The University of Tennessee’s annual NFL Pro Day, the on-campus showcase of the football program’s outgoing, draft-eligible players, is slated for Monday boasting several players with intriguing components for next month’s three-day selection-fest in Arlington, TX.
Underclassmen tailback John Kelly Jr., defensive back Rashaan Gaulden and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie might have the most intrigue — and perhaps best opportunities — of seeing the Vols’ rich NFL Draft heritage continued next month.
Kelly Jr. impressed with his strength on the bench press last month at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, and both Gaulden and McKenzie each interviewed well with NFL personnel. In an absolutely loaded NFL Draft class at the running back position, NFL experts told Gridiron Now that Kelly has most recently been projected as a potential fourth- through sixth-round pick, pending his final workouts and meetings with teams. His ultimate landing spot could also depend upon whether or not there is “a run” on tailbacks in the class that sees teams selecting ball-carriers at an increased rate.
Gaulden had personal meetings with a dozen NFL teams and has been projected by some NFL analysts as a potential year-one starter in the league. Gaulden could elevate his stock, buoyed by back-to-back superlative seasons on Rocky Top, with a slightly improved time in the 40-yard dash.
But do not underestimate the potential for Evan Berry to dazzle the scouts in attendance, of which it is expected virtually all 32 NFL teams will be represented. The younger brother of former Vols’ Thorpe Award winner Eric Berry, Evan earned All-American honors as a sophomore at Tennessee as a kick return specialist. The speedy Berry, a former AAU track standout at Fairburn (Ga.) High School, averaged more than 34-yards-per-return on 38 career attempts and posted four touchdowns.
Yet don’t expect Evan to limit himself as just a return specialist; it’s expected he also will showcase his ball skills and run routes and catch passes, participating in wide receiver drills, at the event, per sources on campus.
Additionally, Evan’s twin brother, Elliott, likely will log some drills as a defensive back rather than the undersized linebacker role he oftentimes played for the good of his team in recent years as a Vol.
For other Vols, Coleman Thomas — a four-year contributor on the Vols’ offensive line who never got to focus on a single position — could showcase the athleticism that helped Thomas as an effective downfield blocker. Able to dunk a basketball from a standing jump upon arriving at Tennessee, Thomas could get a chance to impress if he’s improved strength numbers.
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