Thursday came and went, and for the fourth year in a row, Tennessee football failed to produce a first-rounder in the NFL Draft. Officially, this is one of the longest droughts in school history without a first round pick in the draft. Given UT’s history and the name it has made for itself in the pros, that’s not surprising.
Where does this drought rank compared to other first-round droughts in UT history, though? Well, that’s what we’re going to break down in this post. Our rankings date back to 1936, the first year the draft was held. We’ll also analyze how the program performed during that time period. There have been 11 times the Vols went two or more years straight without a first rounder since then.
Only one Vol went in the first round of the old AFL Draft, Steve DeLong in 1965, and that year isn’t on any of the streaks, so we’re safe on that front. The same is true of Reggie White being taken in the first round of the 1984 Supplemental Draft, as he first played in the USFL. With both of those out of the way, these are Tennessee football’s five longest NFL Draft first-round droughts.
Yes, believe it or not, this is only fifth on our list of longest first-round droughts. Now, in terms of on-field success, it might be at the worst, as from 2017 to 2020, the Vols went 20-27 with three losing seasons and two different full-time head coaches. Their best year was an 8-5 campaign in 2019 in which they started 0-2.
There have been players drafted during this time, and others have emerged as undrafted free agents, most notably Shy Tuttle and Emmanuel Moseley. Also, Darrell Taylor was taken in the second round of the 2020 draft.
However, Tennessee football’s last first-rounder in the NFL Draft was Derek Barnett with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. It’s no surprise that the program fell apart under Butch Jones and through Jeremy Pruitt after that 2017 draft, when six players went in the first three rounds.