Juniors: Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson, Jauan Jennings, Tyler Byrd
Sophomores: Josh Palmer, Latrell Williams, Jordan Murphy
Freshmen: Jacquez Jones, Cedric Tillman
Tennessee’s offense has a lot of question marks heading into the 2018 season, but a potential strength could come from the Vols’ wide receivers. This unit has a surprising amount of experienced depth and more overall talent than most of the other units on offense.
Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson headlined the Vols’ receiving corps last season after Jauan Jennings went down with injury in the first game of the season, and freshman Josh Palmer made significant contributions in six starts as well. Now all three of those players are more experienced, appear more developed, and Jennings is back to lead them.
Vol fans know all about Jennings’ topsy-turvy 2017 season. After missing the entire year with an injury he sustained in the first game then getting dismissed by interim head coach Brady Hoke and then-AD John Currie, he’s now back with the team, is fully healthy, and is ready to go for fall camp. Jennings will likely serve as the Vols’ top outside receiver on passing downs, and he’ll be a vocal leader on the offense.
Jennings will likely be joined by Callaway on the opposite side of the field, and those two could prove to be a very potent duo as long as they stay healthy and have a quarterback who can deliver them the football. Callaway flashed some big play potential on multiple occasions last season, but his usage dwindled as the season progressed and as Tennessee’s offense became more and more anemic. But he figures to be a prominent part of the Vols’ passing attack this season.
Brandon Johnson is possibly the most underrated and overlooked receiver on the Vols’ roster despite starting in over half of UT’s games last season and leading the team in catches and yards. Johnson is a solid possession receiver who was great out of the slot last season for Tennessee. He’ll have plenty of competition from some younger, hungry receivers at camp this fall, but there’s a good chance he emerges as UT’s third receiver.
Josh Palmer’s spot in the rotation is far from guaranteed this fall, however. He looked good for a true freshman last year, but he certainly made his fair share of mistakes and had several big drops. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, but he needs to work on his consistency. If he doesn’t improve that, players like Jordan Murphy could overtake him.
Speaking of Murphy, he had a pretty solid spring and looked to be making his way up the Vols’ depth chart. He is a real threat to Palmer and Johnson in the receiver rotation after only appearing in a handful of games last season and catching just a single pass. The former four-star prospect certainly has potential, and a change of offense could be just what he needs to cash in on that talent.
The Vols have experience and potential for even more production with their leading receivers this year as long as they stay healthy. But what about the depth?
Tennessee is a little top-heavy at receiver when it comes to proven talent, but their reserves have plenty of untapped potential just waiting to break through. Can this new coaching staff and new offensive system finally get the most out of these receivers?
Tyler Byrd showed plenty of play-making ability as a true freshman in 2016, but he barely saw the field last season. After briefly trying his hand at cornerback in the spring, he’s back at receiver moving forward. Will this new staff find ways to get him the ball, or was he simply a flash in the pan in 2016 and doesn’t have what it takes to be a big time producer in the SEC? This year is a huge year for Byrd, and he needs to prove himself.
Latrell Williams, like Byrd, came in with high expectations and was supposed to be the future slot receiver for Tennessee. But injuries have held him back from fulfilling his potential. He finally appeared healthy this spring, and he has the type of speed that can change games. He might be buried on the depth chart a little this year, but he could at least make an impact on special teams with the type of speed he has. He’ll be very interesting to watch this fall as he tries to compete with Palmer and Murphy.
Jacquez Jones missed all of last season with injury, and he might not make a lot of contributions this year at receiver either even if he’s healthy. He doesn’t seem like a great fit in the Vols’ new offense, but he could prove himself in the fall. The 5-foot-10, 169-pound receiver needs to add some more weight on his frame before he’s ready to be counted on long term, though.
Cedric Tillman is the only newcomer to the Vols’ receiving corps, and he could be a wildcard at the position. The true freshman is huge (6-foot-3, 212 pounds) and has undeniable skill. He was overlooked in the 2018 recruiting cycle, and Tennessee’s coaches have liked what they’ve seen from him this summer. I don’t think he makes a ton of big contributions as a true freshman, but look for him to possibly emerge as more of a play-maker later in the season and next year.
Tennessee’s new offensive system won’t rotate in and out as many receivers as Butch Jones’ offense did. That’s why there will probably be more of a focus on the Vols’ top five or six receivers this season rather than their top eight or nine like last year. The Vols’ top six receivers are some of the most talented players at any unit on the entire roster, and as long as the offensive line can play better than last year and give the quarterback time to throw the ball, UT’s receivers should be able to shine this season.