The main transfer portal window closed last week, giving college football fans (and teams) a moment to breathe. Over 1,000 players entered their names into the portal between December 5th and January 18th, marking a new era of college football that has drastically altered roster management and talent acquisition.
While players can still announce their intention to enter the portal, and some can enroll late, the next transfer portal window will not open until after spring practice. That is a smaller window that only runs from May 1st through May 15th.
With that in mind, we can start to assess the aftermath of this recent flurry of action. What exactly did Tennessee lose in the transfer portal heading into next year? What have they gained? We decided to break it up into two different pieces. This piece will be discussing what Tennessee may have lost, and just some general observations about the departures.
Who Tennessee lost to the transfer portal
QB Tayven Jackson
RB Justin Williams-Thomas
RB Len’Neth Whitehead
WR Jimmy Calloway
WR Walker Merrill
WR Jimmy Holiday
TE Miles Campbell
OT William Parker
OT RJ Perry
LB Juwan Mitchell
DL Jordan Phillips
Wide receiver depth holds steady
Despite the three wide receiver entries, including contributor Walker Merrill, Tennessee’s wide receiver depth did not experience much of a shock. The Volunteers have done so well in recent recruiting classes that they aren’t hurting for receivers. This situation also played itself out as the season went on. We saw guys like Squirrel White play more than certain upperclassmen, and it became obvious who would be the odd man out in next year‘s receiver room.
The Volunteers will obviously miss Jalin Hyatt—but they still have Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton coming back. Those were the No. 2 and No. 3 leading receivers in 2022, and it figures they’ll both move up a bit with another year. I think next season’s storyline with this group will be the second string. It is very obvious who the starters will be and who Tennessee will lean on. But everything behind them is wide open. There is a chance (almost an inevitability) that the entire second string for 2023 did not catch a single pass in 2022.
Quarterback room is now very thin
Tayven Jackson‘s transfer makes a ton of sense for him. Chances are that he was not going to beat out Joe Milton for the starting nod, and Tennessee’s prized 5-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava enrolling early meant that he would have a serious competition to be the back up. In all likelihood, he may have even ended up as the third string. His best chance of seeing the field at the college level would be to transfer out. He did just that and found a landing spot in his home state of Indiana.
While it makes a lot of sense for him, it also means that Tennessee’s quarterback room is now scarily thin. They’ve got Milton and Iamaleava…and that’s it. It’s going to be very hard to get a quality transfer at this point. Everyone knows that the starter is either Milton or Iamaleava. The same reality will also impact the 2024 recruiting at the position. This is the only downside to recruiting a position so well: You have to shift your recruiting pitch to emphasize development and patience, rather than early playing time and impact.
Tennessee does have some walk-on’s that played this year, and could step in at a moment’s notice if things really go sideways on the injury front. But the real issue is the coming seasons, especially since Milton has just one year left. I would expect the Volunteers to grab at least two quarterbacks in the next recruiting class, and they might even try and get a transfer guy to come in. This will be a big point of emphasis and it is crucial that the Volunteers at least have contingency plans for the room.
Surprising lack of defensive entries
This has surprised me the most. Tennessee had plenty of portal entries, and is likely to have more after spring...but almost none of them from the defensive side. That’s either a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.
On one hand, returning experience is always a plus. Having guys who know the system is nothing but positive.
On the other hand, it might be concerning that certain players are still finding enough opportunity that they’re choosing to remain on roster. Ideally, you should be recruiting over the weak links of the team in any given year. We won’t name specific players in this article, but you can make a few educated guesses on which guys in Tennessee’s secondary might be on the chopping block.
The situation will sort itself out as fall approaches. It’s just interesting that the side of the ball with the most issues has not experienced attrition at near the level of the offense.