DSC_0650.jpg

The 2022 NFL Draft begins Thursday night, and several players with Nashville-area ties stand a solid chance of being selected.

Plenty of former high school football standouts, along with a handful of area college prospects, have made strong cases to be Day 2 or 3 selections. 

The Tennessee Volunteers lead the way with four legitimate prospects and four others who could catch on as free agents. While Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt are light on NFL talent, both schools have at least one prospect who could be late-round selections or undrafted free agent additions. 

Below is a full list of players with local ties who could be drafted or sign with a team following the draft:

Tennessee

Matthew Butler, DL

Alontae Taylor, CB

Velus Jones Jr., WR

Cade Mays, OL

Theo Jackson, S

JaVonta Payton, WR

Kenneth George, DB

Ja’Quain Blakeley, DL

Taylor’s speed (4.36 40-yard dash), size (6-foot, 200 pounds) and length make him an ideal plug-and-play outside defensive back. In four years in Knoxville, Taylor, a Coffee County High School alum, totaled 162 tackles, 19 passes defensed, five tackles for loss, four interceptions and three forced fumbles. He’s projected to be a third-round pick.

Butler, a former four-star recruit, has the prototypical size (6-foot-4, 297 pounds) to be an impact defensive lineman in the NFL. He started 53 games over five seasons with the Vols, recording 152 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s expected to be taken in Round 4 or 5.

Known more as a special teams player than a receiver between his five seasons at USC and UT, Jones Jr. made strides in 2021 as an impact wideout. He caught 62 balls for 807 yards and seven scores in 12 games, likely showing enough promise for a team looking for a catch-and-run threat to take a chance on him. He is projected to go in Rounds 4 or 5.

Mays has played all five offensive line positions while at Georgia and Tennessee. While his versatility likely ups his draft stock a bit, his length and big frame help him against bigger-bodied defensive lineman. Mays is a strong pass blocker with good hands, making him a candidate to switch to center in the NFL. He’s projected to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick.

Jackson, Payton, George and Blakeley are all expected to go undrafted but stand a good chance of signing free agent deals shortly after the draft.

MTSU

Reed Blankenship, S 

DQ Thomas, LB

Jarrin Pierce, WR

It was a surprise to some when Blankenship — a projected late-round pick in last year’s draft — returned for a fifth season in 2021, admitting he wasn’t ready for the next level quite yet.

He appears to have made the right call after finishing his final year with 110 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception, and writing his name in the record books as MTSU’s all-time leading tackler. 

Blankenship’s decision didn’t appear to hurt his draft stock much, as he’s still projected to be taken in Rounds 5 though 7. Thomas and Pierce are expected to go undrafted.

Vanderbilt

Allan George, CB

A fifth-year senior, George isn’t ranked by any of the major draft services, but he could be worth a late-round flier. He started 26 of the 45 games he played on West End, totaling 142 tackles, 19 passes defensed, 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Although his stats are solid, George will likely go undrafted.

Nashville-area prep alums

Ty Chandler, RB, North Carolina (MBA)

Obinna Eze, OL, TCU (Davidson Academy)

Master Teague, RB, Ohio State (Blackman)

T.J. Carter, DB, TCU (Stratford)

Jordan Wilson, TE, Florida State (MBA)

Jordan Mason, RB, Georgia Tech (Gallatin)

While most of Nashville’s former prep standouts aren’t expected to be drafted, Chandler, Eze and Teague are each projected as mid-to-late-round picks. 

A second team All-ACC selection, Chandler ran for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games with the Tar Heels as a grad transfer. He totaled 3,138 yards and 26 touchdowns in five seasons between UNC and Tennessee. Chandler is projected be an early Day 3 selection, possibly as early as Round 5.

A 6-foot-8, 334-pound offensive lineman, Eze spent four years at Memphis before transferring to TCU this year. He started 37 games over the last three seasons as a left tackle. Eze was named an honorable mention Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year this year and earned invites to the NFL Combine and East-West Shrine Game this year. He should be a Day 3 selection, projected to go in Round 6 or 7.

Although Teague didn’t have the career at Ohio State that he likely imagined, he showed he has value as a power back on third downs. He finished his Buckeyes career with 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns over 35 games. Some draft services predict him to be a seventh-round selection and others believe he will go undrafted.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_