First-round NFL Draft picks are always selling points in recruiting. Having one on the offensive line does wonders for a program like Tennessee football given the offense Josh Heupel runs.
Heupel needs to prove to offensive linemen that even with his tempo, he doesn’t run a gimmicky offense. Recruiting that position is also crucial for him to be able to bring the balance he needs so he can have those big plays.
As a result, when Darnell Wright went with the 10th pick in the draft Thursday night, higher than expected, it couldn’t have been better news for Tennessee football. Heupel has more credibility than ever.
If you want context, Wright is the first offensive lineman from the Vols taken in the first round of the draft since Ja’Wuan James of 2014. Even more impressive, those are the only two taken in the first round dating back to 1992.
Yes, that’s right. During the entire era of Phillip Fulmer, when the Vols were led by a former offensive lineman as head coach and churned out more NFL talent than any program, they never had a first-round pick on the line. Heupel accomplished that in two years.
Also, it’s worth noting that Heupel had a huge role in propelling Wright to a first-round draft pick. He moved Wright over to left tackle when he took over in 2021, and Wright didn’t break out into a star until moving back to right tackle in 2022.
Remember, Wright played right tackle for two years under Jeremy Pruitt and never emerged as a star. He did under Heupel, and he was also able to prove his versatility by playing both sides.
Read what Cooper Mays had to say HERE.
Simply put, Heupel turned Wright into a top 10 pick, the highest for a Tennessee football offensive lineman in over 30 years. You don’t think recruits are going to see that?
Give major credit to Glen Elarbee, who has now produced two draft picks up front. Remember, Cade Mays went in the 2022 NFL Draft. Cooper Mays, seems like a solid draft prospect in 2024 or 2025, whenever he decides to enter.
Taking all of that into account, although Pruitt, Jim Chaney and then OL-coach Will Friend got these guys, Heupel’s system is what turned them into stars. That’s going to resonate in a big way.
Wright going that high was more important than Hendon Hooker going in the first round at all. Heupel will get quarterbacks and receivers just because of the system he runs. There’s a reason he got Nico Iamaleava.
However, offensive linemen would have been right to question if UT is the right fit for them. Given where Wright just went in the draft, though, those questions may have been put to rest.
When it comes to Hooker, it’s more important that he actually has success in the NFL. That also holds true for Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt. Players need to see that for this pipeline to continue.
Another way this helps the Vols is Wright is the first UT player taken in the first round since Derek Barnett in 2017. He’s the first top 10 pick since Eric Berry in 2010. That should boost their profile.