Tennessee junior’s decisions to turn pro less puzzling with further inspection
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It might be confusing seeing the three juniors leave Tennessee and head to the NFL draft. This isn’t like last year when defensive end Dereck Barnett decided to skip his senior season. Barnett was in line to be one of the top picks in the draft.
Running back John Kelly, nickel back Rashaan Gaulden and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie all declared for the draft without the prospects of being a top pick in April.
Upon closer examination, it makes sense why each decided it would be best to pursue the NFL instead of playing one more season on Rocky Top.
Kelly’s production slowed as the offensive line play began to fade. He finished the season with 778 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. There is plenty of tape on him showing how hard of a runner he is and how he fights through contact.
The deficiencies won’t change either. Kelly still won’t possess breakaway speed with another year of college.
There isn’t much of a point in adding all of those miles on to his body so to speak without getting paid. He could have helped the offense next season, but this is the best move for him.
Gaulden was the most consistent performer for the Tennessee defense last season. It would have made sense for him to spend a year under coach Jeremy Pruitt who is known as an excellent defensive back coach.
Gaulden is a specialized player though who is at his best playing the nickel back role.
Pruitt’s 3-4 system won’t emphasize that role as often as the past two seasons. Gaulden might not have wanted to learn a new system for a season and potentially play out of position.
McKenzie is probably the most surprising decision of the three. He never lived up to his 5-star recruiting billing coming into college.
He seemed like a good fit in Pruitt’s new 3-4 system. However, McKenzie seems to think the change of scenery is the right move at this point in his football career. He probably isn’t wrong either. If he is going to prove he isn’t a bust, moving on from Tennessee is the right move.
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