RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
Fans of the football Vols received another reason to get excited for the upcoming 2019 season when ESPN’s David Hale listed a Vol among his “under-the-radar players ready for a breakout season in 2019” list.
Tennessee’s starting quarterback, redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano, was featured in the article and received a ton of praise from Hale. In fact, Hale listed Guarantano as the premier candidate to have a breakout 2019 campaign.
Hale highlighted a few stats from Guarantano in 2018 to back up his selection. Guarantano had the lowest interception rate in the SEC last season. As a redshirt sophomore, he threw only three picks in 264 pass attempts. Not even Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa had a better rate in the SEC.
Hale also compared Guarantano’s completion percentage, yards per pass, TD to INT ratio, and third down conversion percentage against Oregon’s Justin Herbert. The rising senior for Oregon is considered by many to be a top QB prospect for the NFL, and he’s already been featured in multiple mock drafts for the 2020 NFL draft as a potential first-round pick.
Guarantano had a better completion percentage (62.2% to 59.4%), third down conversion percentage (41% to 35%), and a better TD to INT ratio (4-1 to 3.4-1) than Herbert despite Herbert getting more acclaim. Both quarterbacks had the same yards per attempt at 7.8 yards per pass.
When looking at these stats, you truly get a good look at just how effective Guarantano was in a season that lacked a lot of positivity. Tennessee had one of, if not the worst, scoring offenses in the SEC last season. The Vols ranked 13th in the SEC in points per game and dead last in total yards per game.
For Guarantano to be put on a list like this shows how much he has progressed since becoming the full-time starter a few years ago.
Hale also touches on the severe amount of pressure from opposing defenses that Guarantano faced on a game-by-game basis. The defensive fronts of most teams that the Vols played last season were just flat out better than the offensive line of Tennessee, and it showed. Big time.
According to ESPN, Guarantano was sacked on 8.2% of his dropbacks last season, which ranked 106th among FBS quarterbacks. He also attempted 39 percent of his throws under pressure, ranking 119th in the FBS.
Guarantano, however, thrived under that pressure. He completed 57 percent of his passes and averaged nine yards an attempt when he faced pressure last season. According to Hale, no other quarterback posted better numbers under those situations.
Even though the deck was stacked against him on most nights, Guarantano continued to perform and make progress.
Because of all that, Hale believes Guarantano is in store for a big 2019 season.
“The good news is Guarantano has more room to grow, and his role in the offense figures to expand, too,” Hale writes. “He threw only 12 touchdown passes last season, but doubling that number might be a good starting point for 2019.
“The better news for Tennessee fans, however, is that Guarantano’s development could be matched by that offensive line in 2019. Pruitt has depth at long last, including five-star freshmen Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris, which could allow Guarantano to reach his potential.”
Looking towards 2019, the Vols will be returning huge play-makers on offense for Guarantano to use at his disposal. Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, and Josh Palmer will be back at wideout, as will Dominick Wood-Anderson at tight end and Ty Chandler at running back.
As Hale pointed out, the Vols’ offensive line welcomes the addition of two five-star offensive tackle signees, Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. Brandon Kennedy is also projected to return to the lineup next season, and there’s still hope that Trey Smith can return, too.
If the Vols are to have any type of success on offense in 2019, it’ll be because both the offensive line and Guarantano took big steps forward. If Guarantano improves at the rate Hale thinks he will, then Tennessee could have a surprisingly good 2019 season.