CLOSE

Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt was introduced during a timeout at the Vols basketball game on Saturday Mike Wilson/News Sentinel

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Tennessee's top defensive player from the 2017 season is leaving early for the NFL draft.

Nickelback Rashaan Gaulden announced his plans to forgo his senior season with a message on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

"After a lot of thought, prayers and counsel from my family and close friends, I have decided to enter the 2018 NFL Draft," Gaulden wrote in his note. "It has been an honor to wear the Orange and White, and represent the Power T while playing in Neyland Stadium the last four years."

Gaulden ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles as a redshirt junior. He led the team with three fumble recoveries, tied for the team lead with three forced fumbles and had an interception.

Gaulden received some national attention when he flipped two middle fingers to Alabama fans after Tennessee scored its lone touchdown in its Oct. 21 game against the Crimson Tide. He received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and apologized after the game.

Gaulden started the season opener against Georgia Tech at cornerback but played the majority of his snaps at nickelback. The nickel package was UT's primary defense.

Gaulden's exit means the Vols are losing three starters in the secondary. Cornerbacks Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley were seniors.

No cornerbacks or safeties signed with Tennessee during the early signing period. 

Gaulden became a starter in 2016. He flourished at Tennessee after signing as a three-star prospect from Spring Hill.

Gaulden is the second Vol who had eligibility remaining to declare for the draft. Running back John Kelly announced on Friday he was departing.

"To Vol Nation, thank you for believing in me," Gaulden wrote. "There is no better fan base in the country. The process begins for me now as I prepare to pursue my dream of playing in the National Football League."

 

 

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE