The Tennessee football program is certainly not new to the concept of recruiting “busts”. With as much coaching turnover and bad results the Volunteers have experienced in recent seasons, there won’t be a shortage of players who never quite live up to their potential. The Josh Heupel era has started on a positive note in this regard, with some players seemingly revitalizing their career out of nowhere. Now that we’re going into 2022, there’s some players who are running out of time to make a difference.
We’ve done this article in previous years, and we’re going to use similar criteria for this one. We are not saying the players listed here are down and out. We’re saying that their windows of opportunity—mainly, to live up to their recruiting rankings—are beginning to close. Whether that’s because there’s more talented players passing them up, or they themselves just haven’t been able to find consistency. If these guys don’t have good/encouraging 2022 seasons, you might find their name in the transfer portal sooner rather than later.
Past players highlighted in these pieces include J.J. Peterson, Maleik Gray, Savion Williams, and more. So it’s typically not a great sign to be on the list. But it is certainly not a death sentence. In fact, one of the players listed below is widely expected to be a starter this season. Time will tell if those hopes pan out.
G Jackson Lampley
I was the President of the Jackson Lampley fan club when he signed as a 4-star back in the 2019 recruiting class. Lampley’s tape screamed “early contributor”. He had the size, strength, and real value as a road grader.
Three years later, it just hasn’t materialized. Lampley redshirted his first year in 2019 and then did not play at all in 2020. He finally saw the field in 2021, but mainly on special teams and in late game situations. In the meantime, he got passed up by other linemen who showed more promise.
Truthfully, Lampley might just be one of those players who peaked a bit early in his career. Sometimes you think guys have another level left in them—but then they arrive at a college program and it becomes clear they have maxed out. Considering Tennessee has entrenched starters along the interior, the chances of Lampley inserting himself into the lineup is very slim. He can still probably give you something in situational roles and as a quality back up if injuries occur. Still, it is a disappointment from what was expected of him when he signed.
WR Ramel Keyton
The hiring of Josh Heupel seemed like a perfect chance for Ramel Keyton to finally make his mark. The highly touted wide receiver out of Georgia was one of the gems of Tennessee‘s 2019 class. The Volunteers needed high-level receiver talent, and Keyton fit the bill. He mired in the Tyson Helton and Jim Chaney offenses at first, only totaling 13 receptions for 180 yards in two years. The introduction of Heupel’s up-tempo offense was thought to be a real gift.
Instead, it’s been more of the same. Keyton only grabbed seven more receptions for 72 yards in 2021. He has found himself below other receivers on the depth chart, including ones that did not have nearly as much hype coming out of high school. By all accounts, even some of the incoming 2022 recruits have put together more noticeable spring/fall practices than Keyton.
The time for Keyton to make his mark is now. Tennessee will be looking for reliable weapons, thanks for the departure of Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton. Keyton has a chance to work himself into one of those spots if he can be consistent. Tennessee has recruited the wide receiver position so well in the past couple classes, that a slow start for Keyton in 2022 might close the window.
DT Elijah Simmons
It’s tough putting Elijah Simmons on this list. When you think of busts, you have to typically be in a certain rankings position. Not every recruit you sign will become a high level starter, after all. That is a normal part of the game. If a low 3-star ends up not contributing, you probably aren’t losing sleep over it. If they progress well and become a contributor, great. If they don’t...you weren’t exactly expecting the world from them.
Simmons came out of the 2019 recruiting class as a middling 3-star. The 247Sports Composite had him as the 613th overall player nationally. You could even make the argument that he has already outplayed his recruiting ranking, since he has played in 20 games and made six starts. So why is he on the bust watch?
Mainly, because the team and staff has been high on Simmons ever since they got their first look at him. Their evaluation was similar to Jeremy Pruitt and his staff. Simmons is a huge player who has an athleticism that 99% of people his size simply don’t possess. The hope was that he would capitalize on that athleticism and fully lock down a starting job on the interior. But injuries and some issues with his play caused the 2021 season to be a bit of a letdown. Simmons played in seven contests and only started in the first four.
Simmons was reportedly around 340 pounds during spring practice. Which would be great if he was 6-foot-5 or around that height. But he’s 6-foot-2, and that much weight can hamper progress. It’s not clear if he has lost much weight in time for fall camp.
I don’t mean to imply that Simmons not being a high-level starter means he’s a bust. But I would argue that if Simmons can’t become a consistent contributor in this next season, we have to start wondering if he’s ever truly going to realize that potential. I’m not sure he’s necessarily in the bust category, but there’s been enough positivity before that anything below contributing would be a letdown.