This past weekend, the 87th edition of the National Football League’s annual draft took place at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada. Three defensive players and two offensive starters from the Vols were drafted, making them the first five Vols to be drafted to the NFL in the Josh Heupel era.
In the second round, the first Vol of the draft was selected. Cornerback Alontae Taylor was selected as the 49th pick after playing in 45 games with 31 starts for the Vols. He was the highest-drafted defensive back from Tennessee since 2010.
In the third round, Velus Jones Jr. was chosen with the 71st pick by the Chicago Bears. The former University of Southern California wide receiver spent just two seasons on Rocky Top, but he made his mark as a Vol, totaling 1,087 yards and 11 touchdowns on 84 catches.
Defensive tackle Matthew Butler was selected in the fifth round with the 175th pick of the draft. He appeared with 26 starts and 53 games during his five seasons playing at Tennessee. The North Carolina native was notable for 152 total tackles during his career, and will now be playing for the Las Vegas Raiders.
In the sixth round two Vols were taken to the big league. Knoxville-raised Cade Mays was selected as pick 199 to play offensive line for the Carolina Panthers. After transferring to play at Neyland Stadium from Georgia, he was a key starter for the Vols, playing in 17 games over the last two years. Finally, the last pick of the Vols from the draft was defensive back Theo Jackson, who will be staying home to play for the Tennessee Titans. The 204th pick finished the past season with 78 tackles and was the leader of the defense.
Wide receiver JaVonta Payton was not selected during the draft. However, it did not take him long to agree to an undrafted free agent deal with a team. Payton is reportedly set to sign a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Payton was the third option in the Vols’ passing game and has shown that he is determined to work hard to have a permanent place on the Cardinals’ roster. The Tennessee native averaged a career-high 22.9 per reception, which also led the SEC.