Everything is new for Tennessee football once again, from the roster to the coaching staff. The Vols will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback and running back, as well as several new faces at receiver. Josh Heupel’s spread attack will give Tennessee a totally new identity, and the wide receivers are set to benefit more than any position on the team.
It’s a talented group filled with blue-chip talent, however, it’s a group filled with unknowns and youth. Let’s dive in and take a look at what’s left on the roster.
Velus Jones (SR)
Cedric Tillman (rSO)
Ramel Keyton (SO)
Jalin Hyatt (FR)
Jimmy Calloway (FR)
Jimmy Holliday (FR)
Malachi Wideman (FR)
Tennessee’s receiver room is entering a new era, along with the rest of the football program. Gone are veterans Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson, now it’s time for a few former blue-chip recruits to step into much bigger roles.
Velus Jones Jr. decided to stick around for a second season in Knoxville, and is set for a big role in this offense. Jones should slide right back into the slot, handling plenty of short passes and screens in year one of Heupel’s install. As a player that can win in space, I’m buying stock in Jones for his final season at Tennessee.
Following Velus, things get a little more open. Cedric Tillman and Ramel Keyton are two guys that we’ve seen flashes of over the last two seasons, but they haven’t had the chance to be massive contributors. Each guy has good size and fits in the offense as a guy that can play on the perimeter.
Perhaps no other player on the roster has shown as much potential as Jalin Hyatt, however. The second-year freshman has speed to burn, just ask Alabama. Hyatt caught just 20 passes, but he made them count, averaging over 13 yards per catch in last season’s conservative offense. Hyatt is going to be the field stretcher for Tennessee, something that Heupel utilizes as a way to create mismatches. If the quarterback gets the right look, Hyatt will likely be the main guy he’s targeting down the field.
Calloway, Holliday and Wideman are three guys that frankly we didn’t see enough of down the stretch in 2020. Calloway and Wideman were four-star prospects in the 2020 cycle, while Holliday moved over from quarterback and adds another element of speed. Each of these players should be heavily in the mix this spring as they learn the offense, attempting to crack the rotation for the fall.
Tennessee inked two four-star prospects at receiver in the 2021 cycle — Walker Merrill and Julian Nixon. Nixon becomes one of the biggest pass-catching bodies on the roster, signing with Tennessee at a listed 6-4, 230 pounds. The Georgia product ranked just outside of the top 300 players in the class, per 247Sports. Merrill brings a little bit of everything to the table, checking in as the 351st ranked player in the cycle. The 6-1 receiver out of Brentwood drew a Zach Rogers comp from Barton Simmons, which seems to fit nicely watching the tape.
Heupel’s system isn’t exactly an air-raid, so you shouldn’t expect a 5,000 yard passer and multiple 1,000 yard receivers. However, you should see a big uptick in passing production, considering the scheme that Tennessee is coming out of. While the Volunteers don’t have an obvious No. 1 option returning, there are several intriguing pieces on this team that are more than capable of making huge impacts.
There’s a ton to watch for during spring practice, and the wide receiver situation might just be the most interesting outside of quarterback.