INDIANAPOLIS — When Josh Malone submitted his name to an NFL draft advisory committee this winter, the committee told him he should return to Tennessee for his senior season.
But Malone saw a bigger risk than leaving too early: sticking around to play with the Vols’ young quarterbacks.
With Josh Dobbs‘ eligibility up, Malone worried that his excellent junior season would be wiped out by a potentially iffy passing game in 2017. His 2016 totals: 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I had a good year, and then my quarterback was leaving,” Malone said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “Just with the change and the freshman quarterbacks and trying to play through their growing pains just really wasn’t going to be worthwhile. So I just went ahead and took the chance.”
Malone didn’t have a bead on the competition.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “Jarrett and Quentin are both solid quarterbacks, and it’s gonna be an interesting battle this spring to see wins it out … They each have their own playing styles.”
No matter who wins, UT will likely miss Dobbs’ presence as an outstanding student off the field and the SEC Offensive Player of the Year on it.
“Dobbs was in the huddle for 4 years,” Malone said. “It’s gonna be different seeing a new face in there. The young guys will have to step up and take a bigger role. Have that commanding presence at the line and have that control of the game.”
Malone is among several SEC receivers in the draft this year. He is projected by most draft experts to be a mid-round or late-round selection.
Friday, he suggested he didn’t get enough touches with the Vols.
“Personally, I just felt like (other schools’ receivers) had more opportunities than me to get the ball in their hands and being able to showcase their ability more than I had in my career,” Malone said. “I’m just coming out here to show what I got and show that I’m basically in the same mix with them.”
Malone, Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara, defensive lineman Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton are all in Indianapolis for the combine. All could be drafted, which would mark a significant improvement from last year’s total (zero).
“It’s highly important, especially for the program,” Malone said. “It’s been a while since there were this many Vols at the combine. It’s a pride thing. This is what Tennessee football is really about.”