The numbers don’t lie: Tennessee is having to replace almost all of their offensive production from the 2016 season this year.
According to the data compiled by college football statistician and analyst Phil Steele, the Vols will be one of the most inexperienced teams at the offensive skill positions this fall. In fact, the Vols return the lowest production on offense in the SEC for the 2017 season.
Steele’s data took a look at the percentage of “yards returning” for the upcoming 2017 season. What this means is that Steele looked at each team’s 2016 roster and compared it to their 2017 roster and broke down how many offensive yards each team had returning based on last year’s production. And the Vols are considered one of the least experienced teams heading into 2017 in that regard.
The Vols return just 25.7 percent of their offensive yardage from last season. That places them 124th among 130 FBS schools, and it puts them dead last in the SEC.
After the departures of quarterback Josh Dobbs, running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd, and receivers Josh Malone and Jason Croom, Tennessee has little returning in the way of experience from the 2016 season.
Dobbs accounted for 95 percent of the Vols’ passing offense and 31.1 percent of the team’s rushing offense. Kamara and Hurd combined to account for 40.5 percent of the rushing attack last season and 15.3 percent of Tennessee’s receiving yards. Josh Malone and Jason Croom made up 39.2 percent of the Vols’ receiving stats.
All in all, the Vols have lost their top quarterback, three of their four leading rushers, and three of their four leading receivers from the 2016 season.
Tennessee returns John Kelly, who was second on the team with 630 rushing yards last season, and Jauan Jennings, who was second on the team with 580 receiving yards in 2016. The rest of Tennessee’s returning talent played minimally, and Ethan Wolf (239 receiving yards) and Tyler Byrd (209 receiving yards) are the only skill position players with any sort of substantial stats.
Returning experience doesn’t always equal success, however. As Steele points out in his post, two of the five teams in the 2016 season who returned the most yards from their 2015 roster didn’t end up improving their records last season (LSU and Georgia Southern). In fact, the Vols returned a fair amount of offensive talent last season and remained stagnant when it came to their record, finishing at 9-4 just like the 2016 squad did.
The only other SEC schools to return less than half their offensive production from last season are Ole Miss (33.5 percent) and Texas A&M (44.3 percent). Vanderbilt leads the SEC in returning yardage from last season with 93.7 percent of their offensive yards from last year coming back this season. That’s good for fifth in the country.
Tennessee does have some interesting teams around them at the bottom of the list, however. North Carolina (12.7 percent), BYU (24.6 percent), and Virginia Tech (25.6 percent) are all below the Vols. In fact, the reigning champions of college football, Clemson, are returning fewer offensive yards this season with just 22.4 percent of their 2016 production returning. Tennessee’s Music City Bowl opponent, Nebraska, has just 22.4 percent returning this season as well.
The numbers show that the Vols will be replacing a ton of production from their 2016 roster. But that doesn’t mean the roster is any less talented; all it means is that the Vols have many more question marks heading into this season than last.