Butch Jones deserves credit for Vols’ 2017 draft class – and it should pay off in recruiting

Butch Jones
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports

The excitement experienced in the Tennessee camp when defensive end Derek Barnett was taken in the first round of the NFL draft was softened somewhat when no former Vols went in the second round and only two were picked in the third round.

Tennessee had hoped as many as four former players would have their names called Friday night as rounds two and three were held.

Still, the last two days have been a marked improved over the last two years for UT when it comes to the NFL draft.

In 2015 and 2016, no Tennessee player was taken. That was the first time in draft history the program went two years in a row without a player selected.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones has done a nice job rebuilding the program and the talent level.

Jones attended the NFL draft for the first time as a coach, even though he once had the No. 1 overall player, Eric Fisher at Central Michigan, taken in the draft. Jones left Central Michigan three years before Fisher was taken in 2013.

Jones said he thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Philadelphia and hoped to be at the draft next year, which means he would have another projected first-round pick.

RELATED: Butch Jones: ‘The window is not closing’ – and for his sake, it better not be

Jones also noted the importance on recruiting of having players drafted.

The day before the draft, Tennessee got a class of 2019 commitment from a defensive back from Murfreesboro, Tenn., who made a poignant point.

Adonis Otey said he liked Butch Jones, he liked the VFL (Vol For Life) program, he liked the idea of playing close to home.

He also liked this fact: “Tennessee is going to have a couple of guys in the NFL draft. That’s a big deal.”

RELATED: SEC leads all leagues with 12 first-round picks in NFL draft

So if that helps recruiting, you have to wonder how much it hurt Tennessee’s recruiting in previous years. Did Jones miss out on a couple of blue-chippers because UT wasn’t a program sending players to the pros like LSU and Alabama and Florida?

We’ll never know. But surely having three players taken in the first three rounds with three more projected to be drafted has to help.

Just ask Alabama, which had a nation’s best four taken in the first round. The Tide has had 21 go in the first round since 2010, nine more than anyone else. Florida is second at 12.

The three Tennessee players drafted so far came from different backgrounds.

RELATED: SEC players prove valuable on 2nd day of NFL draft, with 18 selected

Barnett was the No. 5 rated prospect in the state of Tennessee. The Nashville native arrived on campus and found himself listed as the fifth-team defensive end. He hid for two days, upset and embarrassed to see his name that low on the totem pole. He vowed he would start the season opener. He became the first true freshman to start the first game on the DL in UT history, then set a freshman record with 10 sacks. He later broke Reggie White’s career record with 33 sacks, eliciting a call from Sara White, Reggie’s widow.

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