Tennessee’s 2019 football season had plenty of ups and downs, but for the most part it was rough early, and then the team surged late. The Vols won six-straight games to finish the season, starting with a 41-21 beatdown of South Carolina and ending with a thrilling, 23- 22 win against Indiana in the Gator Bowl.
(Full Disclosure: I did NOT see the win against Indiana happen in real time. I got mad and turned the game off, as per my usual, poor-sport nature. You may ridicule me as you see fit, and I’ll leave my fan card at the door.)
The Vols had the fourth-most freshmen on the team (in the SEC) last season with 49, and the team played like a squad of younger guys. It makes sense for a young team to struggle early and surge late.
We’re doing a series here on Rocky Top Talk for possible breakout players in 2020, and I’ll start with rising sophomore Ramel Keyton. (Keyton was a 4-star prospect in 2019 and the 13th-ranked player in Georgia.)
Three of Tennessee’s four leading receivers from last season are gone this year — rising senior Josh Palmer is the only one left. He finished second with 34 catches last year.
Keyton only had four catches for 104 yards last year — that’s not outstanding — but all four of them came in the final half of the season, and I think that’s encouraging. As a receiver, Keyton was buried beneath Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Dom Wood- Anderson and Palmer. (Three of those four guys are now on NFL rosters.)
Keyon’s 26-yard, per-catch average was first on the team of any player who caught more than one pass. That’s also encouraging.
HIGHLIGHTS: #MSSTvsTENN pic.twitter.com/FlMwJZUDKW— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 13, 2019
Go to the 2:30 mark of this video to see Keyton’s first catch of the season against Mississippi State. It looks like a pretty simple “go,” route, but it seems like Keyton gives the DB a bit of a hesitation move in the middle of his route which frees him up for the catch. The pass from Guarantano doesn’t hurt — he hits Keyton right in stride. It ends up as a 41-yard gain and Keyton’s longest catch of the season.
The rest of the year is pretty quiet, with just one catch for three yards against Kentucky, until Tennessee’s bowl game against Indiana.
Jauan Jennings was suspended for the first half, and that provided and opportunity for Keyton. He caught two passes during the Vols’ first three possessions and finished the game with two catches for 60 yards.
Keyton’s 46-yard catch is the second play in the video above. It’s a play-action pass that takes some time to develop, but Guarantano has all day to throw and still manages to under throw Keyton. The freshman WR had two steps on both defenders if Guarantano led him, but instead the pass is short and Keyton makes an amazing play to come back to the ball and out-jump the DB.
Here’s a still from the catch in case you didn’t want to watch the video — no judgment, I’m simply here to serve.
Keyton’s other catch in the game was a 14-yard grab on third down, but I couldn’t find any video.
So, the sample size is small, yes. It’s a bit tough to make an accurate determination for next season’s production off Keyton’s four catches last year. But, with all of the variables factored in, e.g., erratic QB play, freshman season, stacked WR depth chart and late-season surge, I think there’s enough evidence there to at least be excited about Keyton’s role in the offense for the 2020 season. He’s got the *potential* to be one of the team’s best pass-catching options next year.