It’s not shocking that Tennessee football offensive lineman Darnell Wright is entering the NFL Draft. He would have been in his final year of eligibility anyway if not for the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and he really improved his draft stock this season.
Wright, who stands at 6’6″ 335 pounds and was the one player on this team who was a unanimous five-star recruit when he signed with UT, did not allow a sack this year. He also shut down Alabama Crimson Tide edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. as the Vols beat them 52-49.
As a result, you would expect him to go pro since he is a senior anyway. However, the surprise, and a welcome one at that, is his decision to play in the Orange Bowl for Tennessee football against the Clemson Tigers. He announced that news on Twitter Wednesday.
This decision by Wright comes after receivers Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt both announced they would enter the draft and opt out of the bowl. Tillman, like Wright, would be out of eligibility if not for the COVID rules in 2020. Hyatt would have been available next year either way.
Still, Wright, who blossomed in his move to right tackle, is at greater risk of injury than any of them when all are fully healthy. Of course, there’s a caveat to that, and it’s Tillman currently dealing with an ankle injury. He obviously doesn’t need to do anything but focus on the draft now.
On top of that, Wright could hurt his draft stock, as he’s going up against arguably the best pass rush in the nation. To be fair, he could be betting on himself as well, as playing well in this bowl game will boost his stock. That could be the reason he’s playing in it.
If Wright is playing because of that confidence, you have to respect it. All NFL scouts will see that, and if he performs at the level he’s been performing at all year, he could potentially turn himself into a first rounder next spring.
What’s clear is that Tennessee football needs immediate help there. They are already losing Jerome Carvin on the inside, and they don’t have any proven depth at right tackle. Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford are on the left side.
Josh Heupel and Glen Elarbee may need to bring in a transfer for immediate help in this situation. If not, they need one of the younger linemen to develop fast. Otherwise, the unit could suffer a major setback when this team kicks off next year.
When it comes to the bowl game, though, this is a huge boost for Tennessee football. Clemson has registered 40 sacks on the year, and they would have given the Vols a ton of trouble without Wright. Now, though, this could get interesting.