By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports
It was a quiet NFL Draft, once again, for the University of Tennessee football program.
Two Vols were drafted and one has been signed, at the moment, as an undrafted free agent.
WR Josh Palmer was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 3rd Round (#77 overall.) OL Trey Smith fell all the way to the 6th round when he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs (#226 overall.) DB Bryce Thompson signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent.
With the help of the Tennessee football VFL and elite broadcaster for CBS & NFL Network, Charles Davis, we’ve shared our opinions on the team and player fits for Palmer, Smith and Thompson here in my blog, “Vince’s View,” on 991TheSportsAnimal.com.
Thanks to Charles, who shared his thoughts on the Tennessee Volunteers with me to pass along to the fans exclusively for my blog.
WR Josh Palmer – Los Angeles Chargers
Charles Davis on Josh Palmer
“Fits what the other WRs look like for the Chargers (Keenan Allen/Mike Williams)…strong, physical, and can play over the top. Chargers have long had “small forwards” as WR’s (Phillip Rivers loved those types), and Palmer looks the part. QB Justin Herbert has even more “catch radius” available to him now.”
Vince’s View on Josh Palmer
I love this fit for Palmer. Keenan Allen (100 catches in 2020) and Mike Williams (48 catches) are the top two guys. After that, there’s room to upgrade the wide receiver room, so the opportunity to rise quickly is there for Palmer. Jalen Guyton (28 catches) and Tyron Johnson (20 catches) provide the toughest competition for the 3rd and 4th WR spots. Joe Reed, KJ Hill, Jason Moore, John Hurst and Eli Stove (UDFA out of Auburn) are the rest of the Chargers receivers.
Palmer brings position versatility at WR. You can play him outside or in the slot where you can get him in some favorable matchups against either smaller or slower defenders. Most importantly, Palmer has a potential future superstar quarterback throwing him the football versus the massive struggles by a bunch of QBs at Tennessee.
Palmer joins former UT DC Derrick Ansley, now Chargers secondary coach in LA. Head coach Brandon Staley is a former Vols football GA under Derek Dooley in 2012. Knoxville native OL Nathan Gilliam (Farragut HS and Wake Forest) is also now his teammate.
Trey Smith – Kansas City Chiefs
Charles Davis on Trey Smith
“Kansas City does a nice job evaluating and coaching young talent. I believe they feel that they got a steal by getting a 2nd round talent in the 6th. The competition has ratcheted up in KC along the offensive line. Smith’s intelligence and toughness will put him right in the mix. Remember, Kansas City drafted, developed and started a future doctor (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) at guard on their Super Bowl title team.”
Vince’s View on Trey Smith
With the slide to day three in the draft, Smith will surely play with an even bigger chip (or boulder) on his shoulder than normal. He’s also going to a quality, winning franchise with all kinds of talent. That doesn’t mean he can’t win a starting job.
Smith played guard the last two seasons with the Vols and is projected as a guard long-term in the NFL. However, Smith, if more medical testing checks out, will compete for the starting right tackle spot in the completely overhauled Chiefs offensive line. Surprised? Here’s why.
KC will have a completely new starting five o-line from the team that lost in the Super Bowl with all the injuries, departures and desperate need to upgrade. Enter Orlando Brown (from Baltimore) as the starting LT, Joe Thuney (from New England) as the starting LG, Austin Blythe (from LA Rams) as the starting C and Kyle Long (out of retirement) as the starting RG. There’s already quality depth at guard as well with Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from his opt-out. You add Nick Allegretti (last year’s starter at LG in the Super Bowl) and Andrew Wylie (Super Bowl starter at RT) who moves back inside at guard. There’s some depth at guard. Right tackle is the most open position on that line. Mike Remmers (backup last season and Super Bowl starter at LT) and Lucas Niang (2020 3rd round pick) provide the competition for Trey Smith at that RT spot.
