Tennessee football: Vols 2020 NFL Draft class is about production over potential

Recently, the NFL Draft has been all about potential. But Tennessee football prospects are about production. Will that bode well for the Volunteers?

Which one is more important? Well, it depends on the coach and the general managers. Some NFL franchises take projects in the draft with limitless potential and put faith in the coaches to develop them. Others value production. Tennessee football prospects in 2020 will be about production.

The favorite Vol in this year’s class among fans is obviously Jauan Jennings. A vocal leader and playmaker for this past year’s team, Jennings had 969 yards and eight touchdowns along with a rushing touchdown. However, the 6’3″ 208-pound prospect ran a 4.72 40-yard dash.

So what matters more? Will the lack of speed hurt him, or will he be helped by the fact that six of his eight receiving touchdowns this past year resulted in lead changes for Tennessee football and the fact that he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass, including a game-winning Hail Mary, in the Vols’ two biggest wins of the last decade?

When you spell it out like that, production should be obvious. Wes Rucker of GoVols247 just reported on the foolishness of scouts focusing on Jennings’ 40-time, and he’s right to point that out. Jeremy Pruitt added on “SportsTalk” on 99.1 The Sports Animal in Knoxville that film in general should tell the story of the seniors from this past Vols team.

Given the state of the program heading into this year, that seems obvious. After all, the Vols didn’t just rely heavily on Jennings. They had a small senior class in 2019 in general that had a disproportionately high level of production. It’s why, despite so much talent returning and a top 10 recruiting class, people still don’t know where to put this team.

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Of the team’s 34 total touchdowns in total this past year, 19 came from five seniors. Nine came from Jennings, seven came from Marquez Callaway, and one came from Dominick Wood-Anderson, Tyler Byrd and Daniel Bituli each. Bituli had a blocked punt for a touchdown. It’s worth noting that Callaway had a punt return touchdown.

Things were a bit more spread out on defense, but Darrell Taylor had eight and a half of the team’s 34 sacks, and he and Bituli combined for 11.5 of them, more than one-third. Meanwhile, Nigel Warrior led the team in interceptions with four.

Simply put, production is the name of the game for Tennessee football in this draft class. However, Jennings is not the only one who is being hurt by physical attributes. Warrior wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine this past year. Injuries are drawing concerns about Bituli despite his exceptional performance in combine drills.

Now, some guys have enough physical tools to overcome it. Callaway’s 4.55 40-time will help him, but he was expected to be faster given how highly touted his speed was. People should pay attention to just how shifty he is with the ball in his hands, though.

Taylor, meanwhile, is the one guy who probably sells his physical attributes over his production. Matt Miller had him as his riser of the week last Friday, and he noted that Taylor had inconsistent production but is quick off the first step. What Miller missed, however, was Taylor was very consistent his last year, as he had a tackle for a loss in over half the games.

Wood-Anderson and Byrd are the two players who will only have potential to sell, but Wood-Anderson was productive for the Vols even if it wasn’t on paper. He dramatically improved his blocking and drew a ton of attention, which actually freed up other receivers all last year. That counts as production.

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Still, if Tennessee football is going to be well-represented in the NFL Draft, the production of the seniors is what will matter. Luckily for them, plenty of teams value production over potential, and proven production in the SEC counts more than other leagues, so they will all have a shot, even if none of them are first-rounders.