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Projecting each Tennessee transfer addition

Starters, potential starters, and depth options.

Utah v Oregon Photo by Ali Gradischer/Getty Images

The Tennessee Volunteers are no stranger to the transfer portal. With the help of some notable transfers, Tennessee was able to march their way to an Orange Bowl victory in 2022. It stands to reason that they will be a major player in the portal for years to come. Paired with an already great recruiting class, and you’ve got a very attractive team for top talent.

Tennessee went out and added eight transfer players in the original portal window. We discussed the dates and other general info in our previous article, where we evaluated what Tennessee lost in the transfer portal. We now make good on our promise of focusing on the additions, and projecting where each addition might contribute.

Note: The only one not discussed in this article is kicker Charles Campbell, who transferred in from Indiana. Sorry, I don’t know much about kickers.

Without a doubt starters

Dont’e Thornton (WR — Oregon)

Thornton was projected to start for Oregon in 2023, so it’s unlikely he would’ve transferred to Tennessee without a reasonable assurance that he’d get starting reps. The departures of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman means that there’s still room in the main rotation for 2023. Tennessee really likes the receivers they’ve recruited in the past couple of classes, but they could still use a year of seasoning before they’re ready for huge workloads. Thornton played two years at Oregon, and had an encouraging 2022 season (366 yards, 21.5 yards per reception, 1 touchdown).

Keenan Pili (LB — BYU)

Here’s the catch with Pili: Are you getting the linebacker of 2020 and 2021? Or the guy who played in 2022? Because the former was a near elite level linebacker who looked prime for an NFL future. The latter was post injury, and looked much more pedestrian. If the Pili of 2020 and 2021 returns, you might’ve actually upgraded at linebacker. If it’s the Pili of 2022, you’re going to need one of your younger guys to hopefully step up as the season goes on.

The only other note here is that BYU’s defense last year was generally poor. There was a sharp decline from multiple players (not just Pili) and it ultimately resulted in their defensive coordinator resigning. The hope is that another year of recovery under a different scheme will reinvigorate Pili.

Potential Starters

Andrej Karic (OT — Texas)

This upcoming offseason strength and conditioning cycle will be huge in determining Karic’s impact for 2023. Texas felt comfortable putting him on the field in 12 games this year, and they even started him a few times as a jumbo tight end. He wasn’t playing tackle because he got passed up by true freshman Kelvin Banks (who ended up being one of the best tackles in the country by season’s end) and upperclassman Christian Jones (named All-Big 12 honorable mention).

Karic needs to add more power to his game and potentially reshape his body a bit. He’s got some athleticism, but more work is needed to get him to an SEC starting lineman.

There will certainly be an opportunity for him to do that. The departures of Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin means Tennessee has two spots up front that need filling. One of them being right tackle.

John Campbell (OT — Miami)

You’ll get mixed feelings if you talk to certain Miami fans about John Campbell. He actually wasn’t supposed to start this year, and only saw a starting nod because of injury. That being said, when he did play, he was a competent lineman. He wasn’t a world beater, but he got the job done and looked decent doing it.

Transferring out may have seemed like an odd decision—but starting level tackles are extremely rare in the transfer portal. Only a handful enter every cycle. Campbell knew he could receive major interest and offers thanks to this market inefficiency.

Gabe Jeudy-Lally (CB — BYU)

Normally, I would not label someone like Jeudy-Lally as a potential starter. The Vanderbilt-to-BYU-to-Tennessee transfer has performed decent enough at each spot— but nothing screamed “SEC starter”.

Yet given the Tennessee defensive struggles in the secondary, I can’t rule out the possibility. One under discussed factor with Jeudy-Lally is that BYU‘s defense tended to drop a lot of guys into coverage, and was not as heavy on forcing their corners to press. Given what we’ve seen from Tennessee’s defense and their tendency to go conservative in the back end, Jeudy-Lally could be more comfortable starting out than the true freshman Tennessee signed.

Depth Pieces

Omarr Norman-Lott (DT — Arizona State)

This take seemed like more of a depth addition from the start. Tennessee really isn’t hurting on the defensive interior, and they expect to return almost all of their contributors from last season. I think the Volunteers wanted someone with a skillset more geared to pass rushing, which meant focusing in on someone like Norman-Lott. Will he immediately grab a starting spot in 2023? Unlikely. But there are some clear scenarios they could use him.

McCallan Castles (TE — UC Davis)

Castles, if you believe certain coaches, has an NFL future ahead of him. He’s got the perfect build and produced at a good level at UC Davis (Second Team All-Big Sky Conference with 30 receptions, 347 yards, and two touchdowns). Combine that with Tennessee’s very favorable tight end depth chart, and you have a guy who will play often in 2023.

However, Tennessee uses their tight ends a bit differently, and I don’t think he will start over Jacob Warren. Castles is also a more traditional tight end option, and might not have the versatility that someone like Princeton Fant did. I will admit that a good spring and fall camp could easily change this projection, especially since the tight end room is already pretty bare.