By Dominic Lobianco
After the conclusion of postseason exhibition games, draft-eligible Tennessee Vols are preparing to showcase their talents to NFL scouts and coaches. Here is an update on some players who have been discussed in the buzz leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft.
Since Derek Barnett elected to forego his senior season, he immediately began gearing up for the draft. Three days after he declared, Barnett started his training for the NFL Combine. Barnett is widely viewed by most analysts as a first-round talent. NFL.com draft analysts Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks, Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter all view Barnett as a first-round pick with Reuter projecting him going at No. 11 overall. ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. reported that Barnett is a "fluid" first round candidate, fluctuating from the 13-to-31 range, where Kiper currently predicts he will go. Because his stats are so impressive, a strong performance at the combine could result in Barnett's name being one of the first called in the draft.
Shortly after the Vols' win in the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Jason Croom traveled to Daytona Beach, Florida, to play in the Tropical Bowl, a showcase exhibition in front of scouts for 26 NFL teams. Croom hauled in two touchdowns during the bowl game and was named most valuable player. He will get an opportunity to showcase his talents at Tennessee's Pro Day. Croom, who changed position from wide receiver to tight end in the spring of 2016, has a 6-5, 246-pound frame and athletic potential as both a blocking and pass-catching tight end and his versatility will be attractive to NFL teams.
Joshua Dobbs joined teammate Cameron Sutton in Mobile, Alabama, competing in the 68th Annual Reese's Senior Bowl. After a strong week of practice, Dobbs was named the starting quarterback for the South Team, finishing 12-for-15 through the air for 103 yards during the game. Many draft experts noted that Dobbs improved throughout the week going into the Senior Bowl. ESPN's Todd McShay noted Dobbs performance was "very, very suprising." But perhaps the highest praise of the week came from NFL Draft expert Vic Carucci, who acknowledged Dobbs' frame and style reminded him of Dallas Cowboys rookie phenomenon Dak Prescott, who like Dobbs was a multi-year SEC starter and face of his program. Carucci, along with other experts, anticipate Dobbs to be selected on the second or third day of the draft.
Although Alvin Kamara did not compete in any postseason exhibition games, he has still drawn a large amount of praise from scouts and experts. Mike Mayock of NFL.com praised Kamara's abilities, calling him a "special talent" worthy of first round conversation. Earlier this month, co-hosts of NFL Network analysts Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah said the following about Kamara on their "Move The Sticks Podcast."
"I don't know if there's a better guy in the passing game coming out of the backfield than Kamara," Brooks said.
"He has an elite skill set and could be the best running back in this entire draft class," Jeremiah replied, who currently has Kamara going 29th overall.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin looks to come back strong from the shoulder surgery he underwent during the 2016 season. According to a SI.com story by former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware, Reeves-Maybin is working out in Florida with a group that includes Boulware, former LSU running back Leonard Fournette and former Texas running back D'onta Foreman. In October, Sporting News noted that he was a potential second-round or third-round pick. Several draft experts predict Reeves-Maybin can make an NFL roster via a late round draft pick. While he was not able to compete in any all-star games, Reeves-Maybin hopes to prove his merit at Tennessee's pro day.
Josh Malone declared for the NFL Draft on Jan. 3. CBS Sports has Malone with a fifth-round grade. Longtime draft analyst Mike DeTillier claimed Malone could go as high as the third round.
"He's a good size receiver with an extra gear in space," DeTillier said.
Malone showcased his size, speed and hands with a breakout junior season in 2016 with 50 receptions, 972 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sutton spent the previous week in Mobile, Ala., with Dobbs and competed in the 68th Annual Reese's Senior Bowl. Although he spent the majority of his time at cornerback for Tennessee, Sutton also worked at both safety and nickel where he drew praise from both coaches, scouts and draft analysts. Sutton finished the game with three tackles and NFL Network commentators also complemented his fast twitch and good ball awareness. ESPN draft writers listed Sutton as one of their "NFL Draft Risers" after watching Senior Bowl practice this week and NFL.com's Bucky Brooks praised his versatility in the defensive backfield. CBS Sports currently projects Sutton as a second rounder while NFL.com has him going in the third round.
Several Vols could be invited to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, which runs Feb. 28 through March 6 in Indianapolis, Indiana. All 32 NFL teams will be present with scouts. Additionally, Tennessee will host its annual Pro Day in the coming weeks and all draft-eligible Vols will have another opportunity to make their best impression before the draft.