Only four players from Tennessee colleges heard their names called during the NFL Draft, and Memphis and Tennessee State had as many players picked as Southeastern Conference teams Tennessee and Vanderbilt with one apiece. The draft ending Sunday marked the worst showing since 1963 when the Volunteers were completely shut out.
It’s a poor turnout for a school that went into this draft ranked sixth nationally with 35 players drafted since 1967. But at least defensive end Robert Ayers stretched the Volunteers’ streak to four straight years with at least one first-round player drafted, going to Denver at No. 18 overall.
But none of his teammates off a 5-7 Tennessee team wound up joining him.
Ayers didn’t have much company from Tennessee colleges either. Only three others were drafted with Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore next in the fourth round followed by Tennessee State running back Javarris Williams and Memphis defensive end Clinton McDonald in the seventh.
Vanderbilt was coming off its first bowl victory in 53 years and first winning season since 1982 with a handful of Commodores eligible for the draft. Moore was considered a possible late first-round pick once he declared for the draft just after the Music City Bowl victory.
He dropped to the fourth round at No. 119 overall to Chicago after questions about his speed and size despite being a two-time All-Southeastern Conference player. Moore became Vandy’s first cornerback drafted since 1999, and Commodores coach Bobby Johnson said he believes Moore will be a great player for the Bears.
“D.J. is a special football player, a young man who possesses excellent skills. He was one of those guys that always seemed to be around the ball and make plays. He also offers a rare versatility as a football player, a guy that can do virtually anything he wants to on the field,” Johnson said.
Moore will have plenty of Vandy teammates in Chicago. The Bears also have quarterback Jay Cutler and ex-Dores in linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, offensive tackle Chris Williams and receiver Earl Bennett.
Williams was the Ohio Valley Conference’s offensive player of the year. He lasted until the third pick of the seventh round before going to Kansas City. Williams ran for 1,037 yards and 15 touchdowns last year despite missing two games with an injury. He finished with 4,329 yards rushing, the fourth-highest nationally among active players.
Cincinnati picked McDonald at No. 249. The 6-2, 283-pound lineman was first-team All-Conference USA and was Memphis’ first player in the East-West Shrine game since Albert Means in 2004.