NEW YORK CITY - Record-breaking Vanderbilt wide receiver Earl Bennett was selected by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the NFL Draft Sunday.
Bennett, a product of West End High School in Birmingham, Ala., becomes the second Vanderbilt player taken in the NFL Draft. Offensive tackle Chris Williams was also selected by Chicago with the 14th pick of the first round.
Bennett's career at Vanderbilt ranks among the greatest ever by a Southeastern Conference receiver. After three years with the Commodores, Bennett entered the NFL Draft with 236 career catches, nearly 30 more than any other receiver in league history. He also ranks among the SEC all-time leaders in receiving yardage, and is second among all Commodores in career touchdown catches.
Other Commodore standouts from last year, including two-time All-SEC linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end/linebacker Curtis Gatewood, are expected to join Bennett and Williams as NFL draftees. Several others, including linebacker Marcus Buggs, defensive tackle Theo Horrocks and offensive lineman Brian Stamper, are potential candidates for the draft.
Bennett becomes the first Commodore receiver selected in the NFL draft since 1988 when Carl Parker was picked by Cincinnati in the 12th round.
Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson said Bennett blended remarkable production from the receiver position with a team-oriented approach to the football field.
"Earl's production on the field was amazing," Johnson said. "Every team we faced focused on slowing Earl and he still produced at a remarkable level. From the minute he stepped on the field as a true freshman, Earl impacted our team.
"Earl is a class act off the field, a guy that I'm really proud to have coached. He's more talkative these days, but for a long time, I thought the only words he knew was 'yes sir.' He's just a very solid citizen, a young man that brings great credit to the university, our team and his hometown," Johnson added.
Bennett's career at Vanderbilt was sensational from his first season. As a freshman in 2005, Bennett amassed one of the finest receiving seasons ever by a SEC player, posting a league-record 79 catches for 876 yards and nine touchdowns. In the last four games of the campaign, Bennett and senior signal caller Jay Cutler achieved remarkable statistics, with Bennett catching 49 passes for 545 yards and nine touchdowns. The stretch included matching an SEC record with five touchdown catches against Kentucky, and catching three Cutler passes in the Commodores' game-winning drive at Tennessee.
As a sophomore in 2006, Bennett improved on his freshman performance despite the graduation of Cutler. His totals of 82 receptions and 1,146 receiving yards were new team marks for second-year players, and the second highest total ever by an SEC sophomore. His performances including a 13-catch effort against eventual national champion Florida, 220 receiving yards at Kentucky, and 179 yards at Ole Miss.
Last year, Bennett became the first receiver in SEC history to achieve three consecutive seasons catching at least 75 passes. While establishing the new SEC career receptions mark versus Miami (Ohio), Bennett also set a new single-game team mark with 223 receiving yards against Richmond.
A durable performer who ended his career with 32 consecutive starts, Bennett became the first Commodore receiver in history named to the coaches' first team All-SEC squad for three straight seasons. He is also a three-time recipient of the team's Most Valuable Receiver Award.