Late last week, ESPN released their top 100 players list for the 2022 season. Unsurprisingly, Tennessee was well-represented, placing four inside of the rankings. Josh Heupel’s year two team finished with an 11-2 mark, just a stunningly quick climb back to relevance in under 24 months.
A big part of that was player development. Even with guys that this staff didn’t recruit, Heupel and his guys embraced the challenge and transformed this roster quickly. That is reflected in these rankings from ESPN.
6. Jalin Hyatt
Truly one of the most electrifying players in all of college football, Hyatt’s speed set him apart this season for Tennessee. We had been waiting on this breakout season, almost knowing it was coming at some point — and boy did it. Hyatt was in the Heisman conversation for a few weeks and ended up winning the Biletnikoff award, which is given out annually to the nation’s best receiver.
12. Hendon Hooker
Are you kidding me? 11 players were better than Hendon Hooker this season? No chance. Hooker’s season ended that night in Columbia in the most disastrous way, with the senior quarterback blowing out his knee. That night took away Tennessee’s championship hopes, along with Hooker’s trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy.
His spectacular 2022 season shouldn’t be remembered for how it ended, however. Wins over Florida, LSU and Alabama signaled Tennessee’s return to the national picture, and No. 5 was the main reason why.
82. Byron Young
Young ended up leading the team in pressures, sacks and tackles for loss, even if his numbers were just slightly disappointing. You saw him get after Cade Klubnik in the Orange Bowl win, and now he’s off to the NFL, still with some untapped potential. Tennessee will certainly miss the attention he demanded on the edge next season.
88. Darnell Wright
The former five-star prospect stayed the course in Knoxville when others ran for the hills. He’s seen Tennessee at its best and Tennessee at its worst, and Wright went out on a high note. The four-year starter was rewarded with an 11-win season, starting every game at right tackle. He was rock solid all year long, and has some fans in the NFL Draft community. Expect Wright to come off the board on day two in April.
What about next year?
Tennessee will have to reload for the 2023 season, but as we saw in the Orange Bowl, this roster has plenty of potential moving forward. Who could be on this list next season?
Squirrel White and Bru McCoy seem like obvious options, potentially along with Joe Milton if he can stay consistent. Omari Thomas and Aaron Beasley have a shot to crack the list defensively, as both return as veteran leaders in 2023.