Joshua Dobbs, receiver Josh Malone, cornerback Cam Sutton and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. There even was an appearance from former Tennessee receiver Robert Meachem, a 2007 first-round draft pick attempting a comeback at the age of 32.
If Tennessee gets at least six players drafted, it would mark a remarkable turn of events for a team that was shut out of the last two drafts. That ended a string of 51 straight years in which Tennessee had at least one player drafted.
Barnett likely will be the first Tennessee player drafted. He recorded 33 sacks over the last three seasons to break Reggie White’s school record.
Barnett measured in Friday at 6 feet, 2 7/8 inches and 264 pounds. He ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.89 seconds, had a vertical jump of 31 inches and did 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
He finished the 3-cone drill in 7.12 seconds. Barnett ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.44 seconds and sat out the 60 shuttle due to hamstring tightness.
“I was most impressed with my field work,” Barnett said. “I just felt better, had a little pep in my step, a lot more energy. My 40 time wasn’t the best. It is what it is. I think I play fast on the field.”
Barnett played defensive end throughout his Tennessee career, but he also performed position drills at linebacker Friday.
“Just from watching him on a handful of drops and watching him change direction, I think he’s capable of playing 3-4 outside linebacker just as much as he is straight defensive end in a 4-3 scheme,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said during a conference call this month.
Kamara ran the 3-cone drill in 7.06 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.25 seconds while letting his combine results stand in the other individual exercises. He did partake in the position drills and showed off his receiving ability.
Dobbs only participated in throwing drills and was satisfied his performance would help him continue the momentum he has established by participating in the Senior Bowl and combine.
“The buzz is definitely growing, which feels good,” Dobbs said.
McShay has called Dobbs and Pittsburgh’s Nate Peterman the two most underrated quarterbacks in this class. Peterman began his college career at Tennessee before transferring.
“I think if he gets in the right place - you can say that with a lot of the quarterbacks but I really believe (it) with Dobbs because of his intelligence, his athleticism, his better-than-anticipated accuracy - I think he’s got a chance to be a solid starter in the league, and I’m not just throwing that out there,” McShay said.
One of the players catching Dobbs’ passes Friday was Meachem, a former New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers receiver who hasn’t played in an NFL regular-season game since 2014.
Meachem was briefly jailed last month in Louisiana before paying $100,000 in child support and alimony to his ex-wife. He was back at his old school Friday working out with players about a decade younger than him.
“I think a lot of people were surprised to see me because a 32-year-old’s doing a Pro Day,” said Meachem, who had an unofficial 40 time of 4.58. “A lot of people don’t do that. Maybe two or three years out of college you may do it, but when you’ve played in the league for eight years, and now you come do a Pro Day, I don’t know the stats on that but it’s kind of unheard of.”
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