NFL teams looking for wide receiver help can usually find it at the University of Tennessee -- maybe this year more than ever.
Wide Receiver U., which for decades has sent Pro Bowl/big-play makers such as Stanley Morgan, Willie Gault, Carl Pickens, Alvin Harper, Peerless Price, Donte Stallworth and Robert Meachem to the NFL, has another solid crop.
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Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson could both be first-round picks. It could have been an even bigger coming-out party for the Vols. But Da'Rick Rogers, who led the SEC in receptions as a Tennessee sophomore in 2011, was suspended indefinitely last August for testing positive for marijuana three times. He played last season at Tennessee Tech.
Rogers has second- or third-round talent but could plummet a couple rounds because of character concerns. All three left school with a year of eligibility remaining but have already established themselves as big-time players.
"It's crazy," Hunter said. "I wish we all were at school at the same time (last season). It could have been so much success on the offense with three guys like that."
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Hunter possesses 4.44 speed in the 40 and led the Vols last season with 73 catches, 1,083 yards (14.8-yard average) and 9 touchdowns, showing no ill effects from a torn ACL in his left knee in 2011.
Patterson runs a 4.42 40 at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds. After a record-setting two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, he played just one season at Tennessee. But it was a pretty special year, even if it was a bit unexpected.
"When I went to Tennessee, I didn't even think I was going to be a starter," Patterson said. "But then I went in and some things happened at Tennessee, and people started expecting big things from me, so I had to fill that role."
One of those things was the departure of Rogers, and Patterson made the most of his opportunity.
He led the SEC with 1,858 all-purpose yards, averaging a ridiculous 18.5 yards every time he touched the football. In addition to 778 receiving yards on 46 catches (16.9-yard average), he averaged 12.3 yards on 25 carries for 308 yards and 28.0 yards on 24 kickoff returns for 671 yards. Patterson also had 4 punt returns for 101 yards (25.2-yard average).
The 6-foot-2½, 217-pound Rogers played at the lower FCS level last year to avoid sitting out a year as a transfer, but he caught 61 passes for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns. He put on a clinic at the NFL Combine, including a 39½-inch vertical jump, 11-foot broad jump, 6.71-second three-cone drill and 4.06-second 20-yard shuttle, which were each among the top performances for all players.
But, for Rogers, it's more about getting teams to trust him, and he knows it.
Asked why he was bounced from Tennessee he said: "It's simple: Immaturity. I had to take full responsibility, look in the mirror at who I was and what I was doing wrong. I did those things when I went to Tennessee Tech, and it humbled me a lot. I was working on those things and am still working on those things. It's a work in progress."
"I play with an edge, and I had to learn how to control that edge off the field also. I had to learn how to fix my flaws, and life got easier."
Rogers said at the Combine he had kicked the weed habit.
"I had 10 drug tests at Tennessee Tech," he said, "and haven't picked it up since."
But he's still prepared to be drafted lower than another player with the same skills.
"It's no big deal to me," Rogers said. "It's frustrating, but I did it to myself. I realize how hard I have to work, now that I'm behind the 8-ball. It's going to make me work that much harder.
"Just getting my foot in the door is a blessing. All I can do is go in and work hard and get my opportunity."
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