The NFL Draft comes to Nashville in what may be a milestone year for the city: NFL teams are expected to select more players from Middle Tennessee in 2019 than at any other time on record.
Last year, for example, only one local player was selected in the draft. This year it could as many as eight. That’s the number invited to the NFL Combine, the league’s biggest pre-draft showcase — and a good gauge for who is likely to end up having their names called.
While none were projected to go in the first round, NFL Draft analyst and former UT player Charles Davis thinks the Nashville wave should start tonight.
“A number of these players we’re going to be talking about will rate among the best at their positions," he said.
"Dawson Knox the tight end out of Ole Miss is probably going to go in the second, third round at the worst. Joejuan Williams, the corner from Vanderbilt, probably a second round corner. And Emanuel Hall blew the doors off his combine and pro day. And I could go on and on.”
Knox played at Brentwood High School, Williams at Father Ryan and Hall at Centennial.
Former Hillsboro standout Kyle Phillips says he’s spoken with other players about Nashville's unique presence at this year’s event.
“We just always talk about being in Nashville — the draft in Nashville — we’re from here. There’s just definitely a lot of excitement going around this whole city and our families, just to know that we can possibly be able to get our names called in our hometown," Phillips said.
Phillips says in the last several years, he’s seen a change in perception when it comes to colleges recruiting out of Middle Tennessee. Former Centennial star Tyrel Dodson agrees. He says the services that rate players have been bumping up their assessments.
“Every time I look up there’s always a five star from Tennessee," Dodson said. "That was never the case when I was in high school. We were all three to four stars. It’s starting to get very hot. It’s just so exciting to see that me and my friends were a part of that.”
So why the change? Analyst Charles Davis says the Tennessee Titans coming to town two decades ago sent ripples through football at all levels.
And the whole "It City" thing hasn't hurt either.
“I do think that the way that Nashville has blown up and become a cosmopolitan city — a destination place — that has helped change some of that thought process about how much talent there is in the middle part of the state," Davis said.
And the NFL Draft, with its millions of viewers, should shine an even brighter light on Middle Tennessee talent.
Who To Watch
The NFL Draft continues tonight with the second and third rounds. Rounds four through seven take place on Saturday.
The following Nashville area players were invited to the NFL Combine and projected as likely NFL Draft picks:
- Paul Adams, Christ Presbyterian Academy (Nashville), offensive tackle, Missouri
- Ugo Amadi, Overton High School (Nashville), defensive back, Oregon
- Alex Bars, Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville), offensive lineman, Notre Dame
- Tyrel Dodson, Centennial High School (Franklin), linebacker, Texas A&M
- Emanuel Hall, Centennial High School (Franklin), wide receiver, Missouri
- Jalen Hurd, Beech High School (Hendersonville), wide receiver, UT/Baylor
- Dawson Knox, Brentwood High School, tight end, Ole Miss
- Joejuan Williams, Father Ryan High School (Nashville), defensive back, Vanderbilt