This time last year, the Tennessee offense was a virtual unknown with Josh Heupel taking over. The quarterback and wide receiver spots were large question marks, perhaps outside of returning veteran playmaker Velus Jones Jr.
We all know what happened next. Out of nowhere, Cedric Tillman turned into a 1,000 yard receiver — Tennessee’s first since 2012. That, of course, was made possible by Heupel’s offense and the stunning transformation of quarterback Hendon Hooker. With Hooker and Tillman each bypassing NFL opportunities to return to one more season, expectations have risen in Knoxville.
Tennessee is expected to field one of the best offenses in the country once again in 2022, which should once again benefit the wide receiver group. In fact, one publication named Tennessee as having the one of the most impressive receiver duos in the country.
Brad Crawford at 247Sports named Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt as his tenth ranked duo in the nation. That ranking involves a little bit of projection from Crawford on Hyatt, who is primed for a bigger role in 2022. JaVonta Payton and Velus Jones Jr. have to be replaced, and Hyatt is more than likely the man for the job.
Hyatt actually opened the 2021 season as a starter, making a big impact early on in the opener against Bowling Green. However, an injury kept him off the field for a bit, and he struggled to find his role again after getting healthy.
The word: Could Cedric Tillman surpass the 1,200-yard plateau season and lead a talented core of Tennessee wideouts to nine wins? Josh Heupel and quarterback Hendon Hooker hope so. Jalin Hyatt is the potential breakout player offensively, and he has impressed coaches since the day he stepped on campus out of South Carolina. His penchant for big plays in practice hasn’t translated to gameday, however, with four career touchdowns in 17 games. If Hooker has another statistically-noteworthy season and pushes the program closer to where it wants to be, Tillman and Hyatt will have to produce at an elite level. (247Sports)
Tennessee’s other options include Ramel Keyton, Jimmy Calloway, Bru McCoy, Jimmy Holiday, Walker Merrill and several freshmen.
With the unknown aside, Tillman should return to his WR1 role this fall to put up some more big numbers. The former diamond-in-the-rough prospect had his best showings against Alabama and Georgia, which certainly caught the attention of NFL scouts. The Volunteers will lean on him a little more this season, hoping Hyatt and others emerge to become difference makers themselves.