Three VFLs drafted on final day, five total draft picks most since 2017

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LAS VEGAS – Tennessee VFLs defensive tackle Matthew Butler, offensive lineman Cade Mays and defensive back Theo Jackson were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft on Saturday, pushing the Volunteers’ final three-day total to five.

Butler went off the board at pick No. 175 overall in the fifth round by the Las Vegas Raiders. Mays was tabbed by the Carolina Panthers with pick No. 199 in the sixth round, and Jackson went to his hometown Tennessee Titans with pick No. 204 in the sixth round. They join defensive back Alontae Taylor (New Orleans Saints, pick No. 49) and Velus Jones Jr. (Chicago Bears, pick No. 71) who were chosen on Friday night.

Tennessee’s five draft selections were its most since six Vols were chosen in 2017. All four improved their stock and played a pivotal role in elevating the program in Josh Heupel’s first season as head coach. A year after Heupel’s squad broke the school record of five draft picks at UCF, his UT crop of five were more than the Vols produced in their last three drafts combined.

Butler notched 51 defensive stops since 2019 according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked second among SEC defensive linemen. In 2021, he collected 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, seven quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He became familiar with Las Vegas during a week-long stint in February at the East-West Shrine Game.

“When we were able to go out for the Pro Bowl festivities and seeing those surrounding areas of Vegas with the houses, the mountains and desert – it was really beautiful,” Butler said. “I literally said to myself, ‘I could see myself being here, for sure’ and lo and behold, here I come.”

Mays made it back-to-back drafts with a Tennessee offensive lineman selected. The second-team All-SEC selection started 10 games, played 493 snaps and allowed only one sack in 2021.

“I am going to come to work every day, and I am going to give the organization everything I’ve got,” Mays said at a Charlotte teleconference on Saturday. “I am going to be a great guy in the locker room. I am excited to get to know those guys and am looking forward to it.”

Jackson joins VFLs Morgan Cox and Josh Malone with the Titans. An avid Titan fan growing up, he returns to his hometown after prepping at Overton High School and finishing his UT career on the same field he will play on at the next level.

“I am not going to lie to you – I am going through so many emotions right now,” Jackson said. “It is the best feeling, to grow up in Nashville, to go to school at Tennessee and then come back home for pro ball, it is really … I can’t even think of the words to say right now. I am just so excited and so eager to get to work.”

Jackson and Taylor’s selections gave Tennessee multiple defensive backs in this year’s draft, a first since 2002. It was also the first time that the Vols had two or more defensive backs taken in the first six rounds since 2000. Tennessee joined LSU and Georgia as the only SEC programs to produce multiple defensive backs in this draft.

Other eligible VFLs can now sign undrafted free agent contracts with teams.

Tennessee NFL Draft Picks
Round (Pick), Name, Position, Team
2 (49), Alontae Taylor, DB, New Orleans Saints
3 (71), Velus Jones Jr., WR, Chicago Bears
5 (175), Matthew Butler, DT, Las Vegas Raiders
6 (199), Cade Mays, OL, Carolina Panthers
6 (204), Theo Jackson, DB, Tennessee Titans

Tennessee NFL Draft Notes
• With the five total draft selections, Tennessee has had 379 all-time draft picks, which dates back to 1936. That mark includes the AFL Draft, which merged in 1967.
• Tennessee was one of only five schools nationally and two in the SEC to produce a defensive back AND wide receiver drafted in the first three rounds. The others included Georgia, Penn State, Baylor and Cincinnati.
• The Volunteers have now had at least one wide receiver drafted in three consecutive drafts. That’s the longest streak for the program since they had at least one wide receiver selected in four straight drafts from 2001-04.
• Alontae Taylor became the highest drafted Vol defensive back since Eric Berry was selected fifth overall to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010.
• Taylor was the 12th Vol drafted all-time by the New Orleans Saints and the highest by the Saints since wide receiver Robert Meachem was pick No. 27 in round one in 2007. He is the first Vol defensive back drafted by the Saints.
• It was the first time since 2007 that the Vols produced a wide receiver AND a defensive back drafted in the first three rounds.
• Jones Jr. was the 19th Vol drafted by the Chicago Bears all-time and first since defensive back Jeremy Lincoln in 1992. Jones Jr. was the highest drafted Vol by the Bears since VFL legend Willie Gault was pick No. 18 in the first round in 1983.
• Tennessee’s five draft choices were its most since six tallying six selections in 2017.
• Matthew Butler was the ninth Vol drafted by the Raiders organization and first since tight end Mychal Rivera in 2013. He was the first UT defensive lineman drafted by Las Vegas.
• Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner has now produced 31 defensive linemen who have been drafted during his SEC coaching career.
• Josh Heupel-coached teams have had at least one wide receiver picked in three straight drafts. He has had four wide receivers selected in the last three drafts combined.
• Tennessee’s five draft picks ranked fifth in the SEC this season.
• The Volunteers were one of only three SEC teams to generate multiple defensive back draft picks, joining LSU and Georgia. Tennessee and LSU were the only SEC schools with multiple defensive backs selected through pick 204.
• It represented the first time since 2002 that Tennessee produced multiple defensive backs in a draft. It was the first time the Vols achieved the feat in the first six rounds since 2000.
• Nashville native Theo Jackson became the 11th Vol selected by the Tennessee Titans all-time and first since Justin Hunter in 2013. He was the first Vol defensive back chosen by the Titans all-time.
• Including his last season at UCF, Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez has produced a combined five NFL Draft picks in the last two drafts.
• The Volunteers produced three defensive draft picks, their most since three in 2017. That tied for the fourth-most in the SEC in this draft. Tennessee’s three defensive selections through the first six rounds ranked tied for third in the SEC.
• Cade Mays was the fourth Vol drafted all-time by the Carolina Panthers, joining quarterback Jerry Colquitt (1995), defensive back Deon Grant (2000) and defensive back Rashaan Gaulden (2018).