published Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Berry tops class of Vols in draft


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Of the many things that Eric Berry do, the former University of Tennessee star safety can't predict the future.

Berry said earlier this week he doesn't 100 percent know where he'll be taken in the first round of tonight's NFL draft.

"I'm hearing so many things from the (general managers), and a lot of the things they've told me, they've been telling me to keep to myself," Berry said. "They don't want me to leak it out, but wherever I go, I'll be excited."

Berry has been predicted all over the board for the first 10 picks, with the most common names thrown around being Tampa Bay at No. 3, Kansas City at No. 5 and Cleveland at No. 7. Seattle at No. 6 has recently entered the discussion, as well.

"Monte has said a lot of things to Tampa Bay, ... but I don't know. I really don't know," Berry said.

Several draft analysts, including FOX broadcaster and former UT player Charles Davis, have mentioned one simple reason why Berry isn't an absolute lock for the tonight's top five.

  • photo
    NFL draft prospect Eric Berry, of Tennessee, smiles during a youth football clinic at Central Park in New York City on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

"Money," Davis said. "If it was just about, 'Let's take the best player regardless of position and salary structure and all that,' we all know Eric might be the first guy off the board overall. But there's a lot more to in that."

Berry's problem is that simple. If he were to be drafted by Kansas City at No. 5, he might become the highest-paid safety in NFL history, as it relates to guaranteed money in a contract. The No. 5 pick is estimated to get anywhere from $20-$25 million in guaranteed money, as compared to the mere $15 million Pro-Bowl safety Antrel Rolle was given in a free agent contract earlier this offseason.

Only tight ends and kickers make less money, on average, than NFL safeties.

The fact that several teams are strongly considering bucking that trend tonight is only further evidence of Berry's talent on the field and charisma off it.

"I think that just says a lot about the coaches I've had, and it says a lot about my teammates, and just says a lot about the people I've been blessed to be surrounded by," Berry said. "A lot of people have helped me along this path. A lot of credit goes to my parents, and to just people I've encountered who have helped me along the way."

Berry understands the financial dilemma teams face in drafting him so highly, but he still hopes (and expects) to be taken in tonight's first seven picks.

"More than likely. I'd feel disappointed if I didn't. I'd feel like I'd done something wrong or something. Wherever I go, it's a blessing, because this has been my lifetime dream. Wherever I'll end up, I'll be happy."

Cornerbacks make more money -- much more at the highest level -- but Berry isn't interested in a position switch.

"I think most of the coaches and GMs like the fact that I can play corner, but I play safety," he said. "I think playing me at corner would kind of limit me a little bit. I think that's what Tennessee realized when they had me. I can play corner, but I think that takes me out of the running game, and it takes me out being around the ball more.

"I really do enjoy playing safety."

Berry isn't the only UT player expected to hear his name called early tonight. Defensive tackle Dan Williams' stock has consistently soared the past few months, and his name has been rumored as highly as Kansas City at No. 5. Oakland, Cleveland at No. 7, Oakland at No. 8. Buffalo at No. 9 and Miami at No. 12 have been pegged as interested possibilities.

"You can't really do much now except wait and see," Williams told the Times Free Press. "You've already worked out and done all your interviews and all that, and now you just wait and see who decides to call your name.

"It's exciting, but you also kind of just want to know, so it's also a little bit hard to wait at this point."

At least three other Vols -- tailback Montario Hardesty, quarterback Jonathan Crompton and versatile offensive lineman Chris Scott -- are expected by most analysts to hear their name sometime in the draft's seven rounds.

"I'm sure I'll start getting nervous pretty soon," Hardesty said. "But you just have to sit back and realize that you're going to hear your name at some point, and then you celebrate for a day and then get to work."

Other Vols such as linebacker Rico McCoy, defensive back Dennis Rogan and offensive guards Jacques McClendon of The Baylor School and Vladimir Richard are considered post-draft, free-agent signees by most analysts -- though, as Davis said, "it just takes one team to like you, and you can be drafted."

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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