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VOL. 40 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 6, 2016

Sure, Dooley left UT's cupboard bare but it’s stocked now

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Former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, shown here leaving the field after the 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt in his final game, left little talent in Knoxville, resulting in the Vols having no players drafted by the NFL this year or in 2015. The Vols were the only SEC team without a player taken in this year’s draft. UT had one or more players taken in 51 consecutive NFL drafts prior to last year.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

In the 2014 NFL draft, Tennessee defensive lineman Daniel McCullers was picked in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Since then, a total of 550 players have been drafted. Not a single one of them played at UT.

Let that sink in for a minute.

For years, the Vols program seeded NFL rosters with talent. Now UT has gone back-to-back drafts without having a player picked.

Yes, Derek Dooley is the gift that keeps on giving.

Dooley was UT’s football coach for only three seasons – 2010-12 – but he left a decade’s worth of repair work to be done. His 14-21 record reflects only part of the damage that occurred on his watch.

He left the roster so short of talent that his successor, Butch Jones, is just now getting the Vols back up to speed.

The fact that Jones inherited such a shallow pool of talent yet has been able to go 21-17 in three seasons speaks for itself.

He’s been carrying a butter knife into those weekly SEC sword fights. Jones has done most of his winning with young players he recruited, not with Dooley’s leftovers.

In his three recruiting classes, Dooley signed a grand total of four players that ultimately were drafted – junior college products Cordarrelle Patterson, Mychal Rivera and McCullers, plus Zach Fulton.

A clarification: Yes, offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James was a first-round draft pick by Miami in 2014 and Justin Hunter was the Tennessee Titans’ second-round pick in 2013. Both are members of UT’s recruiting class of 2010, Dooley’s first year.

But both were signed by Lane Kiffin and had already enrolled at UT in January 2010 when Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal and Dooley was hired.

As for this year’s draft, linebacker Curt Maggitt was viewed as a possible late-round pick, but the combination of his injury history and some off-field matters influenced teams to defer.

Maggitt signed with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent. Wide receiver Marquez North and defensive back Brian Randolph also went undrafted and signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

Incredibly, Tennessee has had only 10 players selected in the last six drafts. In 2002 alone, UT had 10 players drafted, including first-rounders John Henderson, Donte’ Stallworth and Albert Haynesworth. As a point of comparison, Alabama has had 44 draft picks during that period.

UT’s fade coincides with the slippage during the latter stages of Phillip Fulmer’s coaching career, Kiffin’s one-year drive-by and Dooley’s reign of error in 2010-12.

Take heart, UT fans. By the time the NFL draft rolls around in 2017, the Vols figure to have more players picked in one sitting than all three of Dooley’s recruiting classes combined.

Tennessee Volunteers Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop and Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones watch spring practice at Neyland Stadium.

-- Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Early mock drafts for 2017 project pass-rushing defensive end Derek Barnett as a first-rounder, assuming he chooses to forego his senior season at UT.

Defensive back Cam Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and running back Jalen Hurd are other Vols who should be high on NFL teams’ draft boards.

Like Barnett, Hurd is entering his junior season, but many believe he will leave early for the draft.

And judging from the recruiting rankings over the last three years, UT is ready to start serving as an NFL pipeline once again.

Jones has made recruiting his No. 1 priority – and it shows. NFL scouts again are treating Knoxville as a destination.

For now, though, it’s hard to comprehend just how far things had slipped. Entering the 2015 draft, UT had gone 51 years with at least one player selected. Only six schools – Michigan, Southern Cal, Michigan State, Florida and Nebraska – owned longer streaks.

It should be noted that signing future NFL draft picks is not the be-all, end-all for a college football coach.

There is much to be said for developing talent and putting representative teams on the field.

Some successful college coaches didn’t spend their careers sending players to the pros.

Likewise, players can succeed in the NFL even if they aren’t drafted. James Stone, a member of Dooley’s first recruiting class at UT, went undrafted in 2014 but wound up starting nine games for Atlanta that season.

Just the same, there is no disputing that identifying and signing players that have the raw ability to one day catch the attention of NFL talent scouts is an important skill for college coaches.

You don’t want to go into games against teams like Alabama and LSU with a huddle that is short on talent.

That brings us back around to Jones and his brick-by-brick manner with which he is rebuilding Tennessee’s program.

In many ways, his approach is reminiscent of the successful run during Fulmer’s career.

In those days, Fulmer made no secret of the fact that he made most meaningful decisions as head coach based on how it would affect recruiting.

The difference, of course, is that Fulmer inherited a successful program and a talented roster when he succeeded John Majors in 1993.

Jones inherited a dumpster fire.

Jones is relentless. He knows that you can’t compete for an SEC championship until you recruit like your toughest competition.

Beginning this season and carrying over into the 2017 NFL draft, Jones’ diligence should begin to pay dividends.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.

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