My picks for the NFL Draft

I've watched the NFL Draft long enough to recognize one indisputable fact: NO ONE knows who's going to go where. Talent, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It only takes one goofy GM making one illogical pick to throw the whole process out of kilter.

That's why I'm not going to insult your intelligence by presuming to tell you where the University of Tennessee's draft-eligible players will be selected this weekend. Instead, I'm going to tell you where they SHOULD be selected.

I've watched these guys practice. I've watched them scrimmage. I've watched them play. I've interviewed them. I've heard what their coaches and teammates have to say about them. Still, not one NFL general manager has called to ask for my input. Go figure.

Regardless, here are my thoughts on the Vol prospects in this weekend's draft:

ROBERT MEACHEM

After struggling for two years under Pat Washington, Meachem blossomed into a standout during Trooper Taylor's first year as receivers coach. Meachem is blessed with the size, speed and strength to be a standout at the pro level. He would be the top wideout in this draft if not for freakish Georgia Tech product Calvin Johnson, who runs a 4.35 forty at 6-5 and 239 pounds.

Meachem led Tennessee in receptions as a redshirt freshman and as a sophomore, even though he was playing well below his ability level. He began scratching his potential last fall as a junior and, due to a fine work ethic, should continue progressing in the years ahead. If he goes to the right team and stays healthy, this guy will be a star in the NFL.

JUSTIN HARRELL

Harrell is likely to be drafted in Round 1 because there are so few quality defensive tackles available this year. If so, some analysts will call it a "reach." They're wrong. Harrell has more agility than most tackle prospects because he played tight end in high school and grew into a defensive lineman relatively late in life.

Justin outplayed All-American linemate Jesse Mahelona in 2005 and would've had a stellar senior season in 2006 if not for the torn bicep that ended his college career prematurely. Justin has the quickness to provide some inside pass rush, a rare commodity, and that will enable him to do very well in the pros.

ARRON SEARS

Sears is projected as a late first- to early second-round selection, and I think that's about right. This is a guy who is versatile enough to play both guard spots and both tackle spots. That's an incredible luxury for a pro team with a 45-man roster limit.

Sears never got the credit he deserved at Tennessee because he played the past two seasons without a lot of line talent around him. I'll be really surprised if he doesn't spend 10 years in The League, starting for most of that time.

JONATHAN WADE

Wade will be picked earlier than his play at UT suggests he should because cornerback is such a precious commodity in the NFL Draft. Frankly, I was one of Jonathan's harsher critics in 2003, 2004 and 2005 because he played so far below his potential. Now I'm one of his bigger fans.

Wade grossly underachieved his first three years at Tennessee, largely because he was skipping spring football to run track. He concentrated on football as a senior, however, and made dramatic improvement as a result. Now that he understands which sport will be paying for his groceries, he should continue to progress rapidly. Some NFL team likely will draft him in the second round strictly on potential and, eventually, he'll make that team very happy it did.

TURK McBRIDE

I'm more impressed with Turk the person than Turk the football player. This guy would be far more NFL-ready if he hadn't split time between defensive end and defensive tackle. When I asked him about this, however, he said he was happy to do whatever was best for the team ... and he was utterly sincere.

Turk recorded just 6.5 sacks in his four years at Tennessee, so some pro teams will question his ability to rush the passer from an end spot. Some pro teams will question whether the 280-pounder has the heft to play inside at tackle. Some pro team, however, will see a guy who's versatile enough to contribute at both positions, saving the club a roster spot. Any team that takes Turk in Round 3 or later will be getting good value.

JAYSON SWAIN

Like Meachem, Swain increased his production considerably in his one year playing for Trooper Taylor. He caught 42 balls (up from 27) for 604 yards (up from 380) and six touchdowns (up from 0). He also ranked as the best leader on the squad last fall. His 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash may keep him from getting drafted but I'd be willing to spend a seventh-round pick on him.

CORY ANDERSON

Three years ago I thought Anderson was going to be the greatest fullback in recent Tennessee history. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he was bigger than many of the defensive linemen he engaged as the lead blocker for Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs. The past two years, however, I thought Anderson may have been the greatest underachiever in recent Tennessee history.

Cory still has an imposing frame. He still has decent agility and excellent hands as a pass receiver. Maybe he lacks motivation. If so, being paid to play might provide the necessary incentive. Personally, I wouldn't draft him, although I won't be surprised if someone calls his name in Round 6 or 7.

MARVIN MITCHELL

It's difficult to know how good Marvin can be because he spent his first four years at UT nursing assorted injuries. He finally got through a season unscathed last fall and responded by leading Tennessee in tackles. Due to concerns about his quickness and durability, I'd be reluctant to draft him but I'd certainly invite him to camp as a free agent.

JAMES WILHOIT

James was 18 of 22 on field goals as a senior last fall, including 11 of 12 inside 40 yards. He put exactly half (37) of his 74 kickoffs deep enough in the end zone to be downed for touchbacks. He also served as the backup punter. Except for a shaky sophomore season (10 of 17 on field goals) when he had a painful foot injury, Wilhoit has been a model of consistency. Personally, I'd never use a draft pick on a kicker but I wouldn't hesitate to offer James a free-agent contract.

BRET SMITH

Bret scored 14 touchdowns on 83 career catches, an average of one TD every six receptions. That speaks well for his abilities in the red zone. Still, Bret dropped too many balls and disappeared in too many games for my liking. I wouldn't draft him but I'd invite him to my training camp.

ANTWAN STEWART

Four years ago Antwan beat out future first-round draft pick Jason Allen for a starting cornerback spot. He subsequently lost the job, then lost the entire 2004 season due to a major ACL injury. He was never the same after that, although he battled back to start at safety in 2005 and at corner in 2006. I admire his perseverance but not enough that I'd use a draft pick on him.


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