KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s top-flight offense in 2012 yielded a respectable haul of four draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.
It could’ve been more. Quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Zach Rogers were projected to be picked by many draft analysts, but both fell to the ranks of the undrafted.
That gives next year’s team a chance to match or even top that total.
Next year’s potential picks could have a different look. While the 2013 picks from UT were dominated by skill players, the best UT draft prospects for next year are of the bigger variety.
That starts with a trio of 300-plus pounders who could be early picks – offensive tackles Tiny Richardson and Ja’Wuan James and defensive tackle Daniel McCullers.
James and McCullers explored their NFL options after the 2012 season, but both opted to return. Richardson, a rising junior, will be eligible for the first time following the 2013 season. McCullers and Richardson are listed in CBSSports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler’s early top-50 for next year’s draft. McCullers, an intriguing prospect at 6-8, 360 pounds, just snuck in at No. 50 on the list.
“A mountain of a man, McCullers is still very rough around the edges but engulfs ballcarriers and has intriguing movement skills for a player of his size,” Brugler wrote in his analysis.
Richardson comes in at No. 16 on the list. Despite spending just one full season as UT’s starting left tackle, the 6-6, 325-pounder out of Nashville gained national attention after a solid sophomore season that included a strong performance against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
On the right side of the offensive line, James comes into his senior year with 37 career starts under his belt. He is currently ranked as the No. 9 offensive tackle by CBSSports.com. Center James Stone comes in at No. 6 at his position. Zach Fulton is the 11th best guard, while Alex Bullard, a versatile lineman is ranked 36th at guard.
Six of the first 11 picks in 2013 were offensive linemen.
Linebacker A.J. Johnson, a rising junior, is a candidate for an early NFL departure. He comes in No. 29 on Brugler’s list and has been listed as a potential first or second round pick in multiple other mock drafts.
Johnson led the SEC in tackles last season with 138 and also scored six touchdowns on offense out of a wildcat package. Coach Butch Jones has indicated that it is too early to tell if Johnson will be used any on offense in 2014.
Richardson, Johnson, McCullers, James and Fulton are the most likely draft candidates at this point with Stone, Bullard and running back Rajion Neal pushing as well.
A lot can change in a year, though. Cordarrelle Patterson wasn’t even on UT’s campus at this point last year. Bray was thought of as a likely high-round pick.
Safety Byron Moore, defensive tackle Maurice Couch, defensive end Marlon Walls and defensive end Jacques Smith are among the seniors who will be looking to get in the conversation with a solid campaign.
Junior linebacker Curt Maggitt could emerge as an early-entry candidate as well if he has as healthy and productive season in 2013.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga