Four Vols get free-agent deals

In some ways, it's better not to be picked at all than to be selected in the seventh round of the National Football League Draft. That's what at least four University of Tennessee players are banking on.

Four ex-Vols who weren't picked in the seven-round draft signed free-agent contracts shortly after the two-day draft concluded Sunday evening. By picking teams who have needs at their positions, they may have a better chance to stick than seventh-rounders who have no choice in their pro destination.

Fullback Cory Anderson signed with the Houston Texans. Wide receiver Jayson Swain signed with the Super Bowl runnerup Chicago Bears. Kicker James Wilhoit signed with the Baltimore Ravens and defensive tackle Matt McGlothlin signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Wideout Bret Smith, center David Ligon and safety Antwan Stewart are expected to land free-agent contacts before long.

Wilhoit, who put exactly half (37) of his 74 kickoffs last fall so deep in the end zone that they resulted in touchbacks, has the best chance to stick among the four Vols who signed free-agent deals. The Ravens reportedly are looking to carry two kickers so 40-year-old Matt Stover can concentrate exclusively on field goals and conversion kicks. Wilhoit, who nailed 18 of 22 field-goal tries last season, might eventually succeed Stover as the placement specialist, as well.

Tennessee had five players taken on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, most of any team. The five were defensive tackle Justin Harrell (pick 16 to Green Bay) and receiver Robert Meachem (pick 27 to New Orleans) in Round 1, offensive lineman Arron Sears (pick 35 to Tampa Bay) and defensive lineman Turk McBride (pick 54 to Kansas City) in Round 2 and cornerback Jonathan Wade (pick 84 to St. Louis) in Round 3.

Linebacker Marvin Mitchell was the only Vol taken on Day 2, going to the Saints with pick 220 in Round 7.

Tennessee ranked sixth nationally with six players drafted. Only national champ Florida (9), NCAA runnerup Ohio State (8), Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas (7 each) had more.

"I am very excited about the guys who were drafted and the guys who are going the free-agent route," head coach Phillip Fulmer said in a statement released by the UT sports information department. "I think all of them have a chance to make significant contributions to their teams. Five drafted on the first day is a compliment to our football program and to the work ethic of those young men."

The SEC had 41 players selected, which was more than any other conference. Following Florida and UT were Auburn (5), LSU (5), Arkansas (4), Georgia (4), Alabama (3), Ole Miss (2), South Carolina (2) and Mississippi State (1).

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