Robert Ayers: It's all business for this Vol senior
Ayers came to UT "to be the best, play with the best and be coached by the best." Along the way, he's learning about humility and changing patterns of behavior. Video by Erin Chapin/knoxnews.com Watch »
Tennessee's football talent level has hit a historic low.
At least if using the NFL Draft as a barometer.
There wasn't a single Vol selected among the 182 picks in five rounds on Sunday. For over 9 1/2 hours, UT fans and prospects waited to no avail.
The lone saving grace from the weekend came when former UT defensive end Robert Ayers was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 18th overall pick on Saturday.
According to NFL records, UT hasn't produced that few draftees in the first seven rounds since 1993 when another former Vol defensive end, Todd Kelly, was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 27th overall pick.
The draft consisted of eight rounds in 1993. Former UT defensive back Dave Thomas was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the eighth round.
The draft was cut from 17 rounds to 12 in 1977 and cut to eight rounds in 1993 then to seven a year later.
Since the cut to seven rounds in 1994, UT has averaged six players selected annually. UT placed 10 former Vols in the 2002 draft, the most during that span.
The Vols last failed to produce a single pick in the top seven rounds in 1971.
Before 1993, UT produced at least two picks in the first seven rounds for almost two decades. Linebacker Ronnie McCartney was the lone pick in the top seven in 1976 when he went in the second round to the Los Angeles Rams.
UT didn't have a player selected in the first seven rounds in the 1975 draft but had five players selected in later rounds.
The Vols had only one player selected in the first seven rounds in 1973 when linebacker Jamie Rotella went in the third round to the Baltimore Colts. UT then had four prospects selected after the seventh round.
The last time UT had only one player picked in the entire draft was in 1959 when fullback Carl Smith was selected in the ninth round by the Detroit Lions. UT failed to produce a single selection in the draft of 1954.
The dearth of NFL talent is hard to figure considering UT had two highly rated signing classes in 2004 and 2005 that should have contributed to this year's NFL crop.
Several former Vols were considered, including defensive tackle Demonte' Bolden, punter Britton Colquitt, tailback Arian Foster, receiver Lucas Taylor and offensive linemen Anthony Parker and Ramon Foster.
Arian Foster, Ramon Foster, Parker and Colquitt considered leaving UT following their junior seasons in 2007. At least three were told they would likely be drafted last year.
Arian Foster was projected as a second-round pick. Ramon Foster was projected as a late-round pick or free agent. Parker was projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Ball security, a lack of speed and character concerns undermined Arian Foster this year.
Parker lost significant weight before the NFL combine but questions about his conditioning persisted.
Colquitt's alcohol-related arrest and subsequent five-game suspension certainly didn't help his cause.
Only one SEC team, Mississippi State, failed to have a player selected in the draft. UT was one of four to have only one, along with Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas.
South Carolina led the conference with seven players selected. Georgia and LSU had six. Ole Miss and Alabama had four. Florida and Auburn had three.
UT's 5-7 season in 2008 certainly didn't help those former Vols looking for NFL jobs. The second losing season in four years led to Phillip Fulmer's dismissal and the hiring of Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin and UT recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron served as Southern California's lead recruiters before taking coaching positions with the Oakland Raiders and Ole Miss, respectively.
The classes they assembled before leaving helped USC land 11 prospects in the NFL Draft, including four first rounders.
Orgeron's efforts at Ole Miss helped land four Rebels in the draft and two in the first round.
Players that weren't selected can sign as free agents immediately.