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2019 Fall Camp Position Preview: Wide Receivers

Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

We get you ready for the start of Tennessee’s 2019 fall camp by previewing the Vols’ roster position-by-position. Make sure to check out our look at Tennessee’s tight end group. Next up is our look at Tennessee’s wide receivers.

Seniors: Tyler Byrd, Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings (RS), Brandon Johnson

Juniors: Jordan Murphy, Josh Palmer

Sophomores: Jacquez Jones (RS)

Freshmen: Ramel Keyton, Jerrod Means, Cedric Tillman (RS)

Tennessee’s most experienced unit on the roster is their wide receiver group. The Vols’ wideouts are headlined by a duo of seniors and a junior ready for a breakout season. There’s a lot known about his group, but the biggest question with this unit entering fall camp is the depth.

Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings have played the most and have the most production among Tennessee’s wide receiver group. The two have combined to catch 149 passes for 2,195 yards and 17 touchdowns in 66 combined games. Callaway figures to be the lead receiver in 2019, and Jennings was on track to be a strong No. 2 receiver until he suffered another leg injury early in the summer. He’s expected to be a full go for the start of fall camp, but the once explosive athlete will again have to adjust to another setback.

But if there’s one player on UT’s roster who has shown the ability to overcome obstacles, it’s Jennings.

The two seniors will likely be joined by junior Josh Palmer as the third main receiver on the field when Tennessee goes three-wide. Palmer had a strong sophomore campaign and proved to be a deep threat, totaling 23 receptions for 484 yards and two scores. His 21.0 yard per catch average was tops in the SEC and fifth in the entire FBS. He looks poised to have a breakout junior year with Tennessee’s new offense under the direction of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

Barring any significant injuries or setbacks, those three receivers should be Tennessee’s main weapons at wideout. But everything behind them is up for grabs.

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Brandon Johnson led the Vols in catches as a sophomore in 2017, bringing in 37 receptions for 482 yards and a score. But last year, his role in the offense took a major step back, as he only caught 14 passes for 132 yards. Will he be able to grab the fourth receiver spot in UT’s rotation, or will a younger Vol take that role?

The same question can be asked about Tyler Byrd. The former four-star has never lived up to his billing with the Vols, and he’s been used very sparingly on offense. He caught a touchdown pass last season, but that was his only reception. He’s Tennessee’s best blocking receiver on the perimeter, but will he be used more as an actual pass catcher in his final year at UT?

Jordan Murphy appears to be the slight favorite to nab that fourth receiver spot heading into fall camp. As a sophomore last year, he showed some explosiveness and speed that Tennessee’s receiving room lacked. He caught 11 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown, and he ripped off a 59-yard run against Kentucky late in the year. Consistency was his issue, as was his knowledge of the playbook.

If Murphy put in the necessary work this offseason, he could be a strong weapon in UT’s passing attack.

After Murphy, the Vols don’t return anything in the way of production to their receiver room, leaving a lot of questions to be answered in fall camp.

Jacquez Jones has yet to make an impact beyond some special teams work in his first two years at Tennessee. He has a chance to fight for a role with a new coordinator and new position coach, but he has a lot of competition from younger players to deal with.

Ramel Keyton was a little overlooked in Tennessee’s 2019 signing class thanks to late additions of players like Eric Gray, Quavaris Crouch, Darnell Wright, and Henry To’oto’o, but he was one of the top receivers in the 2019 cycle and was an early enrollee with UT this spring. He drew some praise in the spring and seemed to pick up the offense fairly quickly, and there’s a good chance this fall could serve as a springboard for some early playing time for him.

Cedric Tillman returns after redshirting as a true freshman in 2018. Tillman was thought of as a diamond in the rough in the 2018 signing class, and he appeared in four games before redshirting. At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Tillman has superb size and could be in line to see an increased role if he can fend off some of the other receivers further down the depth chart.

While freshman Jerrod Means has reportedly turned some heads this summer, 2019 should likely be a redshirt year for him. Still, the speedster out of Lovejoy, Georgia brings an element to Tennessee’s receiving corps they don’t have much of right now, and he could be one to watch in fall camp.

Aside from the Vols’ top three receivers, there are several question marks about this group. Injuries have been an issue in the past for Jennings, and his progression in fall camp will be monitored. If he misses time, who fills in for him, and who is Tennessee’s main deep threat besides Josh Palmer?

If this group can stay healthy, Tennessee won’t have to test their depth too much. But fall camp will be crucial for getting the younger receivers up to speed, and there are three or four wideouts battling for only a couple roles behind the main trio.

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