Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.
While getting the Tennessee Volunteers ready for the 2022 Capital One Orange Bowl at the end of the month, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is also working with some of his players on a different goal – the NFL Draft.
As a former NFL Draft pick himself, Heupel knows the importance of pre-draft preparation and how it can impact a player’s spot leading up to the big event. Heupel, a former National Championship-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, was taken by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL Draft with the 177th overall pick.
“At the same time, the NFL process for all of our guys, we want guys to have the opportunity to go to that level, to be a high draft pick and maximize their value,” Heupel said when talking to the media in Knoxville on Saturday. “The conversations, we use not just coaches’ (evaluations), but resources.”
Jalin Hyatt, the 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner, has announced that he will be opting out of the bowl game at the end of the month as he prepares for the draft. The three-year Tennessee receiver is already projecting as a first/second-round pick in early NFL mock drafts following the regular season.
“Excited for Jalin and his future, know he’s going to be a high draft pick,” Heupel said. “Excited that we had a huge part in his journey. This is going to be his home forever.”
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Another player that is looking to be a high pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is Tennessee right tackle Darnell Wright. The four-year Tennessee senior announced last week that he was declaring for the NFL Draft but would play in the Vols’ Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 with his teammates.
“You try to get them the right information in front of them, so that they can make the right decision for them and their family,” Heupel said. “Whether that’s Jalin, whether it’s Darnell (Wright), all of those guys, you feel like they have the education, they have the information, then you let them make a great decision.”
The last player that Heupel was asked about on Saturday was wide receiver Cedric Tillman. While an injury did derail the middle of Tillman’s season and drop his availability to just six games, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder’s frame and history still give him a great shot at the draft.
“I think that’s a really unique situation,” Heupel said about Tillman. “A young guy that obviously played extremely well a year ago and was ready to play extremely well this year too. From Week 3 or Week 4, whatever it was, obviously had the surgery, just hasn’t been at 100 percent. I love that he came back and tried to compete on the backend of the season. I think that shows his heart for his teammates, for this program. For him, as he’s getting ready for the draft process, I think it’s important that he gets to the point where he’s 100 percent. For him, this month here has got a chance to help him heal up and be ready for the backend of the NFL process.”
The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, Apr. 27, 2023.