There was a time when a small bus was required to transport a University of Tennessee NFL draft class.
These days, a Harley-Davidson will do. This past draft weekend, you didn't even need to hook up a sidecar.
Consider three of the past four drafts:
2009: Robert Ayers went in the first round and the Vols were done.
2011: Luke Stocker in the fourth round, Denarius Moore in the fifth.
2012: Malik Jackson, on the 137th pick, to Denver in the fifth round. Temple had more picks than Tennessee.
Now, consider this: From 1990-2003, the Vols averaged 7.1 draftees per year.
Eight of those 14 classes boasted eight or more selections.
Even considering some of those earlier drafts lasted longer than the present seven rounds, the burden of evidence suggests — no, it shouts — that the UT program has experienced a precipitous decline in elite talent.
I realize this isn't breaking news. The Vols' precipitous decline on the playing field is the most scrutinized topic in our part of the world.
Sometimes in sports, numbers lie. Or, at least, they don't tell the whole story.
In this case, they pretty much tell it like it is. Tennessee was an elite program through the 1990s and into the early 2000s because it had elite talent.
Both of the above were contributing factors to being able to attract such elite talent.
For the sake of compari
son, I offer Tennessee's basketball program.
For six seasons, Bruce Pearl was able to achieve unprecedented success, both in the regular season and come tournament time. And he did it with minimal contribution from NBA-level talent.
Pearl had C.J. Watson his first year and Tobias Harris his last. That's it.
Football is different, the data would have us believe. The Dane Bradshaw-Chris Lofton formula doesn't carry you as far. You need John Hendersons.
If there's a head-scratcher in Tennessee's relation to the NFL, it's the 2010 draft.
Six Vols were selected, including first-rounders Eric Berry and Dan Williams, Montario Hardesty in the second, a fourth- and two fifth-rounders. With those guys in place, how did the 2008 season go so wrong?
Tennessee's best draft is up for debate. Was it 2000, with two first-rounders and five second-rounders and a third?
Was it '92, with two firsts, two seconds and a third? How about Peyton Manning's draft in '98, with three firsts and two thirds?
Some would say 2002, with three firsts, two thirds and 10 overall.
From there, to one and done.
UT's recent turmoil is well documented. It's worth noting that Jackson, the only 2012 draftee, was a Derek Dooley acquisition.
Not everyone is on board with Dooley's strategizing or his persona. But it's hard for even his critics to nay-say his recruiting in a tough situation.
The prediction here is that when the 2013 and 2014 drafts roll around, Tennessee will be stepping out of the shadows again.
There might even be a first-rounder (or several) on the way up.
If the aerial circus UT fans envision for Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers comes to fruition in 2012, all three juniors might have an early-entry decision to make.
Mychal Rivera, Herman Lathers, Dallas Thomas and Prentiss Waggner are a productive senior season away from being draftable.
The offensive line and the defense are sprinkled with young players who have the tools to one day get a hug from Roger Goodell at Radio City Music Hall.
The Vols are going to be back in the draft business. A bus might be overdoing it, but somebody ought to get a van ready for 2013.