Velus

Velus Jones Jr. (1) in Neyland Stadium on Saturday Sept. 11, 2021 against the Pittsburg Panthers. 

It’s every football player's dream to one day play in the NFL, from the moment they lace up their cleats and buckle up their chin straps as a kid.  

For five former Volunteers, their dream turned into a reality this weekend at the NFL draft. 

Alontae Taylor, Velus Jones Jr, Mathew Butler, Cade Mays and Theo Jackson all received the call to play in the NFL. 

The five players were the most Tennessee has had selected in a draft since 2017 and more than the 2019, 2020, and 2021 drafts combined. 

Taylor was the first Vol selected from the group on day two, when the Saints grabbed him in the second round with the 49th pick. 

"Whenever my phone started buzzing, I jumped up and quieted everyone down," Taylor said. "It's amazing just knowing my dream is coming true. Whenever they announced my name, my grandma is not here and passed away, and I had a picture sitting in front of me, and I gave her a kiss. She was the first person I made sure I gave a kiss to before hugging my mom."

Taylor is the highest drafted Tennessee defensive back since Eric Berry, when he went in the first round to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. The former Vol defensive back will join a barrage of former VFLs in New Orleans including Alvin Kamara, Marquez Callaway, Shy Tuttle, Ethan Wolf and Bryce Thompson. 

Jones Jr. was the next Vol taken and the second on day two, when the Chicago Bears tabbed him with the 71st pick in round three. 

The 2021 Co-Special Teams Player of the Year became the third wide receiver taken in as many drafts and joins VFL legends Lester McClain and Willie Gault who were chosen by the Bears. 

Day three got underway with Butler being selected in the fifth round by the hosts of the 2022 draft, the Las Vegas Raiders with the 175th pick. 

Butler was the first Vol selected by the Raiders since 2013, when they selected Mychal Rivera in 2013, and was the first UT defensive lineman drafted by Las Vegas. 

The former Vol defensive tackle 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 was the fourth Vol taken off the draft boards, when the Carolina Panthers took him with the 199th pick in the sixth round. 

The former Vol offensive lineman is the fourth Vol ever taken by the Panthers, joining quarterback Jerry Colquitt (1995), defensive back Deon Grant (2000) and defensive back Rashaun Gaulden (2018). 

"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."

The last VFL selected was Theo Jackson in the sixth round, when his hometown team the Tennessee Titans picked him at No. 204. 

The Nashville native returns home, where he played his high school ball at Overton High School and will now lace it up on the field his college career concluded. 

"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 will suit up with former VFLs Morgan Cox and Josh Malone in 2022. 

With the five newly drafted players, Tennessee now has 379 all-time draft picks, dating back to 1936. 

Now other players like Javonta Payton and Ja’Quan Blakely, can sign with NFL teams and add to the list of players joining the NFL from the 2021 squad.

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