Josh Heupel’s first season in charge of Tennessee produced a more exciting offense, respectability, and the program’s most successful draft class since 2017. Can they continue the upward trend in the 2023 NFL Draft? Who are set to be the Volunteers’ prospects to watch out for during the 2022 college football season?
Tennessee prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
When the dust had settled on the 2022 NFL Draft, Tennessee had produced five picks over the course of the three days. Their upgraded offense saw Velus Jones Jr. as a surprise Round 3 pick and guard Cade Mays also landing in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. However, several influential pieces of that offensive revival are set to form the basis of Tennessee’s 2023 NFL Draft class.
Hendon Hooker, QB
While Heupel’s offense can be credited with Tennessee’s turnaround, it would be nothing without a quarterback to execute it. Hendon Hooker threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, with only three interceptions. A true dual-threat QB, he added 616 rushing yards and five scores.
Hooker displays excellent arm strength, effortlessly reaching all areas on the field. The Tennessee QB is also a powerful runner who showcases physicality and enough speed to help extend the play. A big season could elevate his stock.
Cedric Tillman, WR
If his teammate can be selected in the third round, the sky should be the limit for Cedric Tillman in the 2023 NFL Draft. The redshirt senior led Tennessee with 1,081 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. His 16.9 yards per catch showcase his big-play ability.
At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, Tillman has the size to be an impactful NFL wide receiver. He also displays strong, reliable hands at the end of long levers that allow him to snag the ball at the highest point. While not possessing elite speed, Tillman has a quick get-off that allows him to win on release.
Omari Thomas, DT
After seeing Matthew Butler get selected last year, Omari Thomas could give Tennessee another defensive tackle selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. The 6’4″, 320-pound behemoth showcased his disruptive power with five tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last fall.
Thomas possesses an explosive first step that has seen him routinely beat his man on the inside. Meanwhile, he adds length to his explosion and power, shedding blocks comfortably and also breaking up passes by getting his long arms into passing lanes.
Darnell Wright, OT
In a 2023 NFL Draft offensive tackle class that lacks a clear hierarchy in the early going, look for Tennessee left tackle Darnell Wright to make a significant impact. At 6’6″ and 335 pounds, Wright constitutes an offensive roadblock.
He’s blessed with excellent arm length and wingspan. Wright showcases excellent athleticism, with explosion off the snap. Meanwhile, he’s a powerful beast who has been able to handle even the best pass rushers in college football. Expect his name to be a popular one by the time April rolls around.
Trevon Flowers, S
At 5’11 and 200 pounds, Tennessee safety Trevon Flowers won’t be the most physically imposing defensive back in the 2023 NFL Draft class. However, he possesses plenty of coverage upside to be considered a genuine prospect.
Where length matters more than height for playmakers in the secondary, Flowers ticks that box. Additionally, he’s showcased the athletic ability to click and close in short areas to impact the ball at the catch point. His alignment versatility should also add value to his draft profile.
Byron Young, EDGE
A highly productive JUCO product, Byron Young effortlessly transitioned to the SEC level last fall. Making eight starts in his debut FBS season, the 6’3″, 245-pound pass rusher tied for the team lead with 11½ tackles for loss and 5½ sacks. He also secured an interception last season.
The Tennessee pass rusher has all the physical tools to earn significant attention in the 2023 NFL Draft. Young is strong, athletic, and plays the game with a nasty demeanor that ensures that he looks to punish his opponent on every down.
Jabari Small, RB
Can Jabari Small become the first Tennessee running back to be drafted since John Kelly in 2018? Small was the Vols’ leading rusher last fall, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on his way to 796 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The Tennessee RB displays great cut ability and possesses nimble footwork to make a man miss in space. The 5’11”, 206-pound rusher has also showcased some leg drive between the tackles to get the job done in short-yardage situations.
Jeremy Banks, LB
6’1″, 220-pound Tennessee linebacker Jeremy Banks finished second in the SEC and top 10 in the nation last season for total tackles. What’s perhaps more impressive is that he was a running back until 2020. You can see Banks’ RB instincts on the defensive side of the ball. He reads the game well and is able to sort through the trash to locate the ball carrier. Banks also possesses impressive athletic ability to cap off an intriguing profile.
Jerome Carvin, G
While Wright flies the flag for the offensive tackle prospects, there are several interior offensive linemen who may attract 2023 NFL Draft attention. Of those, Jerome Carvin offers a genuine chance of NFL success.
At 6’5″ and 321 pounds, Carvin possesses good size for the position. He also displays high football IQ, and having taken snaps at guard and center, boasts positional versatility. The senior offensive lineman has allowed just one sack in almost 1,900 snaps during his Tennessee career.