UT draft stock plummets

Being a great college football player doesn't necessarily translate into being a great pro prospect. Still, it's noteworthy that Tennessee produced nine first-round NFL draft picks between 1998 and 2002 but didn't produce a first-rounder last year and likely won't have one this year, either.

Take a look at the first-round talent that has passed through ''The Hill'' in recent years ... Peyton Manning, Terry Fair and Marcus Nash ('98 draft), Al Wilson ('99), Jamal Lewis and Shaun Ellis (2000), John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Donte' Stallworth (2002).

Last year's NFL draft saw Eddie Moore go late in Round 2 (pick No. 49 to Miami) and three more Vols go in Round 3 -- Jason Witten, Kelley Washington and Julian Battle.

This year could be more of the same. There does not appear to be a first-round talent within Tennessee's senior class.

I have no input from NFL personnel directors (They put out a lot of smoke screens anyway) or draft analysts (How accurate is Mel Kiper?), so these are merely my reflections as a certified draft junkie:

• Safety Gibril Wilson should be the first Vol drafted after performing like an All-American last season. Gibril's superior against the run and adequate against the pass. He's also a class individual who won't present any off-the-field problems. I see him going in Round 2.

• Offensive lineman Anthony Herrera is valuable because he can play tackle or guard. Even if he isn't good enough to start in the NFL, his versatility should make him a quality backup. I see him going in Round 3.

• Center Scott Wells started 49 consecutive games at a position where you only get noticed if you screw up ... and he only got noticed in the 2002 Florida game, when he and Casey Clausen had several fumbled snaps in a steady downpour. At 6-2 and 300 pounds, Wells is small by NFL standards but Mike Webster was even smaller, and I think he played 17 years at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I see Wells going in Round 4.

• Cornerback Jabari Greer had an up-and-down career but he has superior speed and agility, plus he plays a position (cover corner) at which NFL scouts are ALWAYS seeking help. I see him going in Round 4.

• Quarterback Casey Clausen is another four-year starter but his numbers -- and his draft stock -- dropped after a spectacular sophomore season. I think his supporting cast slipped, and I believe some NFL Personnel Director will recognize this. I don't know if Casey can start in the NFL but I think he'll be an adequate backup. I see him going in Round 4 or 5 but he could move up with a good showing in all-star action and the Combines.

• Offensive lineman Chavis Smith earned a few starts but may interest some NFL scouts since he is just two years removed from the defensive line. Somebody likely will draft him on his potential. I see Smith going in Round 5. • Safety Rashad Baker was a preseason All-SEC pick who slumped badly as a senior. He doesn't cover well enough to play corner and doesn't tackle well enough to play safety in the NFL, but someone probably will take a chance on him. I see him going in Round 5. • Defensive end Constantin Ritzmann has a skill the NFL scouts prize -- pass-rushing ability -- so someone will give him an opportunity, even though he wasn't the player in 2003 he was before his knee injury. I see Ritzmann going in Round 6. • Linebacker Robert Peace was grossly underappreciated, in my opinion, but his injury problems are sure to be a concern to NFL scouts. I see him signing a free agent contract. • Mark Jones was UT's Most Valuable Player in 2003, I thought, but he's a man without a position at the NFL level. I think he'd be a great utility player -- filling in as a reserve wideout, nickel back and special teams guy the way J.J. McCleskey did for the New Orleans Saints -- but I'm not sure the NFL scouts share my view. I see Jones settling for a free agent contract. • Offensive lineman Sean Young was an occasional starter who is pretty good as a run blocker. He can be exploited as a pass protector, however, as Georgia's David Pollack proved in October. I see Young signing as a free agent.


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