Tennessee football: Who has the most to gain at virtual NFL Combine?

It appears that Tennessee football will once again have a reason to celebrate at this year’s NFL Draft. Senior offensive guard Trey Smith, senior wide receiver Josh Palmer and junior defensive back Bryce Thompson have all been invited to the 2021 NFL Combine. UT announced the big news for this year’s draft hopefuls earlier Wednesday on Twitter.

Usually held annually at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., the event will be entirely virtual this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A report from NFL.com’s Grant Gordon says that the week of in-person workouts on the Colts’ home turf won’t take place this year.

Instead, scouts will place greater emphasis on college Pro Days while conducting player interviews and psychological testing virtually. As of right now, Tennessee football’s Pro Day is slated to take place in Knoxville on March 25. The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ole Miss Rebels are scheduled to hold their makeshift combines on the same date.

The invitation is a huge deal for all three former Vols, but maybe none more so than Thompson. As a third-year player, the Irmo, S.C. native was ineligible to earn the Reese’s Senior Bowl Invitation that Smith and Palmer accepted.

At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. the two seniors practiced and competed in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams. The week helped form their relationships with next-level organizations, something a draft prospect like Thompson would’ve loved to experience.

Palmer and Johnson, who don’t have the hour-long highlight tape that other NFL prospects have, should both benefit from the combine-like Pro Day. Both players should give those in attendance plenty to walk away with from cone/ shuttle movement drills, and their speed in open space.

Smith is the only player out of the three that no one seems to be worried about. The former five-star prospect from The University School in Jackson, Tenn. has been NFL-bound since he stepped on campus in 2016.

However, the value of offensive guards has changed in the NFL Draft over recent years. That means Smith will have to wow one or two teams in particular to hear his name called on night one despite being a three-time All-SEC guard and earning All-American honors by some services this past year.

We’ve listed our early draft predictions for the three former Vols, but none of the early rankings or mock drafts matter until players have met with prospective teams. Despite a 3-7 season and another failed coaching administrations in its rear-view mirror, the  program is still is knocking on the door of the nation’s premier football league. That’s something to be applauded in itself.

It’s an exciting time for the three Vols we’ve mentioned, and while Josh Heupel will look to turn around the program, fans in the meantime can support Smith, Palmer and Thompson as they embark on the next chapter of their football careers. Clearly, an invitation to the NFL Combine goes a long way in making the transition from college football to the NFL.

Last year, Tennessee football had five players invited to the NFL Combine: Darrell Taylor, Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Nigel Warrior and Dominick Wood-Anderson. Of those former Vols, only Taylor and Jennings were drafted. Callaway, Warrior, and Wood-Anderson were all signed as undrafted free agents.