KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray heads into the NFL draft facing many of the same questions that followed him around during his college career.
If arm strength were all that mattered to NFL scouts, Bray likely would be a first-round selection. But a lack of team success and a perceived lack of maturity during his college career have made him more likely to get taken somewhere in the middle of the draft.
Bray is taking steps to erase the doubts surrounding him.
He's added 23 pounds since the end of the season, making him 232 pounds. He believes the extra strength may have added more zip to some of his passes. Bray also says he has improved his footwork, which occasionally had been a problem in late-game situations.
"I just have a lot to prove," Bray said. "I had some stuff I did in college I wasn't happy about. I had to come out there, prove I was willing to work hard."
Bray threw for 7,444 yards and 69 touchdowns in his three-year Tennessee career despite missing five games his sophomore season with a fractured right thumb. He passed for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns last year to rank second in school history in both categories. He has four of the top seven single-game passing yardage totals in Tennessee history, including a school-record 530 yards against Troy last season.
"This kid has a rare ability to throw the football," ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. "A lot of what he did at Tennessee, I think, is overshadowed with their win-loss record. They scored 35 points (against South Carolina) in Columbia. They scored 44 points in Athens. They scored 48 points against Missouri in losses. Moving the football was not a problem at Tennessee."
But his huge individual numbers didn't produce many victories.
Tennessee went 13-11 overall and 5-10 against Southeastern Conference competition in the games Bray started. The Volunteers posted a losing record each of the last three seasons, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1909-11. When he returned to campus for his Pro Day workout, Bray was asked how he thought Tennessee fans would remember him.
"Who knows?" Bray said. "We didn't win a lot of ballgames, so it probably won't be good."
Bray led an offense that averaged 36.2 points per game last season, but the Vols finished 5-7 because of a defense that ranked among the worst in school history. But as productive as he was throughout the season, Bray also struggled in some critical moments.
He went 1 of 10 in the fourth quarter of a 37-20 loss to Florida. He turned the ball over in each of Tennessee's last three possessions in a 51-44 loss to Georgia. He was benched in the first half of a 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt.
Bray also had some minor off-field problems that could bother NFL teams. Bray was mentioned in a police incident report in which a student complained that students were throwing beer bottles at her car, but no charges were filed after Bray offered to pay for the damage.
The occasional problems in clutch situations and the off-field incident have raised questions that likely will prevent Bray from getting taken in the first round. Just how long he will have to wait before hearing his name remains unclear.
"I think the third round is when he gets really seriously into the discussion, (or) fourth round," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "So second round, it would surprise me if he went that early. But, hey, I've seen big strong-armed guys like Bray go earlier than I project. I'm looking at him as a third- or fourth-rounder. (He's) 6-6, 232. Who knows? Maybe somebody takes him in the second."
Kiper's uncertainty reflects the varying opinions surrounding Bray. Just as easily as a team could fall in love with Bray's arm, it might get turned off by his perceived maturity issues.
While some observers point to his weight gain as a sign of renewed focus, others say he wasn't impressive enough in interviews or news conferences.
"He's a guy who says a lot of the right things, but he looked unsettled at the podium," said Rob Rang, a senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com. "I know that sounds silly, but teams value that stuff. They want a guy who's going to be a leader of men out there and not be intimidated by all the cameras. He looked a little bit worried by them. There's a feeling he's a phenomenal talent, but at the same time is very raw still in a lot of different ways."
Bray certainly has plenty of work to do. The question is at what point in the draft his arm strength makes him worth the risk.
"There's a lot of refinement that needs to take place," Gruden said. "He's got to learn how to manage some situations better. He's got to deliver at crunch time. He's got to polish his game. He's got to do better in terms of handling pressure. He's not a mobile quarterback. He's got to know where his hot receivers are. He's got to know what audible to get to. I think his preparation needs to increase so he can be all that he can be.
"But when it comes to pure talent throwing the football, there is one thing Tyler Bray can do as (well as) anyone in this draft."