Who gets the most credit for the NFL Flights Draft success?

November 13, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Matthew Butler (94) celebrates during the first half against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend marked the most successful NFL Draft for Tennessee football since 2017. Five Vols were drafted from the second through sixth rounds. After a 7-6 season and a freshman head coach in Josh Heupel, that’s pretty impressive. However, it also opens up a major debate about who is responsible for this success.

After all, Heupel didn’t recruit or sign any of the drafted players, and he didn’t develop them for most of their careers. As a result, it’s unclear if he deserves the most credit for this draft class. If it doesn’t suit him, however, who does it suit?

Well, this debate ends here. This post will break down exactly who deserves the shout-out for what has truly been a surprisingly successful draft on Rocky Top. Such a list can range from an individual to an entity to a group. Here’s a breakdown of the five areas the credit should go to for Tennessee football’s 2022 NFL Draft class.

5. The NCAA

Let’s just be here. The Vols are unlikely to have such deep class if not for the NCAA. This entity allowed players to play in 2020 without it counting towards their eligibility due to COVID. Three Rocky Top players who were drafted, Velus Jones Jr., Matthew Butler and Theo Jackson, benefited from the move and all returned.

For Jones, it was actually his sixth year on the fellowship, as he spent four with the USC Trojans, wearing one, and then transferred to UT for 2020. This year did not count against him because he minimized the stretch. Then he had a breakout campaign this year.

Butler and Jackson both arrived in 2017, and neither has ever taken a red shirt. However, they never really thrived despite plenty of action in 2020. Staying an extra year allowed both to grow for Tennessee football, and it paid off in this draft. It wouldn’t have happened without the 2020 NCAA decision.