KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Da'Rick Rogers tries not to look back at his college career with regret. The former Tennessee and Tennessee Tech receiver is too focused on his NFL future.
Rogers, a former all-Southeastern Conference selection at Tennessee, transferred to Tennessee Tech last year after the Volunteers suspended him indefinitely. Rogers said multiple failed drug tests caused his departure from Tennessee.
"Leaving Tennessee was a wake-up call," Rogers said. "I had to go to Tennessee Tech, and I was humbled. Being there with guys who would have killed to be at Tennessee, that had to humble me. I had to look in the mirror. There was a lot of maturing I had to do."
Rogers is one of four former Tennessee receivers likely to get drafted this week. Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter are potential first-round picks. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Rogers has first-round talent but likely will get picked later due to off-field issues. Mayock considers Zach Rogers, no relation to Da'Rick, a "mid-round bargain for somebody."
The four wideouts never all played together.
Da'Rick Rogers left for Tennessee Tech less than two weeks before the Volunteers' 2012 season opener. The other receivers flourished in his absence.
Patterson, a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, emerged as one of the nation's most electrifying all-purpose players in his lone season at Tennessee. After tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in September 2011, Hunter caught 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Zach Rogers had a breakthrough senior season.
They could help Tennessee regain its reputation as Wide Receiver U.
Tennessee earned that nickname by having six receivers selected in the first round from 1982-91, but the Vols haven't been nearly as productive lately. Robert Meachem, a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2007, is the only Tennessee receiver selected in the first four rounds of the last nine drafts.
That should end this year. Patterson is a likely first-round pick, while Hunter is expected to go in the first two rounds.
"Cordarrelle is an outstanding freak of an athlete," Buffalo Bills director of college scouting Chuck Cook said. "He can go downfield and he's got great range, catching range, and he's just a tremendous player with the ball in his hands, one of the most unique guys I've seen with the ball in his hands."
This could be the second straight year a Southeastern Conference team has at least three wideouts selected in one draft. Arkansas teammates Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs all went in the fourth round last year.
The last time two receivers from the same school were taken in the first round was 2007, when LSU and Ohio State each had two wideouts selected that early. LSU's Dwayne Bowe went to Kansas City with the 23rd overall pick while San Diego took Craig "Buster" Davis with the 30th selection. Miami selected Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth pick and Indianapolis chose Anthony Gonzalez with the 32nd selection.
"It would be a weight off my shoulders, (to go in the) first round with the best players and everything," Hunter said. "It would be a dream come true."
Each of these receivers has something to prove.
Patterson and Zach Rogers must show they aren't one-year wonders. Patterson played just one year in Division I, while Rogers never had more than 14 receptions in a season before catching 32 passes for 491 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Hunter must become more sure-handed.
The biggest issues surround Da'Rick Rogers.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has projected Rogers as a fourth-round pick and noted that off-field issues are hurting him. Todd McShay, also of ESPN, believes Rogers could get taken in the third round.
"He can play," McShay said. "If a team's comfortable enough with his character or has enough veterans in their locker room, I think he could wind up being a really good value pick if he can stay on the straight and narrow."
Rogers caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns for Tennessee in 2011. He had 61 receptions for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns at Tennessee Tech despite playing through a hip pointer and a high ankle sprain.
At just over 6-foot-2, Rogers has NFL size. He also has the support of his last coach.
"We didn't have an issue with Da'Rick off the field," Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown said. "We thought he was a very good team guy. ... He never was selfish, never once during the season came up to me (and said), 'Throw me the ball more.' None of that stuff."
But his exit from Tennessee raises questions.
"He had that ding at Tennessee as we all know," Cook said. "He goes to Tennessee Tech and shows up, but doesn't dominate. Tremendous talent. He has great body control and a lot of strength in his body and really strong hands. We've been tracking him and doing our due diligence with his intangibles, and we've come to a decision and we'll stack him on the board the way he fits in our wide receiver group."
Rogers understands those concerns. He faces questions every time he speaks to an NFL team.
He answers each of them the same way.
"I go in and tell them I'm not here to defend that bio," Rogers said. "Everything you have, that's true. That's the real deal. I'm willing to change that. Here's what I've done."
Rogers returned to Knoxville for Tennessee's Pro Day workout and has worked with former teammates during the pre-draft process.
"He's changed," former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray said. "He's not the same teenager we were back (at the start of) college. ... We understand business is business. It's time to shut up and just do work."
Now he just needs to find a team that also believes in him.