Several players with Nashville-area ties were selected at the 2022 NFL Draft over the weekend, while even more found homes at undrafted free agents.
With the three-day, seven-round affair in the books, let’s take a look at the landing spots for local college and high school alums.
The Vols had two of the highest-profile selections of the weekend with a pair of players taken on day two of the draft.
Cornerback and Coffee County High School alum Alontae Taylor was taken in the second round, 49th overall, by the New Orleans Saints. Taylor’s measurables and versatility indicate that he’ll be an early-impact player, and potentially a starter, in New Orleans.
“I feel more like a corner, but whatever the Saints need me to do, I’m going to come in and do that,” Taylor said. “If that’s moving to safety or moving to nickel, then I’m willing to do that.”
Wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. was taken in the third round at pick 71 by the Chicago Bears. Long-starved for pass-catching talent, Jones Jr. could provide young quarterback Justin Fields with a new target.
“I’m so excited. Especially a guy like Justin, a great leader, and seeing what he’s accomplished throughout his career, and has so much more,” Jones Jr. said. “He doesn’t have a ceiling on him.”
The Las Vegas Raiders scooped up defensive tackle Matthew Butler in the fifth round (175th pick), while a pair of Vols went off the board in the sixth in guard Cade Mays (199) to the Carolina Panthers and safety Theo Jackson (204) to the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson to the Titans was homecoming in multiple ways. Not only was he a Tennessee alum, but the Overton product and Brentwood native grew up as a Titans fan.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m going through so many emotions right now,” Jackson said. “But it's the best feeling, to grow up in Nashville, go to school at Tennessee and then come back home for pro ball. I can't even think of the words to say right now. I'm just so, so excited. I'm so eager to get to get to work.
“When I was at Overton I was still trying to get to the next level, which was college. I was just trying to get to the next level after high school. But in the end, I was envisioning myself playing with the Titans. Just having that vision come true is, I still can't give a word to even say what I’m feeling about it.”
Wide receiver JaVonta Payton, a Hillboro alum, signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
The highest-selected player from a Tennessee school was actually taken on day one, as the Patiots selected Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick in what was the biggest surprise of the first round.
Dynamic Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III was the only other player from an in-state school selected. He was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round (138th pick).
Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt each had a pair of players sign undrafted free agent contracts. The Blue Raiders’ record-breaking safety Reed Blankenship is headed to the Philadelphia Eagles. MT linebacker DQ Thomas signed with the New York Jets, where he will be joined by Vanderbilt cornerback Allan George. Commodores receiver Chris Pierce Jr. will be joining Payton in the Cardinals receivers room.
Nashville-area Prep Alums
North Carolina’s Ty Chandler, a former Tennessee running back, was the only local prep alum taken in this year’s draft. The MBA product was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round with the 169th pick and should slot in as a change-of-pace option behind starter Dalvin Cook.
“[My speed will help] me be versatile, whether it’s lining up outside or receiving the ball from the backfield. Hopefully I can hit some home run plays.”
A number of Nashville-area prep products signed undrafted free agent deals, hoping to earn a roster spot in training camp. These include:
Davidson Academy OT Obinna Eze (TCU) - Detroit Lions
Blackman RB Master Teague (Ohio State) - Chicago Bears
Stratford DB TJ Carter (TCU) - Los Angeles Rams
Gallatin RB Jordan Mason (Georgia Tech) - San Francisco 49ers
MBA TE Jordan Wilson (Florida State) - Cincinnati Bengals