Tennessee football: Jeremy Pruitt’s surprising NFL Draft involvement

Now months into Josh Heupel’s coaching tenure in Knoxville, it’s easy to forget Jeremy Pruitt’s fall from Rocky Top earlier this year. Pruitt, who was fired for cause because of potential recruiting violations, was 16-19 in three seasons with Tennessee football.

While multiple players from Pruitt’s recruiting classes have transferred from UT, we still don’t know what to make of the allegations that got him fired. After his dismissal from the Tennessee football program, Pruitt joined the New York Giants in the NFL as a defensive assistant.

Already, the former SEC coach is being referenced as a reputable member of Big Blue’s coaching staff. After swapping first-round picks with the Chicago Bears, the G-Men drafted Florida Gators wide receiver Kadarius Toney No. 20 overall.

Toney’s abilities won’t come as any surprise to Tennessee football fans. He racked up eight receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown in Florida’s 31-19 win at Neyland Stadium against the Vols in 2020.

The Giants selecting Toney in the first round wasn’t necessarily surprising, but one of their reasons for the decision might be. When asked about the kind of person they were selecting in Toney, Giant’s head coach Joe Judge mentioned Pruitt as a source of trusted knowledge. Giants beat reporter Art Stapleton shared the following on Twitter.

While the Giants didn’t select Toney solely because Pruitt said he was of good character, it’s interesting to see his name mentioned. Given Pruitt’s newly acquired reputation with recruiting high school athletes, one that was connected to his former high school coach last week, this also seems a bit ironic.

But at the same time, who cares? Tennessee football and Pruitt are a thing of the past. Everybody should just go their separate ways, right? Well, that was before Trey Smith, UT’s highest-ranked NFL prospect with a second/ third-round draft grade, began to fall on day two.

As picks, rounds and offensive guards with seemingly inferior skillsets flew off the board, football fans began to wonder what was going on. Attention was drawn to Smith’s medical history which includes blood clots in his lungs from 2018.

But Smith was an All-SEC guard in 2019 and an FWAA All-American last season. Many expected the Giants, a team with glaring needs on in the interior offensive line, to take Smith as a high-value prospect in the later rounds. New York never called his name, though. That’s when Stapleton shared another friendly reminder.

If the Giants are willing to take Pruitt’s word for it in Toney’s character assessment, from high school, why couldn’t they take his word for it on Smith’s career potential? Without reaching or assuming too much, doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous?

It’s also important to note that Craig Fitzgerald, who served as Tennessee football’s lead strength and conditioning coach from 2018-2019, would have all the details on Smith’s medical history. He was there when Smith worked out a medical plan to play, one that hasn’t failed him since.

Maybe the silence of Smith’s two former coaches was deafening in Big Blue’s war room. Maybe New York’s GM Dave Gettleman ruled Smith un-draftable. Maybe, despite playing back-to-back All-SEC seasons, Smith’s medicals really are that bad. We don’t know, but it’s a very interesting situation that no one could’ve expected heading into this weekend.

The Kansas City Chiefs ended Smith’s unfortunate slide in the sixth round, selecting the former Tennessee football offensive lineman with the No. 226 overall pick. After winning the 2020 AFC Championship and earning a trip to Super Bowl LV, KC’s O-line fell apart in the biggest game of the year. Now, they’re adding a hungry offensive lineman with a chip on his shoulder.

Smith becomes the first Tennessee football player to join KC via the NFL Draft since Khalil McKenzie in 2018. The franchise also selected Vols guard Zach Fulton in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Given the success of former Vols Eric Berry and Dustin Colquitt with the Chiefs organization, it’s nice to see another UT fan-favorite back in Kansas City.