KNOXVILLE – There were four virtual certainties for former Vols over the weekend as the NFL Draft unfolded.
Receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter would be gone within the first two rounds. Check and check. Offensive lineman Dallas Thomas would be an early-to-mid round selection. Check.
Quarterback Tyler Bray would be drafted, and it would likely be somewhere in the third-to-fifth round range.
It was a minor surprise when Bray’s name cleared the third round on Friday night. It was one of the bigger shockers of the weekend when all seven rounds elapsed on Saturday and he remained undrafted.
“I was surprised a team didn't take at least a late flier on him, but that's how bad his team interviews must have gone,” said NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com. “That and the fact that his former teammates and coaches, including Coach [Derek] Dooley, didn't speak too highly of him sealed his fate.”
Bray certainly showed a level of immaturity in his time in Knoxville. He got the police’s attention twice last summer – once for throwing beer cans at a car and again for operating a jet ski recklessly. Neither resulted in serious charges, but it wasn’t the type of behavior an NFL team would want to hear about when evaluating a potential franchise leader.
But it was more than likely his overall demeanor that cost him an opportunity to be drafted. A quiet, laid-back personality never meshed well with what was needed in Knoxville during his career. With UT struggling for most of Bray’s stay at UT the California native often had an apathetic look on his face.
He even refused to speak to the media after the Vols were pounded by Alabama in 2012 – a decision that was harshly criticized by Dooley.
He was far from perfect on the field, too. He misread coverages. He forced throws. Though tough to sack, he was sometimes criticized for getting rid of the ball too quickly instead of taking a hit. He didn’t move particularly well.
Still, his God-given size and talent seemed to be too much to pass up for some team looking for a quarterback to develop. He had one of the strongest arms of all the draft-eligible quarterbacks this year. His 6-foot-6 frame allowed him to see over even the biggest linemen.
“It really is hard to believe we’re talking about Tyler Bray as an undrafted free agent after seeing him play,” said CBSSports.com NFL writer Larry Hartstein. “He’s one of the more impressive guys I’ve seen physically, he just never seemed to put it all together. I thought somebody would give him a chance.”
In terms of production, Bray broke multiple UT records held by Peyton Manning. He completed 268-of-451 attempts for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2012. Three times he passed for over 400 yards during his career, and his 530-yard performance against Troy in 2012 set the school record.
That all seemed to mean very little as lightly-regarded quarterbacks such as Brad Sorensen (Southern Utah), B.J. Daniels (South Florida) and Sean Renfree (Duke) came off the board in the seventh round. Players from Florida A&M, NE Oklahoma State, New Hampshire, Elon, Missouri Western and Harding all were picked late.
Bray sat and kept waiting.
“He has top-shelf physical tools with a golden arm, but this is an example of how teams don't want to waste their time with immaturity,” Brugler said.
That wait ended relatively soon after the draft. The Kansas City Chiefs reportedly agreed to an undrafted free agent deal with him Saturday night. That move should be made official in the near future.
Despite the Chiefs struggles in 2012 (2-14), Bray found a decent landing spot. Newly-acquired quarterback Alex Smith is the projected starter, but it’s a fairly open competition beyond that. Of the three other quarterbacks currently on the roster – Chase Daniel, Ricky Stanzi and Alex Tanney – only Daniel (nine career attempts) has attempted a pass in an NFL game.
Bray missed out on his first goal, but the NFL isn’t out of his reach yet. Perhaps his impressive skill set will finally converge with improved leadership and work ethic.
“He's still just 21-years old, hopefully he can prove everyone wrong,” Brugler said.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga
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