KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has his questions about the three Tennessee football juniors who departed the Vols’ program early.
Tailback John Kelly got off to a smashing start to the 2017 season, but Mayock took note that the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder didn’t run with the same authority toward the end of the season.
For nickleback Rashaan Gaulden, it’s a matter of which position he projects to play and how fast of a time he runs at the NFL combine.
Defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, meanwhile surprised Mayock by not returning to Tennessee when he has so much more to prove with only three sacks and 72 tackles in the 31 career games he played.
“The Kelly kid is interesting, because you put the Florida tape on and you go ‘Wow, that was a good football game,’ “ Mayock said on Monday’s teleconference. “You see contact balance, a burst acceleration. His last three games, I don’t know if it was him, his offensive line or a combination, but they just looked different. You hate to knock a kid when the whole team is struggling like it was at the end of the season. But they looked different at the end of the year. So I chose to take the Florida tape and say, okay, at his best, who is he?”
Kelly led Tennessee with 189 carries for 778 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns, and he tied for the team lead with 37 receptions that were good for 299 yards.
“At his best, I thought he was a midround player. Best case third round. But I don’t really think that’s happened. I think best case, fourth round, realistically. Fourth or fifth round running back. I think if he runs well and catches the ball well at his prodDay, that could really help him.”
Mayock’s observations on Kelly were indeed spot on: Kelly averaged 2.55 yards per carry the four games after returning from a one-game suspension that forced him to miss the Oct. 28 Kentucky game.
Kelly averaged 5.55 yards per carry the first four games of the season, including his season-high 141-yard rushing performance against the Gators.
As Mayock alluded to, the offensive line likely played a role. Tennessee started eight different offensive line combinations and was down to four scholarship offensive linemen at one point.
Kelly, as a result, began bouncing more runs outside to avoid the penetration.
As for Gaulden, Mayock described Tennessee’s best defensive player of 2017 as “interesting,” but added, “I don’t know what to make of him.”
Former Vols coordinator Bob Shoop lined up Gaulden all over the field, using him to blitz and help in run support as well as play a role in coverage.
“He’s tough, he hustles to the football (and) he’s got some range,” Mayock said. “I want to see what he runs. He’s 6-foot-1. He might play corner. I don’t know. If he runs 4.48 (-second time in the 40-yard dash), he might be interesting as a long corner. He also might be interesting as a free safety.
“I know he can play special teams, and I kind of feel like right now he’s probably an early third-day pick. But I think he could help himself.”
McKenzie, meanwhile, has prolific NFL size to play defensive tackle but labored through injuries throughout his Tennessee career.
“Lot of people were surprised that McKenzie came out this early,” Mayock said. “Five-star recruit, pretty stout against the run. But right now there are more questions than answers about him. I’m guessing he’s going to come in and move pretty well because he’s got some movement skills.
“But, quite frankly, I was surprised he came out early.”
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