A two-year starter at Tennessee, Gaulden served as the swiss army knife of the Volunteers’ secondary and lined up primarily as the starting nickel and inside corner, helping Tennessee rank No. 3 nationally in pass defense in 2017.
Gaulden is dripping with natural talent, displaying the athletic twitch and coordination to match offensive skill players. Gaulden anticipates well and trusts his diagnose skills to put himself in position to make plays, but his overeager run angles will lead to false movements. Although his emotions will get the best of him at times, he takes pride in his fearless mentality and his infectious energy is received well among his teammates.
A four-star safety recruit out of high school, Gaulden played football at Brentwood Academy as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Independence. He sat out his junior year and finished strong with 193 total tackles as a senior, earning all-state honors. Gaulden was also named an All-American in track and field, finishing fourth nationally in the 4x400 relay at the Junior Olympics. He received scholarship offers from South Carolina, Vanderbilt and others before deciding to stay in-state and commit to the Vols.
Gaulden spent his true freshman season as a back-up and special teamer, posting seven tackles. He was expected to become a starter as a sophomore, but his 2015 season was wiped out after a foot injury during pre-season practice, leading to a medical redshirt. Gaulden returned in 2016 and started nine games at nickelback, recording 68 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, four passes defended and one forced fumble. He started one game at cornerback as a junior in 2017, but spent most of the year as the nickel, finishing with 65 tackles, three forced fumbles, six passes defended and his first career interception.
Finely-tuned athlete. Outstanding top-end speed. Hustle and chase skills are above average, making plays from the other side of the field. Decisive reactor and closing burst to drive on routes. Lower body burst to mirror routes in his transition. Dependable tackler and loves contact. Closes down the edge and strings out runs. Strong hands/wrists to finish tackles. Brings juice off the edge as a blitzer – zero career sacks, but routinely flushed the pocket or forced the quarterback to move his feet. Undersized, but feisty and doesn’t play small (added 35-pounds of good weight since high school). Never takes a play off or coasts – easy to appreciate his passion and desire to make plays. Junior captain and well-liked teammate (defensive back Cameron Sutton wore the No. 7 jersey in his honor during his missed 2015 season). Plays with infectious energy and nicknamed the “energizer bunny” by his roommate and teammate running back Todd Kelly. Versatile experience in the secondary, playing cornerback, nickel and safety. – Dane Brugler 1/14/2018
Lean-muscled frame and needs to continue his body development. Consistently arrives too hot in the run game and overruns the ballcarrier. Will have his share of ankle-biting misses. Late shedding blocks on the perimeter. Unbalanced jam technique. Allows his footwork to break down at the top of routes, getting turned around and out of position. Underwhelming ball production with only one career interception, which came on a deflected pass. Immature mental discipline and needs to better control his emotions – gave a double-bird salute (Oct. 2017) to the Alabama crowd following Tennessee’s only touchdown in that game; ejected from the Kentucky game (Oct. 2017) following two personal foul penalties. Missed the 2015 season after suffering a Lisfranc injury (ruptured ligament, broken bone) to his foot during preseason practice, requiring surgery. – Dane Brugler 1/14/2018
COMPARES TO: Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers – While most of his career has been at safety, Burnett has done a nice job when asked to play the nickel cornerback position. Gaulden, who was similar measureables as Burnett, always wanted to be a safety, but his value as nickel cornerback might win out once on a NFL roster.
IN OUR VIEW: Gaulden needs to mature his discipline, but his play speed, toughness and heart are all NFL quality and foundation traits that pro coaches can mold. He can likely play outside corner, but Gaulden did his best work on tape when at the nickel cornerback position, playing inside.