As I close out my analysis of the SEC with these last couple teams, I take a look at the Tennessee Vols, a team that has vastly underachieved the last couple of years, but finally appears to be on the rise. Quarterback Tyler Bray holds the future (or next three to four years) of this program in his hands, but he is joined by some very talented kids who could make the Vols an extremely tough out in 2011, and hopefully for them, they can become part of the SEC elite once more.
Here are some of their top NFL prospects…
28 Tauren Poole (Senior), RB, 5’10” 210
Poole really broke out as a star for the Vols in 2010 when he ran the ball 204 times for 1,034 yards (5.1 yard average), 11 touchdowns, 22 receptions, and another touchdown through the air. He has the ideal (or close to it) size for an NFL running back, and he appears to have excellent vision and better than average power in games. Poole has good speed and lateral quickness, and is always keeping his eyes down the field. Last year, he had six games where he went over 100 yards on the ground, and one game, he hit the 99 mark. He is a workhorse back who is not afraid of contact. Excellent lower body strength, and slippery in between the tackles. Runs low and is very hard to take down on first contact. For three years in a row, he has been an All Academic SEC Selection, so he is dedicated off the field as well. One of the leaders of the Tennessee offense, and team overall. Honorable mention All SEC selection in a league filled with running back talent, Poole is a player to watch in NFL circles and could be a day two pick. If not, he is certainly an early day three type of player.
97 Malik Jackson (Senior), DT/DE, 6’5″ 270
Big, strong defensive line prospect who emerged last year with five sacks, six tackles for loss, four passes broken up, an interception, and five quarterback hurries. Jackson can play both inside at defensive tackle and at defensive end for the Vols, but he has the size and abilities of a five technique in a 3-4 defensive scheme. His skill-set is not unlike that of Cam Jordan at Cal, and he has the frame to add some weight and become a force at the end position in the NFL. If he sticks in a 4-3 scheme, he could be used as a power end in the base defense and kick inside to tackle in nickel or dime situation. Transferred to Tennessee from USC with Lane Kiffin (who is obviously no longer there) where he was a 245 pound end, so he obviously has added some bulk to his frame already. Should be primed for a breakout season as Tennessee’s top defensive lineman this year.
23 Prentiss Waggner (Junior), S, 6’2″ 181
Waggner is a thinner safety prospect than you would like, but he has a couple of years to get his weight up. Had a great sophomore season in which he tallied 57 tackles (two for loss), four passes broken up, and a whopping five interceptions. Second team All-SEC selection by some media outlets, and showed what kind of playmaking skills he has by taking an FBS leading three of his five picks back to the house for touchdowns. Waggner also had three recovered fumbles, giving him a total of eight takeaways during the 2010 season. That is the most since Deon Grant had nine interceptions more than a decade ago. Waggner may have simply been in the right place at the right time, but he has some playmaking skills that NFL teams covet, and he could be a playmaker in the making for the Vols.
15 Janzen Jakson (Junior), S, 6’0″ 187
The Vols are holding their breath that Jackson will return to the team in 2011 after leaving for personal reasons back in February. Jackson is a tough, hard-nosed player who hits like a ton of bricks and is absolutely fearless on the field. As a sophomore, he racked up 69 tackles (four for loss), a sack, five interceptions, and six passes broken up. If he wants to keep up the style of play that he is so good at, he might need to bulk up to around 200 pounds or so, possibly more. However, for now, he is a player that is very fun to watch, and he can really hit. Hopefully, Jackson will return for his junior season and give the Vols one of the better ball-hawking defensive backfields in college football, as he and Prentiss Waggner hauled in 10 interceptions last year and 13 turnovers in all.
As of right now, these are the four guys that I would expect to possibly leave for the draft this year, though Tennessee has names like Tyler Bray (QB), Justin Hunter (WR), Da’Rick Rogers (WR), among others to look out for possibly as 2013 entrants.