By Mark Nagi
The NFL Draft is a dream come true for hundreds of football players. All the hard work and years of sacrifice pay off when they hear their names called.
This year two former Tennessee Volunteers were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Josh Palmer was taken in the third round by the Los Angeles Chargers, while offensive lineman Trey Smith was selected in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Man, words can’t describe really how I feel right now,” Palmer told reporters shortly after he heard his name called. “I’m just… when they called me. I’m just really excited to come in and get to work. The past four months, training so hard, now that all this is over, I’m just excited to get with a team and get to work, get in the offense and win some games.”
Palmer will get the opportunity to play with one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, rookie of the year Justin Herbert. He also gets to learn from veteran receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Palmer got 99 passes for 1514 yards and seven touchdowns during his four years at Tennessee. He worked through adversity, playing for two different head coaches, three different offensive coordinators and playing with multiple different quarterbacks. Palmer doesn’t look at that reality as a negative.
“It’ll definitely help me,” he said. “If I didn’t go to Tennessee, I wouldn’t be drafted by the Chargers right now, is how I see it. I was fortunate to learn from so many coaches and so many different ways of coaching, and that’s what I love about coming from Tennessee and knowing how to deal with different coaches and what they see and what they look for. So, it’s a blessing.”
As far as Trey Smith is concerned, for most of his Tennessee career he was projected to be a first round draft pick. Smith started 41 games at Tennessee, earning First Team All-SEC honors twice, as well as an All-American selection this past season.
But Smith also fought through debilitating blood clots twice. The medical condition was serious enough that his football career was by no means guaranteed. This appears to have scared a lot of teams away, dropping his stock mightily.
Draft picks are like platinum for NFL teams. The last thing they want to do is give them away. Kansas City was willing to take the risk.
“We feel completely comfortable where he’s at medically to play for us,” said Mike Borgonzi, Chiefs director of football operations.
“They (KC medical staff) did all the due diligence in searching out everything from his medical history standpoint,” said Chiefs director of pro personnel Tim Terry. “We feel really comfortable and confident that we’re getting a good young man, but a good young football player that’s going to come into our building and help us to elevate the level of competition.”
“I’ve been in absolute perfect health,” said Smith. “Having a great time. No issues recently at all. Obviously, things are uncontrollable, but once again, thankful to the Hunt family (team owners) and the Chiefs organization for believing in me. I’m ready to roll.”
Kansas City won the Super Bowl two years ago and lost in the title game back in February. The Chiefs’ offensive line was a factor in that defeat.
“Joining this organization is ultimately a dream come true,” said Smith. “I watched the Super Bowl when y’all played the 49ers. I sat in those stands and watched. I was amazed by the offense, amazed by the organization… Having an opportunity to join them is humbling. I’m extremely blessed to have that opportunity. I am excited to get to work, really, with (quarterback) Patrick Mahomes.”
There was a time when Tennessee was well represented at the NFL Draft. This year the number of draftees only got up to two. It’ll be interesting to see if new head coach Josh Heupel can get more Vols in the pros in the years to come.