Vols Shine at NFL Pro Day

By Mark Nagi

Tennessee is back in its rightful place as an NFL feeder program.

Later this month, the NFL Draft will take place, and you will absolutely hear the names of some former Vols called at the podium.

On Thursday, March 30, representatives from all 32 NFL teams showed up at Tennessee’s indoor facility to watch a few Vol alums workout.

“I’m really proud of this group of guys and how they handled the entire process,” said Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel. “Just the feedback that I’ve gotten today, the feedback that I’ve gotten after the (NFL) Combine and after some of the postseason bowl games. I thought physically our guys did a great job of preparing themselves.”

Former Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker will be one of the most interesting people to watch in a few weeks. He tore his ACL against South Carolina on November 19, and some NFL teams might be wary of selecting him for that reason. However, talent-wise he has all the tools for a long pro career.

Hooker has valued the opportunity to speak with NFL representatives.

“It’s been great just to be able to sit down and watch ball, showcase some of my things on the cerebral side of the game and just learn from them,” said Hooker. “They answer all of my questions, and I’m just having a great time.”

The number one option in the Tennessee passing game last season was Jalin Hyatt. He went from 21 catches for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2021 to a remarkable 67 catches for 1267 yards and 15 scores in 2022. Those numbers opened a lot of pro eyes.

“A lot of the feedback I’ve heard has been good,” said Hyatt. “I’ve got my top-30 visits coming up so I’m going to be everywhere. I’ve definitely been hearing good feedback. I’m excited about the process and what’s next. We’ll see what happens in the future… I’ve talked to maybe 15 to 20 teams. All of their coaches and GMs are in there and they’re asking everything about you—what type of player you are, what you do this or that, but I felt like I did pretty good. I can talk about football 24/7 based off what Coach Heupel and Coach Pope taught me in this offense. It’s easy, this interview process, especially being around guys like (Hendon) Hooker.”

Former Tennessee edge rusher Byron Young could be selected in the first round. Young picked up first-team All-SEC honors as a senior, leading the Vols with seven sacks. He also had 37 tackles, including 12 for loss.

But it was his NFL Combine performance that put him at the top of the list for teams with the need for his services. Young ran a blistering 4.43 40.

“I put in a lot of effort,” said Young. “We worked out three times a day, Monday through Saturday, and Saturday was twice a day. I put in a lot of time and effort. I changed my diet and the way I sleep by waking up early. I was really dedicated and committed to something I want. So, when that happened, I wasn’t surprised, I was thankful I kept on going and didn’t give up.”

During most of the 2010s, Tennessee’s football program was an NFL Draft afterthought. It looks like times are changing.

“We’ve got really good players that are here currently,” said Heupel. “They are getting developed at an elite level in our offseason program. Structurally, what we do schematically on offense, defense, and special teams… it’s putting those guys in a position to showcase their physical attributes but also stress them and grow them in their understanding of concepts. That will all transition to the next level. This group of guys… we’re going to have a lot of high draft picks that come out of it. I hope that with the way that we’re recruiting, the guys that we’re bringing in, the development that we have here we will continue to have that.”