The Tennessee Volunteers ended the 2019 regular season on a very high note. The program went from two embarrassing losses to open the season to five consecutive wins, a 7-5 record, and a Gator Bowl bid. Coming into the season, many analysts predicted that the trio of Jarrett Guarantano, Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings would have breakout seasons as the two senior wide receivers prepared for their run at NFL careers. Thanks to great recruiting and player development in recent years, many junior Vols also have the opportunity to pursue their NFL Draft dreams a year early.
Vols NFL Draft Options
Josh Palmer (Jr.) – WR
We will start with the obvious. Josh Palmer, a 6’3″ junior wide receiver, has the potential to be an NFL talent. He had a breakout sophomore season. He led the SEC and was fourth in the country in yards per catch (21.0) along with 23 receptions and two touchdowns. However, Palmer’s performance struggled early in 2019 due in part to Tennessee’s struggles offensively. He accumulated 28 receptions for 389 yards and a touchdown this season. Sixteen of those receptions and over 200 yards came during a four game stretch between the South Carolina and Missouri games. Each season, Palmer has been third or fourth in the receiver group behind seniors Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings.
Palmer possesses the size, speed and physicality that NFL scouts look for. However, Palmer should, and will almost certainly, return for a senior season at Tennessee. Next year, Palmer will be the Vols’ top receiver. He will have a great opportunity to showcase his talent and skills in Jim Chaney’s second season as offensive coordinator.
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Theo Jackson (Jr.) – DB
Like Josh Palmer, Theo Jackson is another name that not many expect to pursue the NFL following this season. Jackson has had a solid last two seasons in Tennessee’s defensive backfield. He has totaled 77 tackles and one interception in his three seasons with 49 tackles and the interception coming this season. It was his first as a starter. Jackson was a part of a Tennessee defense that struggled throughout the season but saw a vast turnaround in their last seven games. It’s a defense that allowed nearly 400 yards of offense through their first five games which included Georgia State, BYU and Chattanooga. But it only allowed 308 yards of offense the remainder of the season.
Jackson’s biggest reason for considering to forgo his senior season would be the depth behind him in Tennessee’s secondary. Coach Jeremy Pruitt has heavily recruited highly-touted safeties such as Jaylen McCollough, Tyus Fields, and Trevon Flowers who will all be shooting for the two starting safety positions in 2020. However, Jackson has the advantage of experience and results that will likely give him one of the starting positions. Theo Jackson will likely return for his senior season at Tennessee.
Ty Chandler (Jr.) – RB
Ty Chandler was one of Tennessee’s top recruits in the class of 2017. Chandler has been the Vol’s clear starter at running back the past two seasons after splitting time with John Kelly as a freshman. In his three seasons, Chandler has racked up 1885 total yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry. Throughout the season, the stud running back battled injuries and shared the backfield with Tim Jordan and Eric Gray.
If he was to enter the NFL Draft, Chandler would likely be a late (4-6 round) pick. There is a lot of running back talent in this year’s class. Names such as D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor and Travis Etienne would put Chandler in a big shadow on draft day. However, the emergence of Gray and the possible departure of his best blocker, Trey Smith, could cause Chandler to take a chance and enter the NFL draft. I would not put my money on it but Chandler could be the surprise departure for the Tennessee Vols.
Jarrett Guarantano (RS Jr.) – QB
Many have questioned whether Jarrett Guarantano would transfer, enter the draft, or return to Knoxville in 2020. Guarantano seemed to rule out one option so far, transferring. His decision not to transfer was likely the best as transferring would have given Guarantano his fourth offensive coordinator in his four seasons. The quarterback, known as a tough and gritty for his performances throughout his career, struggled mightily at times throughout 2019. He has thrown for 4,721 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over the past three seasons with nearly identical numbers over the past two.
At 6’4, 213 lbs., Guarantano has the size that NFL teams look for in a quarterback. However, size is not everything when it comes to the position. Guarantano has not performed consistently throughout most of his career. It could turn many scouts away from taking a shot on him in late rounds. Recent mock drafts have quarterbacks such as Shea Patterson, Khalil Tate and Sam Ehlinger getting drafted at the end of day three. Neither Guarantano’s record or statistics line up with these late-round quarterbacks meaning that he will likely be fighting for the Tennessee Volunteers starting quarterback job in 2020.
Trey Smith (Jr.) – OL
Trey Smith is the most NFL ready junior that Tennessee has had in recent memory. Between his monstrous size and highlight pancake blocks, many NFL scouts have drooled about the image of Smith on their offensive line. Smith has been a starter at Tennessee since he stepped on campus as a freshman. He has shown that he can play any position on the line. The only thing keeping Smith from being a top-10 pick is his previous health issues. Following his freshman season, it was discovered that Smith had blood clots in his lungs. Tennessee’s medical staff thought that they had solved the issue entering the 2018 season. However, seven games into the season, the clots were discovered again. It caused Smith to miss the remainder of the season.
Depending on the mock draft, Smith has been predicted to be anywhere from a top-10 to late round pick. With his history of health concerns, many NFL teams may not be willing to use a high round draft pick on the lineman. Despite his passion for the program, forgoing his senior season may be his best option. A health factor like his could be gone for good or it could re-appear anytime. The worst outcome for Smith would be for the blood clots to return as a senior and his NFL dreams be done before they started. By entering the draft, Smith would at least get a shot to prove himself to teams. Fans should prepare to see Trey Smith’s name appear on the ticker during the 2020 NFL Draft.