Many will remember Payton’s original recruitments. That’s right, he had two of them. Payton was originally in the 2017 recruiting class, coming out of Hillsboro High School in Nashville. Grade concerns prompted him to commit to Ole Miss before eventually heading to the JUCO ranks. His JUCO recruitment took place in 2019, and he was frequently listed as an option for Tennessee during that cycle. Tennessee did recruit him, but they were unable to seal the deal. Payton eventually chose Mississippi State, much to the dismay of Tennessee fans who witnessed plenty of wide receiver misses in that particular class.
But now, they get a do-over. Payton played two years at Mississippi State, totaling 28 receptions for 372 yards and one touchdown. The bulk of those came last season, when he recorded 19 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown. That included a breakout season opener, when he went off for six receptions and 122 yards against LSU. Obviously, he could not replicate that for the rest of the season. But it was an encouraging performance nonetheless.
Payton is a lengthy prospect who possesses a lot of “home run” ability. He moves quicker and faster than you’d expect someone of his size to move. While it’s not his strong suit, Payton can also win jump balls and get physical with cornerbacks. This remains the one area of his game with a lot of untapped potential.
Payton joins a Tennessee wide receiver room that is seeing a major change in philosophy. The Volunteers have talent at receiver—most notably, Velus Jones Jr. and Jalin Hyatt return as the likely No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. Tennessee also lost Mr. Reliable (Josh Palmer) to the NFL, so that role still needs to be filled. They’ve recruited well at the position in the last couple of cycles, so it’s not necessarily a question of depth.
It remains to be seen if Payton can make an early impact. However, the two years of experience in an up-tempo offense might benefit him when transitioning to Tennessee. Despite the talent of the room, many of the spots are still open for impact players to make their names known.
Payton is the fifth incoming transfer for Tennessee since Josh Heupel’s hiring.