Draft Light On Vols

Next month's NFL Draft doesn't figure to be a fan favorite in Big Orange Country, but, as a direct result, next fall might be all the more memorable.

The annual pro football draft always presents the proverbial good-news-bad-news scenario for the Volunteers' future, as it does for virtually every team in college football. The more players you send to the pros the more difficult it is to build upon success next season. Likewise, the fewer players lost means there's greater potential for improvement. In Tennessee's case that could mean contending for an SEC and national title, especially when compared to the other elite teams in the SEC.

Tennessee's high profile pro football prospects, as rated in the annual Sporting News Draft report, are outside linebacker Kevin Burnett, offensive tackle Michael Munoz and punter Dustin Colquitt. Burnett projects as a second round draft pick and the No. 3 rated outside linebacker in the 2005 NFL Draft. Munoz is rated No. 6 among the offensive tackles available and projects as a late second or early third round selection. Colquitt is rated the top punter in the draft and projects as a second or third round choice.

Sporting News, which relies on analysis from NFL scouts, coaches, personnel directors and staff reporters, has Burnett going to the Philadelphia Eagles at pick No. 35 and has Munoz going to the NFL champion New England Patriots.

There are nine SEC players projected to go in the first round of the draft including: three from Auburn — Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers — two each from Georgia — David Pollack, Carlos Thomas — and LSU — Marcus Spears, Corey Webster. South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williams is projected to go to Jacksonville with the No. 21 pick and Florida linebacker Channing Crowder is projected to go to Green Bay with the No. 24 pick. The Gator's running back Ciatrick Fason is projected as the first pick of the second round going to San Francisco with the No. 33 selection.

The mock draft has Auburn's Williams going to Tampa Bay with pick No. 5 and Brown going to Oakland with pick No. 7. Next comes Pollack with pick No. 13 to Houston and Thomas with pick No. 17 to Cincinnati. Rogers goes to Dallas with pick No. 20, while LSU's Spears goes to Denver with pick No. 25 and Webster goes to Indianapolis with pick No. 29.

Other Vols predicted to go in the draft include: Jason Respert, who is rated No. 16 at guard and projects as a sixth round pick and Cedric Houston rates No. 16 among running backs and projects as a fifth round pick. Jabari Davis rates No. 38 at running back while Derrick Tinsley checks in at No. 48 and Corey Larkin is No. 53. It's interesting to note that Davis, Tinsley and Houston were rated No. 2, No. 4 and No. 8, respectively, when they came out of high school in 2001.

Wide receiver Tony Brown is rated No. 46 at his position, but has improved his stock with a 4.48 clocking at the pro day combine held at Tennessee's campus this week.

Other SEC players projected as possible second round picks include: Ole Miss offensive tackles Marcus Johnson and Chris Spencer; Georgia inside linebacker Odell Thurman and UGA wide receivers Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson; LSU center Ben Wilkerson and Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell.

The draft report lists Burnett as having the most unrealized potential at outside linebacker. The bottom line on the California pigskin product reads: "Burnett made two major adjustments in college. As a freshman, he switched from free safety, and as a junior, he overcame reconstructive knee surgery that kept him out of the 2002 season. He still needs to improve his recognition skills and cut down on false steps, but his size, speed and athleticism make him an attractive prospect who should be drafted no later than the early second round."

The conclusion on Colquitt: "After posting great numbers as a senior, Colquitt is hands-down the best all-around punter in this class. He comes off the board as early as the second round."

The bottom line on Munoz, who like Colquitt and Burnett is a fifth-year seniors, reads: "Munoz, the son of Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, improved his stock with a productive senior season, but shoulder surgery kept him out of this year's Cotton Bowl. Has history of health problems, especially the recent shoulder injury, will cause him to slide into the third round."

Unless Burnett slips into the first round with a late surge, it will be the third straight year the Vols haven't had a player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. The last UT products to go in the first round were: John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Donte Stallworth who were each taken in the first 20 picks of the 2002 draft.

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