Chattanooga was never too far away from a player who slid at this year's NFL draft.
Former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and former Tennessee and Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers had been pegged by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper as mid-round selections in last week's three-day event in New York City, but neither player got picked. Former Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy was a first-round projection who didn't get drafted until late in the second round by Green Bay, while former Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington was pegged for the second round but was tabbed by Chicago in the sixth.
"I think the biggest surprise to me was Cornelius Washington," Kiper said Monday. "Even though his sack totals were very low, his talent is enormous. I thought he played better in certain games than people gave him credit for, and I thought he had a nice Senior Bowl week. He's got too much talent to last to the sixth round, but when people get that underachiever label, sometimes that hurts you."
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Washington excelled at the NFL combine in February with a 40-yard-dash time of 4.55 seconds, 36 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and a vertical jump of 39 inches. He did not shine very often as a senior with the Bulldogs, finishing 16th on the team with 22 tackles and making half a sack.
Bray and Rogers had no problem compiling statistics, with Bray throwing for 3,612 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
"I'm not surprised as much about Rogers and Bray," Kiper said. "With Bray, if you're not in the top five guaranteed of the quarterbacks coming out, there is a chance you won't get drafted. The pool of teams that needed quarterbacks was very low, and most teams went out and got other options before the draft even unfolded.
"Take Jacksonville. You thought they would be looking, and they didn't even draft one. A lot of teams didn't have a high opinion of any of these quarterbacks."
Rogers compiled 1,040 receiving yards with the Volunteers in 2011 and 893 with the Golden Eagles last year. He was dismissed from Tennessee after multiple failed drug tests.
"Obviously attention to detail and his focus and being professional and all that may have impacted how they felt about Rogers on draft day," Kiper said.
Rogers agreed to a free-agent contract Saturday night with Buffalo, while Bray did the same with Kansas City.
Kiper was surprised Green Bay didn't use its first-round pick on Lacy, but he was still available when the Packers came up again. Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o also slid from their draft projections, but Kiper believes each will make for a productive pro.
The 2013 draft may be over, but Kiper already is getting prepped for a '14 draft that should have at least one Alabama player near the top.
"Right now, I have [junior left tackle] Cyrus Kouandjio as the fifth highest-rated player on my big board that will go up next week," he said.