Perhaps Tennessee’s biggest pickup in the transfer portal, Dont’e Thornton is set to make a big impact in 2023. He finished his 2022 season strong with Oregon before moving on to Knoxville, where he’ll have a chance to fill the shoes of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman.
Thornton’s 6-4 frame and downfield ability is exciting to think about, considering Josh Heupel’s scheme and Joe Milton’s cannon of an arm. We got a little taste of that ability during his time at Oregon, and I’m guessing we’re going to get a whole lot more this season.
New offensive coordinator Joey Halzle spoke a little bit about Thornton on Wednesday.
“With Dont’e, really big guy that can run,” Halzle said. “He’s 6-4-plus and the day he steps on the field, he might always be the fastest guy on the field. That guy can really roll.”
Tennessee returns Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton and Squirrel White to the receiver room for 2023. We got our first look at that trio in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and the results were spectacular — there was essentially zero falloff from Hyatt and Tillman. Thornton now brings more even more size and more speed to the table, and should fit into the scheme nicely.
“He does a great job of giving you position flexibility with what he’s done, his ability to get in and out of breaks,” Halzle continued. “He’s fluid. He can roll over the in-steps. He can do all of that type of stuff. He can read defenses from his time playing college football. He gives you a chance to move him all over the field and create mismatches.”
Thornton is a former four-star prospect, ranking 57th overall in the class of 2021. At Oregon, Thornton caught 17 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown during the 2022 season. He did his best work late in the year, which included a four catch, 151 yard performance against Utah.
Now, set to join an offense that finished the year ranked No. 1 in the country, Thornton will have plenty of chances to make some noise. It’ll be interesting to follow his progress throughout the spring as he learns the offense and adjusts to the tempo.