Tennessee football isn’t as talented as it once was. However, that may soon be changing.
The Vols have seen a recent surge in talent in head coach Josh Heupel’s second season at Tennessee. That was noticeable last season when the Vols won 11 games and lost just two. It has also been readily apparent in the NFL combine, as seven players were invited.
Some vastly improved their stock. So how do the Vols compare to championship teams of the past? Tennessee is stacking up pretty well.
Here is the first of a series of comparisons via former Tennessee football players, coaches and staff members about the latest round of Vols entering the NFL Draft.
OT Darnell Wright
Wright has likely cemented himself as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft thanks to his showing at the combine. When asked what former Vol is comparable, Chad Clifton’s name was quickly mentioned because of Wright’s ability to play both tackle positions, as Clifton did at Tennessee, three at left tackle and one at right tackle. Wright started at left tackle in 2021 and right tackle last season. Wright and Clifton also rely on their strength which allows them to make a strong push against the run and hold off pass rushers.
The Wright-Clifton comparison should be good for Wright. Clifton was taken with the overall No. 44 pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, was a two-time All-Pro, a Super Bowl Champion and was named to the Green Bay Packers Hall Of Fame. Clifton would have likely been in the NFL Hall of Fame had it not been for an injury suffered on a questionable hit by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Clifton was hit on a downfield play by Sapp on an interception which led to a severe pelvic injury.
Clifton was a mainstay on the Packers’ offensive line for most of the 2000s as he protected Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre’s blindside. Hailing from Martin, Tenn., Clifton never played for another NFL team after starting 160 games for the Packers and playing in 165.
In 2005, the NFL Rules Committee agreed on new guidelines for “unnecessary roughness” that would have specifically made the Sapp hit on Clifton illegal.