Draft Not Feeling Vols

If you're looking for indications Tennessee will be a better football in 2009 than it was in 2008, look no further than UT's 2009 recruiting class vs. the 2009 NFL Draft projections for UT seniors.

Lane KIffin's relentless drive on the national recruiting trail, along with a late rally by an accomplished staff of recruiters, produced a class ranked No. 8 nationally and No. 4 in the SEC by Scout.com. It includes numero uno, uber running back Bryce Brown along with 12 four-star prospects along with some solid three-star talent. It's a group long on speed, athleticism and play-makers. It more closely resembles the type of prospects the Vols were recruiting throughout the 1990s, and the caliber of player that drew NFL scouts in flocks.

Not that the Vols haven't had their share of good prospects and top flight classes, but they get faster and they didn't produce as many NFL draft choices particularly in terms of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. When UT was on it's outstanding run in the 1990s under Fulmer it was the fastest team in the SEC and by way the fastest in the nation.

Over the last seven seasons that edge has eroded to the point that they rarely had a speed advantage against SEC teams outside of Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Against Florida and Alabama the last two seasons, they appeared painfully slow. Moreover it was painfully clear against west coast entries UCLA and Cal the Vols looked slow. Even while struggling against Wyoming and Northern Illinois the Vols couldn't find a way to exploit what speed advantage they did have.

Getting faster and more athletic was job one for Kiffin & Co. when they arrived in Knoxville and they accomplished that in a big way landing 12 prospects with 40 times of 4.55 and below, including five with sub 4.5 listings.

In next month's NFL Draft the Vols project one skill player, fifth year senior running back Arian Foster, who is ranked No. 17 among the running backs available by a blue ribbon team of NFL scouts, coaches and general managers assembled by Sporting News for its annual NFL Draft issue.

There are no quarterbacks, fullbacks, tight ends or wide receivers listed among the more than 400 players reviewed and ranked. Remember this group consists of both seniors and underclassmen that have declared. The Vols didn't have any players declare early and no UT players were listed among the 55 wide receivers reviewed although the Vols did have a pair of two-year senior starters.

Of Foster, 6-0 1/2, 232, 4.61, who finished as Tennessee's No. 2 career rushing leader, Sporting News says: Strengths: Shows good instincts and vision to find holes. Makes quick cuts to get around blockers and into open space. Is a strong, competitive runner who maintains balance amid high hits to gain yards after contact.

Weaknesses: Runs upright; must learn to lower his shoulder and make himself a smaller target. Is a one-speed runner. Gets tripped up by low grab tackles. Lacks elusiveness to make tacklers miss.

Bottom line: For a big rusher, lacks the explosiveness and elusiveness good NFL backs have. Teams should wait until at least the fifth round to grab Foster because he isn't likely to harness his potential and become a solid starter.

The only other Tennessee offensive players to be ranked are offensive tackle Ramon Foster at No. 13 and guard Anthony Parker at No. 24.

The Bottom Line on Ramon says: "Although Foster has not been highly ranked by many scouting services, he impressed our Scouts more than expected. However he must get better in pass protection. An unimpressive week at the East-West Shrine Game likely means he won't be drafted as high as we have him rated, but Foster should eventually become a solid backup.

The Bottom Line on Parker states: "Parker was productive at Tennessee, but lacks the athleticism to carry that over to the NFL. However he has a shot to carve out a career as a backup."

Tennessee's highest ranked prospect is defensive end Robert Ayers, 6-2 1/2, 265, 4.85, who has helped his stock with good all-star and combine performances. Sporting News has him rated as the No. 5 defensive end and have him going No. 46 to Houston in the second round.

Demonte Bolden, 6-3 1/2, 285, 5.0, is ranked the No. 15 defensive tackle available in the Draft while Ellix Wilson (5-10, 220, 4.85) is listed as the No. 19 inside linebacker. Both are listed as possible late round choices.

A total of 20 SEC players project to be taken on the first day or the first three rounds of the Draft. Georgia leads with four, including No. 1 choice Matthew Stafford and No. 16 Knowshon Moreno, Florida has three, including No. 27 Percy Harvin, Ole MIss has two, both first round choices, No. 19 Peria Jerry, defensive tackle, and No. 22 Michael Oher, offensive tackle. Vanderbilt has one but it's first round cornerback pick D.J. Moore. Alabama has two including No. 4 Andre Smith, defensive tackle. Both LSU and South Carolina have two players projected for the first three rounds. The only SEC not to have a player projected for day one of the Draft is Kentucky.

While Big Orange fans would like to see a few more of Tennessee's players continue their playing careers in the NFL, it's good to know help is on the way.

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