Meachem picks pros over UT

Junior receiver Robert Meachem's recent decision to bypass his senior season at Tennessee and jump to the National Football League is sure to earn him a contract that boasts some staggering numbers.

And, coupled with the impending departure of senior wideouts Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, it will leave the Vols with some staggering numbers to replace on their 2007 offense.

Robert Meachem, a 6-3, 210-pound junior from Tulsa, informed Vol coaches and teammates of his decision on Thursday, according to The Tennessean. He has until Jan. 19 to change his mind.

The odds of Meachem changing his mind appear remote. So are the odds of Bret Smith getting an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA. Tennessee is planning to request one because Smith played in just seven games during the 2003 season. He was ticketed for a redshirt year, activated for seven games, then injured. Historically, the NCAA has not shown much leniency in such cases.

The impending departures of Meachem, Swain and Smith will cost Tennessee its top three pass catchers of 2006. Meachem (71 catches, 1,298 yards, 11 touchdowns), Swain (49 catches, 688 yards, 6 TDs) and Smith (39 catches, 453 yards, 5 TDs) combined for 159 of Tennessee's 265 receptions, 2,439 of its 3,438 receiving yards and 22 of its 24 receiving TDs in 2006.

Here's a more dramatic way to view their contributions: The trio accounted for 60 percent of Tennessee's receptions, 71 percent of the receiving yards and 92 percent of the receiving touchdowns.

Meachem emerged as an NFL prospect due a spectacular junior season. After catching 25 balls as a redshirt freshman in 2004 and 29 as a sophomore in 2005, he blossomed in 2006. His 1,298 receiving yards shattered the school record of 1,170 set by Marcus Nash in 1997.

Meachem had six 100-yard receiving games in 2006. He caught five balls for 182 yards in Game 1 vs. Cal, eight balls for 115 yards in Game 2 vs. Air Force, four balls for 157 yards in Game 5 vs. Memphis, five balls for 106 yards in Game 9 vs. South Carolina, five balls for 121 yards in Game 10 vs. LSU and six balls for 116 yards in Game 12 vs. Kentucky.

Ironically, his last performance as a Vol was his worst of the season. He caught just four balls for 33 yards (with two drops) in Tennessee's 20-10 Outback Bowl loss to Penn State.

Meachem said during the decision-making process that he would not declare for the NFL Draft unless he projected to be a first-round pick. Published reports say the NFL Draft Advisory Board rates him a late first- to early second-round selection. Apparently, that was close enough to convince him to make the leap to the pros.

Meachem is one of four touted junior receivers widely considered to be potential first-round NFL Draft picks. The others – Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett and Ohio State's Ted Ginn – have not yet announced whether they will return for the 2007 college season or enter the draft.

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