Predicting preseason All-SEC and All-American teams is enough of a challenge, but Athlon took it a step further and predicted who some of the best freshmen in the nation will be in 2015.
Not surprisingly, Tennessee freshman defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie made the list, bringing in First-Team honors alongside fellow five-star recruit and Georgia freshman Trent Thompson. Most recruiting services had McKenzie and Thompson ranked as the top two defensive tackles one way or another in the 2015 class.
McKenzie is a potentially dominant 6-foot-3, 330-pound defensive tackle who was ranked as high as the No. 1 overall player in the nation by Scout.com in the 2015 class. Blessed with rare size, athleticism and bloodlines, McKenzie is a natural choice to have a big impact for the Vols in 2015 either as a starter or a key rotation player on the defensive line
Also on the First Team was linebacker Dillon Bates. Bates enters 2015 as a redshirt freshman after being granted a medical hardship waiver after missing nine games in 2014 with a torn labrum. He showed some flashes on special teams and as a reserve outside linebacker, recording six tackles in limited action.
Bates came in as an outside linebacker, but worked in a limited capacity at inside linebacker this spring as the Vols look for a replacement for A.J. Johnson at that spot. He could certainly factor into that ILB race with Darrin Kirkland Jr., Kenny Bynum and others and he also has the versatility to play any of the different linebacker spots and on several special teams unit.
Tennessee was also well-represented on the All-Sophomore team Athlon put out with defensive end Derek Barnett (1st Team), guard Jashon Robertson (3rd) and running back Jalen Hurd (4th) all making the cut.