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2020 Breakout Player Series: WR Josh Palmer

The Vols will need someone to step up after losing key pieces at receiver. Fortunately, they won’t have to look too far.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee
Josh Palmer will be the No. 1 receiver for the Vols in 2020.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake about it, the Vols lost same major talent and production at the receiver position. Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway are two of the better receivers over the last decade and both were vital to last year’s air attack.

But it’s all good. That’s because Josh Palmer is ready to handle the load.

The senior is ready for a big year after serving as the team’s WR3 and deep threat during his time on Rocky Top. It’s not often that you see a senior player as a breakout candidate, but if all goes as it should, then Palmer will certainly have a breakout season in 2020.

Josh Palmer’s 2019 season

Final stat line: 34 receptions, 457 yards, 13.4 ypc, one touchdown

Palmer finished second on the team in receptions and third in yards during his junior year. Although he didn’t finish with as many yards, the receptions were a career-best and were good for 19th in the SEC.

He started off slowly —just like most of the Vols’ offense— with just 12 catches for 151 yards and no touchdowns over the first six games, but he really took off after the Alabama matchup. Palmer caught 22 passes for 306 yards (13.9 ypc) and a touchdown during those final seven games.

It appeared as if he saved his best for the last part of the season, though. Palmer went off during the last three games of the year, recording 16 receptions for 247 yards (15.4 ypc) and one touchdown. One of those games was against the Missouri Tigers, where he had his best game as a Vol. He caught six passes for 124 yards as the Vols beat the Tigers to become bowl eligible.

What needs to happen for Josh Palmer to take the next step in 2020?

Palmer will likely play the “Z” —or flanker— receiver position in 2020. That’s where he has played the majority of his career and it’s the position that best suits his skill set. The “Z” receiver sets up off the line of scrimmage so the tight end can set up on the line of scrimmage, but also so the receiver can go in motion and re-align at different positions pre-snap.

Lining up off the line of scrimmage also helps prevent the receiver from getting jammed and it helps the receiver get down the field quicker. The great thing about Palmer is that not only does he have the speed to get down the field and separate from defenders, but he also has great size at 6-foot-2, 200-pounds. There aren’t many guys that big who can move fast enough to play the position that Palmer plays. When you combine that with his ability to track the ball downfield, it’s understandable why Palmer is primed for a breakout year.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee
Josh Palmer is an exciting player to watch.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

He still needs to get better at route-running (you can say that for just about any receiver) and his ability to identify zone coverages. And if he really wants to become the guy, then he’ll need to get used to beating jams so the Vols can line him up at the “X” every now and then, too. Those aspects should be just enough to take his game to the next level in 2020.

Better quarterback play and an improved offensive line/running game will be a major help, too. If Jarrett Guarantano ends up as the starter, Palmer will have a major advantage in terms of chemistry with the quarterback, which can only bode well for his future prospects. He should already have the trust of the coaching staff, considering he has been one of the better receivers on the team over the last couple of years.

2020 Outlook

We know the Vols are going to be all about running the ball, but they still will have to throw it at some point if they want to compete with the likes of Alabama and the other top teams in the SEC. I mean, do they think they will just be able to ground it out when they go to Norman in Week 2?

Deangelo Gibbs, Ramel Keyton, and Velus Jones are all intriguing options, but we don’t know what they can —or will— do on the field without Jennings and Callaway to take some heat off of them.

This is Palmer’s time to shine and if he can step up then the Vols’ offense will be in good shape for 2020.