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Countdown to kickoff — Player showcase: Cedric Tillman

A breakout junior campaign sets Tillman up to be one of the best SEC wideouts going into 2022

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cedric Tillman totaled just 124 yards receiving in his first three years at Tennessee. He was a last minute recruit of Jeremy Pruitt coming out of national powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. Withstanding the Pruitt to Heupel coaching change with no real guarantee of playing time, Tillman weathered the storm, stood pat at Tennessee, and put together one of the best receiving seasons in school history in 2021.

While Hendon Hooker has risen to become the face of Tennessee, Cedric Tillman is the heart and soul of Rocky Top. He’s also become the Cookie Monster. Taking up the mantle from former Vol and 2022 second round pick of the Saints, Alontae Taylor, Tillman nabbed an oh so sweet NIL deal with Moonshine Mountain Cookies.

If you hear a heightened roar whenever the Vols are in the red zone, look for Cedric because if Tillman ever scores two touchdowns in a game, fans will receive two free cookies. Last year, the deal rang the same for every Alontae Taylor interception, but the Rocky Top faithful only got free cookies twice.

Patience has become a virtue for Tillman as he enters what is likely to be his final year in Knoxville, and his successes derive from hard work. Lots of it. And you better believe it’s infectious.

It’s that work ethic and attitude that the underclassmen look up to and strive for, but what is it that Cedric Tillman is striving for in 2022? Winning is obvious, and we all want that. Naturally improving draft stock, but that comes with his high level of talent and production. Perhaps it’s respect. Tillman led the Vols with 1081 receiving yards, good for fifth in the SEC a season ago, on just 64 receptions. The four players above him? Jameson Williams, Wan’Dale Robinson, John Metchie III, and Treylon Burks. A pair of top ten picks and two second rounders is pretty elite company.

Though Tillman made the Biletnikoff preseason watch list, it wasn’t without its slights elsewhere, and Tillman has noticed and made it known, retweeting this PFF post of the 10 best receivers heading into the season.

Tillman’s 2021 was fantastic. He racked up 12 touchdowns across 12 games, becoming one of the best big play receivers in the nation, and once he and Hendon Hooker got synced up, it was as if they’d been playing together for the last three years. Of his 1081 yards, 1013 of them came after Hooker’s first start under center in week three, and from the Ole Miss game in week six to the end of the season, Tillman averaged over 124 yards per game. For context, that’s more than Jaxon Smith-Njigba averaged last season. He scored a touchdown in each of Tennessee’s last seven games including five over the Vols’ final two games against Vanderbilt and Purdue.

Despite losses against both Alabama and Georgia, Tillman showcased his skills on big stages. Tillman caught 17 passes for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the two games combined, good for 20.7 yards per reception.

With a full offseason of strictly first team reps, Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman have had even more time to gel.

Like peas and carrots as they say.

So much of the optimism surrounding this Tennessee team hinged on Tillman returning to school, and with his return, they have one of the best WR1’s in the country sharpied in atop the depth chart. Tillman and Hooker have had similar long paths of struggle on their ways to stardom, and they look to have their patience and hard work pay off in a big way for the Vols in 2022.

Though your math teachers will tell you 5+4=9, don’t listen to them. It equals six.