Tennessee’s Barnett, Malone plan to enter NFL draft
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett and wide receiver Josh Malone are planning to forgo their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Malone announced Tuesday via Instagram that he is entering the draft. Barnett sent out a tweet Tuesday stating, “It has been 3 great years. I’m very thankful for getting the opportunity to play at Tennessee! Thank you all for the many memories.”
Barnett confirmed in a conference call later Tuesday that he was turning pro.
“It was a hard decision to make, but I feel it was the right one,” Barnett said. “I feel we leave the program in a great place.”
Barnett said he had a pretty good idea late in the season that he would forgo his senior year, but he opted to delay any announcement until after the season because he didn’t want to cause a distraction.
Barnett recorded 33 career sacks at Tennessee to overtake Reggie White as the school’s all-time sack leader . Barnett, who is from Nashville, posted his record-breaking sack Friday late in Tennessee’s 38-24 Music City Bowl victory over No. 24 Nebraska.
“I think this weekend was probably a moment that I will never forget,” Barnett said. “I was back home in my hometown to get that record, and I was able to celebrate with my teammates.”
He had 13 sacks to lead the Southeastern Conference this season and was a first-team selection on The Associated Press’ All-America team . Barnett is the first SEC player ever to post double-digit sacks in three separate seasons.
Barnett, who is listed as 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, has been projected as a likely first-round selection in various mock drafts. Barnett said he has been told he could get taken either in the first or second round.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones praised Barnett’s “relentless effort.” Jones cited a play from the training camp leading up to Barnett’s freshman season that the coach still uses as a video clip in his clinics.
“It was a ball on the opposite side of the field, and he took the proper pursuit angle and outran the entire offense and defense to get to the football,” Jones said. “Just the way he played the game with relentless effort, I knew we had something there that was going to (be) very, very special.”
Malone said in his announcement that he wanted to “thank the fans for the continuous support throughout all my years at UT.” He also offered thanks to his teammates and to Tennessee’s coaching staff. He credited wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni for helping him “mature as a young man and develop my game to where it is now.”
After scoring a total of three touchdowns in his first two seasons at Tennessee, Malone had a breakthrough year in 2016. The 6-3 junior caught 50 passes for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the Volunteers (9-4) in all three categories.
Malone and Barnett join running back Alvin Kamara as Tennessee juniors entering the draft, a notable development for a program that hasn’t had a player selected in either of the last two drafts.
The VaynerSports agency tweeted Friday after the Music City Bowl that it had signed Kamara, a post that Kamara retweeted. Kamara also sent out a separate tweet saying that “It’s been a great 2 years on Rocky Top! I love you all and appreciate the many memories. Go Vols!!”
AP college website: collegefootball.ap.org