KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Five former Tennessee football players were selected in the 2022 NFL draft.
Former Tennessee defensive back Alontae Taylor was the first Vol to have his dreams come true on Friday. The lockdown corner was selected No. 49 overall by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Taylor joins five other VFLs listed on the Saints’ active roster including fellow defensive back Bryce Thompson.
“I talked to Bryce [Thompson] throughout the entire process,” said Taylor. “Bryce told me to stay humble and just know wherever I get drafted to I have to come in and work. It feels good to be teammates with Bryce again.”
Along with Thompson, Taylor joins former Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, tight end Ethan Wolf, and wide receiver Marquez Callaway in New Orleans. Taylor became the highest-drafted defensive back from Tennessee since Eric Berry was selected fifth overall to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010.
The Tennessee native closed out his final season in orange and white ranked among the top four cornerbacks in the SEC according to Pro Football Focus. While Taylor feels at home at corner, he is confident he can play anywhere in the backfield.
“Whatever the Saints need me to do, I’m going to come in and do that. If that’s moving to safety or moving to nickel, I’m willing to do that,” said Taylor. “And I feel like I can have a lot of success doing that.”
Dynamic wide receiver and return specialist Velus Jones Jr. was the second former Tennessee player to be selected in the draft. Jones Jr. was taken in the third round No. 71 overall by the Chicago Bears.
Jones Jr. joins VFL greats Lester McClain and Willie Gault as former UT wide receivers to be drafted by the Bears.
The wide receiver caught 62 passes for 807 yards and 7 touchdowns this past season and is now looking forward to making plays with Bears quarterback Justin Fields.
“I’m so excited. Especially a guy like Justin [Fields] he’s a great leader,” said Jones Jr. “Seeing what he’s accomplished throughout his career and has so much more, he doesn’t have a ceiling. A true talent. I just can’t wait to receive balls from him. It’s truly a blessing.”
Jones Jr. spent his first four seasons at Southern Cal from 2016 to 2019 before transferring to Tennessee in the spring of 2020. The receiver and specialist will enter the NFL as a 25-year-old rookie after exercising a sixth-year option in college. While his age can be viewed as a possible concern in terms of durability, Jones Jr. reiterated that age is just a number.
“Injuries affect no matter how old you are. The biggest injury I’ve ever had was a high ankle sprain. I have the body g a 21-year-old, age is nothing but a number,” said Jones Jr.
“A lot of people try to make that a big issue, but at the end of the day I can play ball, I’m physical, I can run, I can make plays. I’m going to come into year one, find my role on the team and make an impact.”
Former Tennessee defensive tackle Matthew Butler was the third Vol off the board. Butler was selected in the fifth round, No. 175 overall by the Las Vegas Raiders. Butler joins VFLs fullback Jakob Johnson and fellow defensive tackle Kendal Vickers.
A force inside, the interior defensive lineman started in 12 of the Vols’ 13 games this season and recorded 47 tackles, and ended fourth on the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and third in sacks (5). Butler ended his final season in orange and white rated among the top 10 SEC defensive linemen in rush defense according to Pro Football Focus.
Knoxville native and former Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays was the fourth Vol to be selected in the NFL Draft. Mays was taken No. 199 overall in the sixth round by the Carolina Panthers.
A versatile lineman, Mays can play anywhere on the offensive line. The Knoxville Catholic alum started his collegiate career at Georgia before transferring to Tennessee in 2020. During his career, Mays made 35 starts in 42 games played. 19 of his starts came at right guard, 12 at right tackle, two at left guard and two at left tackle.
This past season, Mays started 10 games at right tackle and played 493 snaps while only allowing one sack according to PFF.
Meanwhile, former UT defensive back Theo Jackson is staying home. The Nashville native was selected No. 204 overall in the sixth round by the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson enjoyed the best season of his career in his fifth year at Tennessee. Jackson started 12 games at STAR, recording 78 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 12 pass breakups and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Jackson ranked second in the SEC and tied for 14th in the FBS in pass breakups. He also tied the conference lead in tackles for loss by a defensive back.
This article will be updated as the 2022 NFL Draft continues