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How Big Are Tennessee’s Offseason Injury Losses?

Analyzing the impact of medical disqualifications and more.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee football has consistently found themselves on the wrong side of injury luck for the past five years. As the team nears the beginning of the 2019 season, a couple of recent injuries have flared up those fears once again. In back-to-back weeks, Tennessee received news that Emmit Gooden and Baylen Buchanan will miss the upcoming season (though Buchanan still has a small chance of coming back.) Is it time to hit the panic button?

We broke down the five players who will not play in the 2019 season because of injuries. We also graded the impact of their injury and subsequent season missed.

We graded according to four levels. They range from “Very Significant” being the worst losses, to “Minor” being the least harmful losses. In order to qualify for the “Very Significant” category, a player must be a consistent high-level starter at a position.

DL Emmit Gooden

Impact: Significant

Gooden is the closest to being named a “Very Significant” loss, though his lack of reps as a premier defensive line starter meant that he just missed the mark. Still, Gooden was one of the few bright spots on a defensive line that needed younger players to step up. He tallied 33 tackles and a surprising seven tackles-for-loss in 12 appearances with only one start during 2018. Gooden was primed to build on that in 2019 and become one of the players that the Tennessee defense could improve around. Now, due to a torn ACL, he will have to wait another year before getting a chance to show what he can do.

In the meantime, Tennessee will look to its 2019 recruiting haul to try and lessen the impact. Gooden’s injury all but guarantees that players like Savion Williams, Elijah Simmons, and Darel Middleton will be getting major minutes.

CB Baylen Buchanan

Impact: Significant

Whereas Gooden was close to “Very Significant” but didn’t meet the mark, Buchanan was close to “Moderate” but did enough to stay in this category.

If you looked at just the numbers, Buchanan would seem like a much bigger loss. A 12-game starter in the secondary at three different positions is a legitimate resume. To be sure—Buchanan is a quality depth option. Where I struggle with calling this anything more than a “Significant” injury is the fact that Buchanan was not particularly impressive on the field and would likely get passed over as the season went on. The hit to depth cannot be understated however. Even if didn’t start, Buchanan would play more than enough reps to make an impact on the field.

Buchanan will likely redshirt and get a more thorough medical diagnosis for his condition. Hopefully it is nothing that would seriously impact him down the road.

OL Nathan Niehaus

Impact: Moderate

Evaluating Niehaus on his potential vs. his production is what makes this somewhat difficult. At the end of the day however, his departure can only be regarded as a hit to depth.

Niehaus actually did start in six games in 2018. They weren’t particularly good starts however—coming in to fall camp, most regarded Niehaus as a bench option. Marcus Tatum figured to be the first option to fill in at either tackle spot, with Niehaus behind him. The staff liked Niehaus’ potential and apparent ability to play either guard or tackle on the line. He just hadn’t made the improvement needed in order to truly compete for a starting spot against all the talent Tennessee has brought in.

Niehaus announced his retirement due to injuries earlier this month.

OL Chance Hall

Impact: Minor

Hall started 13 games in his first two season at Tennessee before an injury kept him out for the entirety of 2017. It essentially derailed his career and put him near the bottom of the depth chart. Hall retired earlier this summer and was not expected to make an impact.

OL Tanner Antonutti

Impact: Minor

Redshirted in 2018 and sidelined due to injury. Opted to retire from football. Will stay at the university.