The NFL Draft is squarely upon us, as Roger Goodell will return to the stage on Thursday night in Cleveland (Ohio). The draft will return to its conventional style in 2021, with Goodell even being allowed to hug the players this time around. Tennessee has three prospects in the draft in Trey Smith, Josh Palmer, and Bryce Thompson. While it is not likely any of the players mentioned hear their names called in the first round, based on the most recent projections, we take a look at when they could and what our friends at NFL Draft Bible believe a team will be getting in them.
These projections are based on the NFL Mock Draft Database, which encompasses 59 Big Boards, 487 1st round mock drafts, and 513 team-based drafts.
Smith is the headliner in this draft class for Tennessee, as he burst onto the scene as a freshman in Knoxville, and his story is one most Vols fans will not forget. He has battled pulmonary embolisms and came through stronger on the other side, and his fortitude will pay off later this week. Smith was viewed as a sure-fire first-round talent before developing his health conditions. He has performed on and off the field well enough for a team to take a chance and pull the trigger on him on Thursday night or early Friday, but according to the most recent projections, Smith will wait until later on Friday to hear his name called. According to the projections, Smith is likely to be taken in the middle of the 3rd round at pick 80. The latest mock drafts by CBS and ESPN support this, as he is projected to go 72 in one and 73rd in the other. His peak, according to the NFL Mock Draft Database, is 27th overall, so it will be a waiting game to see if a team is willing to grab him early to get a guy that many believe is a multi-year starter on the offensive line or if they feel comfortable taking their chances in the later rounds.
NFL Draft Bible Scouting Report: "He played some tackle as a sophomore, but make no mistake about it, Smith is a potentially dominant fixture on the interior. He uses every inch of his frame covering ground, showing off well, moving both laterally and to the second level. For a man 331 pounds, Smith is every bit the mauler in the run game that you would envision. There is no lack of raw power. The surprising part is just how fluid of an athlete he is for a man his size. Whether it is as a pass blocker or in the run game, Smith has zero issues redirecting with proper balance and flexibility. He is a sure bet on the field."
Josh Palmer has been a surprise for many this off-season, his stock started to soar at the Senior Bowl, and he should here his name called on the second or third day, given how the dominoes fall. Palmer had a strong fall for Tennessee, given the quarterback situation, so NFL teams are intrigued to see what his skillset can do in their system, which makes him a fit for nearly all of the squads drafting, increasing his draft potential even more. Palmers's average projection is 129 with a peak of 125, according to the NFL Mock Draft Database.
NFL Draft Bible scouting report: The Canadian is a very physical pass-catcher who truly excels in contested catch situations and high-pointing the football. He possesses the speed to take the top off a defense and the frame to go up and get anything thrown his way. On top of that, he takes great pride in blocking on the perimeter while also bringing value on core special teams units. Where Palmer needs to show improvement moving forward is in his footwork and route-running. He plays with a pad level that is too high, which limits his ability to run consistently smooth routes and separate from defenders. The frame and the big-play capabilities make the Ontario native an enticing day three option but he is nowhere near a finished product who should be relied on to contribute right out of the gate.
Bryce Thompson is the underclassmen here, and it will likely be a long waiting game for him over the course of the three-day event. The added compensatory picks to this year's draft could help Thompson's cause, as there are a slated 259 picks; even with that, he could be waiting until the end. Thompson starred at defensive back for Tennessee, and he improved his stock last fall as he moved all over the field for Jeremy Pruitt; however, he had an off-the-field issue during his time in Knoxville, and he is not the prototypical NFL cornerback. He is a special athlete, though, with his ball skills and playmaking ability, which helps him in the long run. Thompson's average projection is 253, with a peak of 192.
NFL Draft Bible Scouting Report: A true junior who started since his true freshman season for the Volunteers, Thompson is well decorated with freshman All-America honors and preseason All-SEC nods. Excellent athlete with wonderful hip fluidity who can transition out of his hips without losing speed, showing capable burst to carry receivers on vertical routes. Extremely competitive athlete who will tackle in the open field and be a menace in press coverage, showing noteworthy arm length to stab receivers and redirect them at the line of scrimmage. Unfavorable size to his frame causing him to be thrown off routes and struggle to beat blocks on the perimeter. Will need to add weight to maintain his status as an outside corner. Unpredictable eye discipline as a zone coverage defender who struggles to consistently read route concepts and is overzealous when it comes to jumping the first thing he sees. Cornerback with Day 2 abilities; draft stock will be contingent upon answering past character concerns.