Hendon Hooker, Cedric Tillman, Jalin Hyatt and Darnell Wright powered a special season in Knoxville during the 2022 campaign. Now, they’re all gone. Josh Heupel has worked magic in his two years at Tennessee, and he’ll have to do it again to keep the arrow pointing up in 2023.
We got a preview during the Orange Bowl, where Tennessee handled Clemson 31-14. Joe Milton was great, and the receivers didn’t miss a beat. The run game got going in the second half, salting this one away to give the Volunteers their biggest bowl win in over 20 years.
So what exactly will this depth chart look like next year? Let’s take a look — and make a few guesses.
Note: Rosters change quickly in this era of college football, so this is hardly set in stone.
- Joe Milton
- Nico Iamaleava
- Tayven Jackson
Milton silenced any chatter of Iamaleava coming in and taking his job for 2023, at least for now. The big-armed senior quarterback tossed three touchdowns against Clemson, looking much more in control than we’ve seen him play in the past. Getting Milton to take a big step forward would be huge for Josh Heupel, and it certainly appears that he’s done so.
However, how quickly can Iamaleava come in and learn the offense? How good will be be from the jump? The nation’s No. 4 overall player has a five-star billing for a reason, making this spring pretty interesting for the quarterback room.
Everyone is pulling for Joe, but those moments of inconsistency can’t quite be forgotten.
- Jabari Small
- Jaylen Wright
- Dylan Sampson
- Cam Seldon?
Jabari and Jaylen are essentially in a timeshare at the top of the running back room. Small’s toughness can’t be discounted, but Wright is the more explosive runner. If his fumble issues are behind him, it’s feasible to think that Wright could demand more carries. Dylan Sampson was impressive in his time as a freshman, too.
Cam Seldon is a wildcard, coming in as an explosive offensive weapon. He could land at receiver or running back (or both). Seldon will be an interesting situation to monitor this spring.
- Bru McCoy
- Ramel Keyon
- Dont’e Thornton
- Chas Nimrod
- Kaleb Webb
- Squirrel White
- Dont’e Thornton
The single biggest change in the look of Tennessee football will come in the receiver room, where Hyatt and Tillman will exit. Walker Merrill, Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway have all exited through the portal, churning some depth.
Tennessee added Dont’e Thornton, a lanky downfield threat from Oregon out of the portal. There’s now a clear top four atop the depth chart, with McCoy, Keyton and White returning.
Squirrel White is the new Jalin Hyatt, as you saw against Clemson. Bru returns to the same role, while you’d expect Keyton and Thornton to both see lots of time. Can anyone else crack this rotation? It’s possible, but we do know that Heupel likes to run with his top guys at receiver. There’s not much time to sub in or out, so expect these top four to really separate from the pack.
- Jacob Warren
- McCallan Castles
Princeton Fant is probably a bigger loss than you realize, as he did a little bit of everything for Tennessee last year. He was more dynamic than anyone that was behind him, so Heupel and Joey Halzle will have to find some new avenues to move the chains.
Returning is Jacob Warren, a guy that is entering his third year in the system. That’s a huge development, and adding McCallan Castles from the portal fixes Tennessee’s depth issues here. Highly ranked freshman Ethan Davis joins the party this year, replacing the number lost by Miles Campbell’s entry into the portal.
Charlie Browder and Hunter Salmon remain as reserves.
LT: Gerald Mincey
LG: Andrej Karic
C: Cooper Mays
RG: Javontez Spraggins
RT: John Campbell
Depth: Jeremiah Crawford, Addison Nichols, Ollie Lane, Jackson Lampley, Dayne Davis, Larry Johnson, Mo Clipper, Masai Reddick
Glen Elarbee will lose right tackle Darnell Wright and left guard Jerome Carvin, but he does return three starters up front. Steady vets Javontez Spraggins and Cooper Mays will anchor the line, while the other three spots will be sorted out in camp. Tackles Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford return, and Tennessee was able to add John Campbell and Andrej Karic out of the portal.
Former top prospect Addison Nichols will look to join that mix, along with JUCO signee Larry Johnson. The Vols did really good work here and can easily go 8-9 deep up front next season, although the starting five picture is a little blurry right now.