KNOXVILLE — Nearly five rounds and two days after the Miami Dolphins selected former Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James with the 19th overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, two other former Volunteers were drafted.
Yet a player who went undrafted caused a larger stir.
Guard Zach Fulton and defensive tackle Daniel McCullers were selected in the sixth round as the draft concluded Saturday, but Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, passing up his senior season as a Vol, was not one of the 256 players selected in the seven-round event.
To the surprise of many, the Vols' 6-foot-6, 336-pound left-tackle starter the past two seasons was bypassed after at one point being considered as a potential late first-rounder.
"You really don't know anything until draft day, to be real with you," Richardson said in April after Tennessee's pro day. "I have faith that I'm going to be a first-rounder. I'll continue to say that until it doesn't happen. I believe it's going to happen, but either way it goes, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling healthy and I fully believe I'm going to have a good career."
Concerns about the health of his knees -- Richardson estimated he played at about 65 percent last season -- caused his stock to fall leading up to the draft, but even the player admitted on Twitter "never saw this coming" as the number of remaining picks dwindled.
Instead, he will join the Minnesota Vikings via an undrafted-free-agent deal.
Tennessee had three players selected this year after having four chosen in 2013, and the Vols have had just 10 players taken in the last four drafts after a six-player haul in 2010.
The Chiefs took Fulton, a 40-game starter for the Vols at right guard, with the 193rd overall pick.
Kansas City scout Pat Sperduto called Fulton a "road-grader" who can fit any offensive style.
"I'd seen Zach for four years now, so I knew enough about him," Sperduto said. "He is a big, strong man. He's very physical. He plays the game hard. I think he's a ready pro, should fit in pretty quickly. We have very good offensive line coaches. He'll fit what they do, and they'll make him an even better professional.
"His style is roll off the ball, move people. That's kind of his gig. He does a great job of setting a pocket presence, too, for the quarterback. He is strong and he can squat down and hold the rush up."
After finishing his two-year Tennessee career with 72 tackles and 10 for loss in 24 games, McCullers became just the fourth Tennessee defensive lineman to be drafted since 2007.
The soft-spoken 6-7, 352-pounder arrived in Knoxville two years ago at 381 pounds and participated in the Vols' pro day at 348. NFL teams liked his size as a big run-plugging tackle, but he'll need to improve his conditioning to thrive as a pro.
"I feel like I did a good job overall," McCullers said of his Vols career. "I loved my experience here at Tennessee. It was a great two years of my life, two great coaching staffs, so I enjoyed it, every moment.
"Did I reach my potential? I feel like I've still got potential in me. I know I'm still raw technique-wise, so I'm going to continue to work. I know I've got a lot more to improve on, so I'm just going to continue to keep working."
The Steelers, who took McCullers with the final pick of the sixth round (215th overall), long have played a 3-4 defense, the same style to which Tennessee recruited McCullers to play nose tackle in 2012.
"The bigger you get those guys inside, you make it tough to run inside," Pittsburgh defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "It's going to help us quite a bit. I'm happy to get this guy where we got him today.
"He's a big guy. Those type of guys, they are hard to find. I would rather work with a guy that's too big than one that, you know, you can't see him when you put him down in his stance. I'm excited about that."
Other former Vols to sign free-agent deals were tailback Rajion Neal (Green Bay Packers), center/guard James Stone (Atlanta Falcons), defensive end/linebacker Jacques Smith (Falcons), offensive lineman Alex Bullard (Detroit Lions), linebacker Dontavis Sapp (Dallas Cowboys), kicker Michael Palardy (New York Jets) and long snapper J.R. Carr (Washington Redskins).
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...