Only 3 Vols drafted, as Tiny Richardson and others must take free-agent path

Tennessee defensive lineman Daniel McCullers (98) looks on after helping stop South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore (21) at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee defensive lineman Daniel McCullers (98) looks on after helping stop South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore (21) at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Only three Tennessee players were among the 256 selected in three-day NFL draft that ended Saturday night.

Most surprisingly, Vols offensive tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, who left school with a year of eligibility remaining with hopes of being a first-round pick, went unselected and will have to pursue long odds as a free agent.

“Never saw this coming,” Richardson tweeted as the draft was winding down and it became clear he wouldn’t be selected. “With that being said, this doesn’t shake me.”

Two more Vols were picked on Saturday, joining offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, who was selected with the 19th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.

Offensive guard Zach Fulton was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 193rd overall choice.

Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers also went in the sixth round. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 215th overall pick.

Then it was silence as far as the Vols were concerned.

In addition to Richardson, two other members of the 2013 starting line went unselected -- center James Stone and guard Zach Bullard -- plus running back Rajion Neal and a handful of others who hoped to at least be considered.

Those players will be pursuing free agent opportunities and camp invitations in the coming hours and days.

Why did Richardson, an elite high school prospect with great size who had been projected as an NFL player for years, slip out of the draft completely?

Former Vol player and current NFL analyst Charles Davis first suggested back in February that Richardson was struggling with a microfracture knee injury that had many teams doubting that he would be able to play at all in 2014.

Richardson adamantly dismissed any health concerns publicly, but today’s snub makes it appear likely that NFL medical staffs advised their teams to avoid him.

In the end, Tennessee’s vaunted offensive line of a year ago produced the same amount of draft picks as Tennessee State, a Championship Subdivision school in Nashville.

As usual, the SEC led all conferences with 49 players drafted, but there were some unsettling caveats. Of the 38 players who left college with one year of eligibility remaining, nine are from the SEC.

Richardson became the third player from Tennessee in two years to leave school early and then not be drafted, joining quarterback Tyler Bray and defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments » 8

bobscleo#330846 writes:

you know, I mean, you know I mean, man, you know I mean, etc., etc.

tnvol16 writes:

What moron is advising these kids?

imjusthappytobehere writes:

in response to tnvol16:

What moron is advising these kids?

I'm guessing the moron is an agent who hopes to gain financially if the player signs a contract.

threehundredbowler writes:

I guess this really shows how the talent and or coaching level has fallen at U.T.

This may continue for at least another year or two.

dfite#440781 writes:

Well, the media in Knoxville built these boys up to be the greatest offensive line in the nation and swelled their heads way past what was real. They never came close to their publicity in the News Sentinel. But bad advise and poor publicity pushed them towards a very bad decision. Maybe the paper should stop and listen to what they do to these boys both good and bad publicity.

oldster writes:

in response to dfite#440781:

Well, the media in Knoxville built these boys up to be the greatest offensive line in the nation and swelled their heads way past what was real. They never came close to their publicity in the News Sentinel. But bad advise and poor publicity pushed them towards a very bad decision. Maybe the paper should stop and listen to what they do to these boys both good and bad publicity.

The media does share some of the blame to be sure; however, we fans could see, if we took off the orange colored glasses that this line was not close to what was advertised. They could not consistently open running lanes against anyone. 2 star defensive ends got great pass rushes against them. They were and are large and athletic. They could and did get out in front of screens and sweeps. They just did not hit anyone when they did. No, folks, it is partly our fault for not believing our eyes and in joining in building the false hopes of these young men.

All that being said, these young men bear most of the blame and will bear most of the burden for their mistake. They believed the hype. They believed the praise. Yet, they had to watch the film of their games. They had to know that their grades were not the kind of grades that would lead them to big pro contracts. Inflated egos can lead to deflated hopes.

oldster writes:

Raijon Neal will be a steal for some team. First, the young man has incredible hands and very good speed which, at worst, will make him a valuable third down back. Secondly, the fact that he was able to make as many rushing yards as he did behind a line which was shown by the draft to not be nearly as good as advertised, shows that he is almost certainly a better running back than was thought when it was thought that his line was great.

johnlg00 writes:

Hard to disagree with much of what has been said, but some other aspects of the draft process these days may play a role as well. With all the interest in recruiting and drafting these days, the relatively smaller number of draft picks and available scholarships, and the huge salaries pro athletes command, it seems that college recruiters and pro personnel people are more concerned with NOT making an expensive mistake than they are strictly with getting the best possible athletes. Every little perceived defect in technique, personality, etc., is endlessly dissected and debated until some impressions become embedded in the minds of the decision-makers. Once a highly-touted prospect gets passed over, it seems to cause the ones down the line to doubt their own judgment if they had a guy high on their board. Some of the guys who expected to be drafted but weren't will go on to make nice careers for themselves while some of the high draft picks will be future subjects of "whatever happened to...." stories. I'm sorry for the disappointment of the guys who expected more than they have gotten so far, but this just shows that they MUST be realistic about how they are perceived before they pin their hopes on hitting the jackpot in the pros, especially the ones who leave early or play with an eye to protecting themselves rather than on making all the plays they should make.

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