New Orleans has been the place to be for Tennessee football players looking to carve out NFL careers in recent years. Alvin Kamara revitalized the franchise as their 2017 pick. Marquez Callaway and Shy Tuttle are rotational players. Bryce Thompson could be another one.
Now, they have taken a chance on another former Vol, only this time in a different scenario. Cornerback Alontae Taylor became the first UT player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, and it was much higher than anticipated.
Taylor was selected by the Saints in the second round with the 49th overall pick. He’s the highest Tennessee football pick since the Seattle Seahawks took Darrell Taylor with the 48th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 draft.
What makes Taylor different from every other player on New Orleans is that he was picked higher than expected. Kamara fell to the third round despite becoming an every-year Pro Bowler. Callaway, Tuttle and Thompson were all undrafted free agents.
Simply put, all of those players have dramatically overachieved relative to where they were selected. Taylor, on the other hand, won’t be able to overachieve. As a second-round pick, the 6’0″ 199-pound four-year starter on Rocky Top from Manchester, Tenn., will be expected to become a reliable contributor.
Does that change things? Can a Vol actually meet high expectations in New Orleans? In the 2000s, Donté Stallworth and Robert Meachem were first-round draft picks by the Saints at receiver, and while Meachem was solid and won a Super Bowl, neither lived up to first-round hype.
Meanwhile, Jabari Greer emerged as a defensive back, like Taylor, and helped them win a Super Bowl, but he was another player to go undrafted, in his case in 2004. Marvin Mitchell was also on that Super Bowl team, and he was a seventh-rounder in 2007.
Taking all this into account, heading to New Orleans with expectations is clearly not the advantage for Tennessee football players. However, at least in this decade, that has never been the case for former Vols with the Saints, so that’s what makes Taylor so unique.
Of course, after opting out of Tennessee football’s bowl game, Taylor had the advantage of preparing properly for the draft, and it worked out with solid NFL Combine numbers to match his elite production. He was the biggest winner among all UT players in the draft.
Add in how much the Vols struggled to stop the Purdue Boilermakers’ passing attack in the Music City Bowl, and his value was clear. Last year, the graduate of Coffee County Central High School had two interceptions, a pick-six, a forced fumble, six pass deflections, a tackle for a loss and 60 overall tackles, 41 of which were solo.
Ironically, Taylor and Thompson started together from 2018 to 2020 at the cornerback spots when both were available. They were both four-star signees as athletes in Jeremy Pruitt’s first class. Now, they are both in New Orleans and could end up playing together again.