Vols shine at NFL Pro Day

By Mark Nagi

Tennessee is once again truly back on the radar of NFL scouts. On Wednesday, March 27, 15 former Vols participated in a series of drills at the UT football complex during NFL Pro Day.

“Ultimately at the end of it, it’s them getting to a franchise and putting the helmet and shoulder pads on and getting a chance to go compete for a job,” said Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel. “It’s the next part of their journey. Just the maturity that our guys have had and some of the feedback that we’ve gotten from NFL personnel that have been at postseason bowl games and how they’ve handled the combine process. Really excited for those guys.”

The most intriguing prospect might be QB Joe Milton. Athletically, Milton checks every box. He ran a 4.56 40 (unofficially) and threw 80-yard bombs to receivers in stride.

“It went great,” Milton told reporters after the workout. “I feel like I ran what I needed to run for one. Two, I feel like I threw the ball very well. Shout out to the guys that caught the ball today.”

The issue with Milton isn’t his cannon for an arm nor his speed for a big guy.  There will be a team willing to take a chance on him and work on his consistency and accuracy.  It’ll be interesting to see how high he goes in this month’s NFL Draft.

Former Tennessee DB Kamal Hadden had one of the biggest plays of the 2023 season. His pick-6 against South Carolina helped the Vols achieve a high win and garner some revenge from their loss in 2022. A shoulder injury in the Alabama game ended his season, and he’s spent the last few months recovering from surgery.  But Hadden took part in the NFL Combine, and last Wednesday put up marks of 34½” in the vertical jump and a 10’ 2” broad jump.

“I feel like it put me in the best position as far as going where I need to go,” Hadden said of his physical rehabilitation. “It makes my story even greater. I overcame a lot during college, leaving different schools and having to fight through a lot of adversity. This was just another one of those things where I had to overcome and accept where I am, accept what happened to me, and put my best foot forward and come back and work even harder.”

Tight end McCallan Castles didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine, but he’s put up some numbers at Pro Day that will get him more attention from scouts. He’s 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds. He has a 10’ 6” broad jump and a 37½” vertical jump. His broad jump would have been the best among tight ends at the combine, and his vertical jump would have been third best.

Castles was asked what he brings to the table for NFL teams. “Just the versatility. I can play a fullback, I can insert off the ball and run block, run different routes. So, just being a jack of all trades and being able to play each tight end position.”

Tennessee has some other guys that should be selected at the NFL Draft, including running back Jaylen Wright. At the Combine, Wright ran a 4.38 40, had an 11’ 2” broad jump and a 38” vertical jump. The running back position is devalued in the modern NFL game, but he’s going to be too good to pass up, and likely will be one of the top 2 or 3 running backs selected.

The NFL Draft takes place April 25-27 in Detroit.