NFL Draft snubs UT

Based on the NFL draft, the Miami Hurricanes had six of the top 21 players in college football last fall, while the Tennessee Vols had NONE of the top 135 players. Yet the Big Orange went to Miami last fall and won.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

So is the fact Tennessee didn't have a player selected in the draft's first three rounds -- something which hadn't happened since 1975. In fact, the Vols didn't have anyone selected until the fifth round, when safety Gibril Wilson was tabbed by the Giants with the 136th overall pick. Running back Troy Fleming was picked by the Tennessee Titans in round 6, then return specialist Mark Jones (Tampa Bay) and center Scott Wells (Green Bay) were taken in Round 7.

Seventeen quarterbacks were chosen in the draft but UT's Casey Clausen wasn't among them. He since has agreed to a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Also snubbed were linebacker Robert Peace, defensive backs Jabari Greer and Rashad Baker, offensive linemen Anthony Herrera, Chavis Smith and Sean Young, defensive tackle Mondre Dickerson and defensive end Constantin Ritzmann.

Peace is signing a free-agent deal with the Giants. Also getting free-agent contracts are Young (Jets), Dickerson (Bengals), Baker, Greer and Ritzmann (Bills). Herrera and Smith are still negotiating with pro teams.

I've said for months that the talent on Tennessee's 2003 roster wasn't up to the level of the previous seven or eight years, and I think the NFL draft proves it. Critics will say UT's poor showing on draft day proves the Vols were poorly coached but I disagree. Most of the players picked in the draft are selected on POTENTIAL, not performance. If Tennessee had a bunch of unpolished gems who had been poorly coached, NFL teams would've pounced on them. The fact they didn't suggests UT's players simply aren't talented enough to play pro ball.

For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on the pro futures of UT's seniors:

* Gibril Wilson is underrated and has a good chance to stick with the Giants. He's a safety who hits like a linebacker and runs like a cornerback. He'll be a great special teams player who should break into the starting lineup in two or three years.

* Troy Fleming, as noted last week, is a ''tweener'' who isn't big enough to play fullback and isn't explosive enough to play tailback. He's an excellent receiver, however, and might stick around as a situational back. The fact he's playing for a pro team located in his hometown (Nashville) doesn't hurt his chances any, especially if Eddie George is cut loose.

* Mark Jones is valuable because of his versatility. He can return kickoffs and punts, while also serving as a reserve defensive back and your No. 6 receiver. I think he'll be playing pro football for the next five years, although not necessarily for the Bucs.

* Scott Wells went to a team (Packers) that has all five starters back from its 2003 O-line. Still, Green Bay has shown a fondness for offensive linemen with UT backgrounds (Raleigh McKenzie, Bruce Wilkerson, Harry Galbreath) and recently tabbed ex-Vol Chad Clifton its franchise player. I think Wells' blue-collar work ethic could be a good fit for a blue-collar franchise like Green Bay.

* Mondre Dickerson wasn't selected because the 2004 draft was very strong at D-tackle. He has decent ability, though, and should have a pretty good chance to stick with the Bengals.

* Casey Clausen could follow in the footsteps of ex-Vols Bobby Scott and Pat Ryan ... a career NFL backup who makes a nice living holding a clipboard and sending in plays from the sidelines.

* Jabari Greer might last a year or two in the NFL because of the crying need for cornerbacks with speed.

* Anthony Herrera has a 50-50 chance to stick if he gets with the right franchise because he has the flexibility to play center, guard or tackle.

* Rashad Baker, Robert Peace, Constantin Ritzmann, Sean Young and Chavis Smith are real longshots to make an NFL roster.

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