Tennessee comes into 2018 with an under-developed but very promising receiving corps. There’s a few supremely talented guys in this group that have the ability to take the SEC by storm. One of them (Jauan Jennings) has already done so in the past, and he’s looking to do so again.
Will there be some rust and growing pains to work through? Sure. But there is reason to believe that this group can excel.
Let’s pull back the curtains and take a look at who will be grabbing passes for the Vols in 2018….
Projected Depth Chart:
Marquez Callaway (#1), Jr., 6–2, 200 lbs.
2017 stats: 24 Rec | 406 Yds | 16.9 Avg | 5 TD
Jauan Jennings (#15), RS Jr., 6–3, 221 lbs.
2016 stats (injured 2017): 40 Rec | 580 Yds | 14.5 Avg | 7 TD
Brandon Johnson (#7), Jr., 6–2, 189 lbs.
2017 stats: 37 Rec | 482 Yds | 13.0 Avg | 1 TD
Tyler Byrd (#10), Jr., 5–11, 200 lbs.
2017 stats: 3 Rec | 27 Yds | 9.0 Avg | 1 TD
Josh Palmer (#5), So., 6–2, 201 lbs
2017 stats: 9 Rec | 98 Yds | 10.9 Avg
Jordan Murphy (#11), So., 6–0, 177 lbs
2017 stats: 1 Rec | 12 Yds | 12.0 Avg
Jacquez Jones (#21), RS-Fr., 5–10, 169 lbs
2017 stats: N/A — Missed season with injury
Cerdric Tillman (#85), Fr., 6–3, 212 lbs.
Tennessee’s presumed ace receiver, Marquez Callaway, won the hearts of Vol Nation last year in the barn burner win over Georgia Tech to open the season. He took over as the clear leader of the group once Jauan Jennings went out with an injury, and stole the show with some big time grabs. However, after that impressive performance, he slowed down quite a bit for the rest of the season.
Most of this was not his fault, as the coaching staff seemingly refused to throw the ball to him. But when he was thrown the ball, he made it count. He will no doubt be the deep threat for Tennessee this season, as well as a target that the quarterback can go to with a tough pass, since Callaway has shown that he’s very skilled at going up and grabbing the ball, no matter the situation.
The aforementioned Jauan Jennings is a very intense and clutch receiver. He is already well known by Vol fans for his big time grabs versus Florida (“Toast Tabor”) and Georgia (“Dobbsnail Boot”) in 2016. Both were amazing plays, and both came in crunch time.
He missed the 2017 season with an injury, and got into some trouble with the previous coaching staff at end of last season, due to some choice comments he made on an Instagram post about those coaches. However, he has done everything he has been asked of by new head coach Jeremy Pruitt and AD Phillip Fulmer. As a result, he has been allowed back on the team and is ready to make a splash in 2018. He has that dog in him that simply can’t be taught. It is the main reason why he should be one of the primary leaders of the receiving corps. According to Coach Pruitt, Jauan is still dealing with some lingering effects of injury at the moment and has been somewhat limited during fall camp, but expect him to still be a big contributor this year.
In Butch Jones’ final season in Knoxville, Brandon Johnson took the role as the “consistent hands” guy, so to speak. He is being seemingly overlooked heavily heading into 2018, and not noticing him would be a mistake for any analyst. He has great speed and he had some big moments of his own last season. Besides being the Vols’ leading receiver a year ago, he also showed a knack for creating yards after the catch. He will fill the void left by Josh Smith at the slot and he should be a go-to option for whoever ends up being Tennessee’s signal caller.
And how can we forget Tyler Byrd? Easily one of the fastest guys on Tennessee’s roster who really showed a lot of promise in 2016. One play that sticks out is his catch and spin late in the game against Texas A&M, which led to a game-tying touchdown moments later. Last season, Butch Jones and his staff inexplicably refused to throw Byrd the ball. There was simply no reason for him to not get the ball after he showed himself to be a true playmaker.
During spring ball, Pruitt tried Byrd out at defensive back for a while but has since opted to put him back at wide receiver. We’ll see soon if he can work his way into a major role among the receivers.
Now we get to the much less proven portion of the receiving corps. Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy have both flashed at time in games and practice sessions. It looked like Palmer might emerge as a significant contributor during his freshman season but ultimately not much came to fruition there. Both of these guys have major upside but they simply have to show what they’re made of before they get into the upper echelon of UT’s set of receivers.
Jacquez Jones is another option that just has to make his presence known to become a contributor. Jones has looked fine in practices but he was injured all of last season, so there’s currently no tape to show that he will be a big factor for the Vols quite yet.
Last but not least, there’s the emergence of true freshman Cedric Tillman, who flew under radar in this past recruiting class. According to GoVols247, he has made in impression on his teammates and new OC Tyson Helton feels optimistic about Tillman, saying he “can come here and help us.”
With this new and upgraded coaching staff, most notably David Johnson as the wide receivers coach, it certainly feels like this group will evolve this fall. Tennessee’s offense may ultimately be more focused on running the ball but passing will be a huge key to success in 2018. If the Vols’ quarterback can get the football into the hands of his receivers, it looks like this is a set of guys who could consistently make big plays.