The Vols running backs in 2018, while not yet proven, are still extremely talented and can provide a true punch in the backfield. John Kelly led all backs in rushing last season with 778 yards. He also tacked on another 299 yards receiving, combining for a total of 1,077 all-purpose yards. Unfortunately (for Tennessee, at least), he now has a job with the L.A. Rams after being selected in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Is it going to be hard to replace Kelly? Yes. However, there are some pieces in the backfield that can do just that.
Let’s take a look at who will be toting the rock in 2018…
Projected Depth Chart:
First string: Ty Chandler (#3), So., 5-11, 195 lbs
2017 stats: 71 rushing attempts | 305 yards (4.3 average yds per attempt) | 10 receptions |108 yards (10.8 average yds per reception) | 2 touchdowns
Second String: Madre London (#31), RS Sr., 6-1, 213 lbs
2017 stats *at Michigan St*: 83 att | 304 yds (3.7 avg) | 9 rec | 62 yds (6.9 avg) | 4 tds
Third String: Tim Jordan (#9), So., 5-11, 203 lbs
2017 stats: 11 att | 52 yds (4.7 avg) | 8 rec | 65 yds (8.1 avg)
Fourth String: Jeremy Banks (#33), Fr., 6-1, 211 lbs
2017 stats *at Cordova High School*: 1,941 rushing yds | 3 rec | 28 yds | 32 tds
Trey Coleman (#24), So., 6–0, 210 lbs
2017 stats: 4 att | 9 yds (2.25 avg) | 1 rec | 3 yds
Princeton Fant (#44), RS Fr., 6–2, 222
2017 stats: N/A — Did not appear in a game
Ty Chandler, who was a sleeping giant behind John Kelly last season, has showed flashes of greatness when called upon. Most notably vs South Carolina and at Kentucky in 2017, games in which he combined for 165 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He showcased his speed, change of direction on a dime, ability to create yards after the catch and a surprising amount of power contained in a track star frame. Funny enough, Chandler was actually a track star in high school, so it only makes sense why he is the athlete that he is. Athlon Sports even has him at No. 10 on their ‘College Football’s Top 30 Breakout Running Backs for 2018‘ list.
Madre London comes to Rocky Top after spending the bulk of his collegiate career in East Lansing at Michigan State. The former Sparty back decided to take his talents to Tennessee and he could be a massive help to the Vols running back corps. London, much like Chandler, is a versatile back. He can take it up the middle, outside, and he can grab it out of the air. He is, however, a bigger back, so the Vols will likely call upon him more often in short yardage or goal line situations.
Tim Jordan, who will compete with London for playing time, didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity last season, due to Kelly and Chandler getting most of the carries. However, he too can be a jack of all trades out of the backfield. Expect Jordan to see the field a bit more this season since coach Jeremy Pruitt stated during SEC Media Days that in an ideal world, he would like a rotation of “four to six” running backs.
Jeremy Banks comes to Big Orange Country after wreaking havoc on opponents while at Cordova High School, a high school located in Cordova, TN near Memphis. While not highly touted coming out of high school, Banks provides the presence of a true running back and his ceiling is extremely high. Plus, he’s an in-state guy, which is always a good thing.
It’s also possible that sophomore Trey Coleman will get a chance to carry the ball and much like Tim Jordan, he simply hasn’t gotten an opportunity yet to show what he’s made of. And the same story applies to Princeton Fant, who came to UT as a wide receiver but has since been switched to running back by Pruitt’s staff. They could be consequential contributors but it will be a wait-and-see game to find out if and how they are used.
It appears that in Pruitt’s offense, running the ball will be the bread and butter, as evidenced by the potential introduction of a fullback into the scheme and the general way in which Pruitt speaks about his offense. With Ty Chandler and Madre London leading the charge in 2018, the Vols should be able to create a powerful attack. It also doesn’t hurt that guys like All-SEC OL Trey Smith and Alabama graduate transfer Brandon Kennedy will be in the trenches, paving the way for them.