The Chiefs know Smith can play tackle. They’ve evaluated him at that position plenty. They are comfortable with him playing there. He can begin at RT, at least short-term, to give them their best five linemen. I think he can do it, so watch for Smith to compete his butt off and have a great shot to start. Obviously, injuries to KC’s guards or health setbacks for Smith could alter those plans along the way.
Bryce Thompson – New Orleans Saints
Charles Davis on Bryce Thompson
“The Saints are looking for a starter opposite Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore. They drafted Paulson Adebo from Stanford in the 3rd and signed Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. The competition will be stiff, but he has a shot, especially if he can play in the slot.”
Vince’s View on Bryce Thompson
The Saints have a proven track record of production from undrafted free agents. That success includes players from the University of Tennessee, like DT Shy Tuttle (potential starter) and WR Marquez Callaway (now possibly 2nd team.) TE Ethan Wolf is also with the Saints as an UDFA. The common thread with what worked with those guys is opportunity with low numbers at a need position. Thompson walks into that in the secondary, specially at cornerback.
As Charles pointed out, there’s proven vets and a fairly high draft pick in that group, but the numbers at CB aren’t deep. The other corners, besides the ones Charles mentioned, that Thompson will compete with are: Patrick Robinson, Keith Washington Jr., Grant Haley and UDFA signee Lawrence Woods. That’s it. If the Saints play Jenkins at SS then that might free up that position a little more. Thompson’s position versatility to play outside corner, Star DB or safety adds to his value. It’s an excellent landing spot for Thompson.
It’s possible his draft stock may have improved a little by returning to UT this season. How would he produce in the new Banks defense that may struggle in year one? If he finally played a full season healthy will that show out in results and influence scouts? How much would the coaching of Willie Martinez help him? Would being another year removed from the legal issues make a difference with NFL teams, assuming he didn’t have any other issues? One scout told me he doesn’t think Thompson going back to school would have made much difference because he’s good in a fair amount of traits but not elite.
Thompson is now also teammates with arguably the most popular VFL in the NFL today, RB Alvin Kamara.
Trey Smith falling in the draft was due to the NFL not being able to get the medical info to their standards for how Smith’s blood clots will be handled moving forward, not just how he did it at UT. I was told he wasn’t on about half of the teams’ boards and was dropped some on the ones that kept him on their boards. The lack of regular practices slowed his development in the eyes of NFL scouts. He’s going to need to practice, especially before the season, to earn a spot and prove he’s past the medical. Smith was also said to be a better fit for power running gap scheme teams, which cuts down the remaining pool of teams even more.
I imagine the Chiefs and other teams considered Smith earlier in the draft, but may have had other players available to them that they didn’t think would be there when they came back around and took the chance that Smith would be. The draft board dictates slides sometimes and I think that added to his unfortunate situation. In the end though, the KC fit will be a blessing.
The Chiefs are excited about Trey Smith and aren’t afraid to express it. LT Orlando Brown was impressed by Smith at the Senior Bowl.
Chiefs not trying to contain their excitement for ending up w/Trey Smith @Vol_Football
Don't be surprised if he competes for starting spot at right tackle.
I know he's listed as a guard & will eventually be there but he can play tackle, Chiefs know it & that's most open spot. https://t.co/JYUIGHFwqt
— Vince Ferrara (@VinceSports) May 3, 2021
UT has had 13 players selected in the last seven NFL Drafts. The Vols have only had 6 players drafted in the first three rounds of those 7 drafts. 6. Alabama had 6 players drafted in the 1st round alone just this year. Alabama has had 46 players taken in the first three rounds of those same last seven drafts. That’s a 40 player difference from Tennessee. Yes, no one matches-up to the bar that Alabama has set in sending players to the NFL through the draft, but that monumental gap is indicative of the struggles of the program since the late 2000s.
There’s going to need to be tremendous player development this season under Josh Heupel’s staff with the Vols. They need to enhance the stock in numerous players and create new draftable candidates than it looks like they have at the moment. If not, the disappointing draft stats will resurface again this time in 2022.