Rashaan Gaulden is ready for the next level. His nearly four years at the University of Tennessee have prepared him for the NFL and the former Vol defensive back is expected to hear his name called this weekend at the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“There’s a relief and a calmness about it all because of all of the hard work I know I put in these last few months and the relationships I’ve built,” said Gaulden, who is ranked among the Top 100 draft prospects by NFL Network analysts Mike Mayock and Gil Brandt.
“I know I’ve made good impressions on the people I have met throughout the process. I feel like I can be the right guy for a number of teams, and now I just have to see which team values me the most. I’m ready to find out where I’m going to be.
“I’m ready to get to work.”
Gaulden leads a group of Vols with a great chance to be selected that also includes running back John Kelly (Brandt’s No. 122 prospect), defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, punter Trevor Daniel and tight end Ethan Wolf, among others. Several Vols who go undrafted are expected to sign free agent contracts, too.
Tennessee had 30 alumni in the NFL last season and that number will increase this weekend.
The 2018 NFL Draft begins Thursday night with Round 1 at 8 p.m. Rounds 2-3 will be on Friday night beginning at 7 p.m. The draft will wrap up on Saturday with Rounds 4-7 starting at 12 p.m.
The NFL Network, FOX, ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 will broadcast the draft.
Gaulden, who had 65 tackles and three forced fumbles for UT in 2017, is in Dallas this week as part of a select group of rookies who will take part the NFL Players Association Rookie Debut, which includes several different events before the draft, featuring draft prospects interacting with current and former NFL players.
He will fly back home to Nashville on Thursday morning and watch the draft with close friends and family that night and on Friday before hosting a party on Saturday.
Gaulden credits Tennessee for molding him into an NFL player on and off the field.
“It’s all about connections, and I’ve built some great relationships during my time at Tennessee,” Gaulden said. “From my professors to the academic staff to the trainers to the equipment managers, and all of the support staff – they’ve prepared me for this and I’m very grateful. They’ve always had my back.
“The support of the Tennessee fans means a lot, too. I know I have a lot of people in my corner.”
Tennessee NFL Draft Prospects
Rashaan Gaulden, Defensive Back
Gaulden is a versatile defensive back who lined up at safety, nickel back and cornerback for the Vols during his career, finishing with 140 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, over 36 games with 19 starts. Gaulden had a breakout 2017 redshirt junior season, where he totaled 65 tackles to go along with three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, six passes defended and one interception.
No. 93 by NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock
No. 73 by NFL Network Analyst Gil Brandt
No. 228 by ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper
No. 212 by ESPN’s Scouts Inc.
No. 18 safety by Mel Kiper
No. 32 cornerback by Scouts Inc.
John Kelly, Running Back
Kelly had a breakout junior campaign in his first year as a starter in 2017, leading the Vols in rushing (778 yards) and receptions (37) in 11 games. The Detroit, Mich., native scored nine touchdowns for the Vols and opened the season with 128 yards and four touchdowns in a double overtime win over Georgia Tech. For his career, Kelly rushed for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Kelly added 43 receptions for 350 yards. He played in 33 games with 12 starts.
No. 122 by NFL Network Analyst Gil Brandt
No. 258 by ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper
No. 154 by ESPN’s Scouts Inc.
No. 19 running back by Mel Kiper
No. 15 running back by Scouts Inc.
Trevor Daniel, Punter
Daniel finished second nationally in punting average with a Tennessee record 47.5 average in 2017, breaking a 35-year old mark of 46.9 set by Jimmy Colquitt in 1982. The Dickson, Tenn., native also set the UT career record for punting average (45.9) during his tenure - which began as a walk-on. Daniel redshirted and did not play his first two seasons on Rocky Top before taking over the punting duties in 2015. He went on to play in 38 games and boomed 76 punts over 50 yards in his career.
No. 236 by ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper
No. 5 punter by Mel Kiper
Kahlil McKenzie, Defensive Tackle
McKenzie had a standout junior season in 2017, making 36 tackles and four TFLs over 11 games with nine starts. The son of Oakland Raiders general manager and Tennessee alum Reggie McKenzie, Kahlil McKenzie appeared in 31 games at defensive tackle over his Tennessee career and totaled 72 stops.
No. 296 by ESPN’s Scouts Inc.
No. 30 defensive tackle by Scouts Inc.
No. 28 defensive tackle by ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper
Ethan Wolf, Tight End
Wolf finished his career at No. 2 among tight ends in Tennessee history with 91 receptions and No. 3 in receiving yards (998). The Minster, Ohio, native started 47 games and appeared in 50 contests. He scored seven touchdowns and averaged 11.0 ypc.
No. 29 by ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper
Other Draft Eligible Vols
LB Elliott Berry
KR Evan Berry (2015 All-American)
WR Jeff George
TE Jakob Johnson
LB Colton Jumper
OT Brett Kendrick (Kiper’s No. 26 offensive tackle)
CB Justin Martin
PK Aaron Medley
CB Emmanuel Moseley
OL Jashon Robertson
WR Josh Smith (Kiper’s No. 119 wide receiver)
OL Coleman Thomas
DT Kendal Vickers (Kiper’s No. 46 defensive tackle)
CB Shaq Wiggins (Kiper’s No. 64 cornerback)
(Contact Dennis Norwood at email@example.com; follow him on twitter at @DennisENorwood)