New VFLs in the NFL

How UT athletes fared in the 2017 draft and how they fit in with their new teams

The Vols broke the streak this year! After going two seasons without having a single player recruited into the National Football League, the University of Tennessee had six players taken in the draft this year. The following is a look at how those draftees fit in with their current teams.

Derek Barnett: Barnett fills a need for the Philadelphia Eagles, even if defensive end wasn’t the team’s most pressing issue. Philly was tied for 16th in the league with 34 sacks last year. Having signed Chris Long in the offseason, most thought the Eagles would draft a corner or a running back at number 14. Taking Barnett this early tells you the team had Barnett ranked much higher than his draft position. Barnett should start for the Eagles as long as he can beat out sixth-year veteran Vinny Curry for the spot opposite Brandon Graham. Long should serve as a backup and could step in for Barnett if he struggles on running downs as some scouts feared given his 268-pound frame.

Alvin Kamara: Kamara joins a crowded Saints backfield featuring 1,000-yard rusher Mark Ingram and newly signed free agent Adrian Peterson. Kamara probably fits better into their long-term plans more than he does immediately. For now, expect New Orleans to use Kamara mainly in the passing game and as an insurance policy in case Petersons struggles to return to form from his second ACL tear or if injuries cause Ingram to miss time this season. The latter scenario could be a distinct possibility, as Ingram has played in all 16 games only twice in his six-year career.

Cam Sutton: Sutton steps into an already skilled defensive backfield for Pittsburgh, but he should still see significant time early on. Pittsburgh used a 1st or 2nd round pick on a secondary player three years in a row before taking Sutton in the 3rd round this year. With Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns already in the fold and the signing of Coty Sensabaugh this offseason, Pittsburgh will probably use Cam to cover the slot at the beginning of the year. Sutton might also face competition from former 1st round pick Senquez Golson, who missed last year with a foot injury. For now, expect Sutton to have a very strong opportunity to start in the nickel role.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin: Despite missing almost all of last year, the Lions took JRM with the 124th pick in the 4th round. If Reeves-Maybin is healthy by the time camp rolls around, he will have a very good opportunity to start at the middle linebacker spot for Detroit. Injuries cut short star linebacker DeAndre Levy’s tenure with the Lions. He will be replaced by free-agent signee Paul Worrilow, who was brought in to replace Levy on the outside in the unit along with Tahir Whitehead. That leaves Antwione Williams, a 5th round pick out of Georgia Southern last year, as the only competition for JRM at the MLB spot. Williams managed just 27 tackles last year and battled hamstring issues throughout the season.

Josh Malone: Malone may not make his mark with the Bengals this season, but he has a great opportunity to play a pivotal role with the team in the future. A.J. Green is the man right now in Cincy and among the top two or three receivers in the game when healthy. Behind Green last year, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core performed admirably in Green’s absence. Aging veteran Brandon LaFell is the team’s only other top receiving threat. As a result, Malone should enter the season as the Bengals 4th or 5th receiver, likely working as a deep threat. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to succeed in that role with Green, Boyd, and tight end Tyler Eifert commanding a ton of attention from opposing secondaries.

Josh Dobbs:  Dobbs enters a crowded roster of quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, but that could work in his favor. Ben Roethlisberger is the clear franchise quarterback for the team. Landry Jones is the established backup. This gives Dobbs the opportunity to develop as a pocket passer before truly needing to take the field. Long term, Dobbs will have the chance to replace Jones as Big Ben’s backup for the Steelers. Then, when Roethlisberger does retire, Dobbs will be in the mix to compete for a starting role.

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