There will be a lot of returning talent in the SEC for the 2020 season later on this year, but the talent pool in the conference got a big boost on Thursday when Tennessee star offensive lineman Trey Smith elected to return to UT for his senior season.
Smith held a press conference on Thursday to announce that he would be sticking with the Vols for one more year for the upcoming 2020 season. Smith was voted a First Team All-SEC lineman for the 2019 season, and the former five-star was a Freshman All-American back in 2017.
If not for health issues that sprung up after his stellar freshman campaign, Smith would be a no-brainer for the NFL Draft this year. But because of the blood clots that surfaced in his lungs and the lack of full-contact practices Smith has gone through over the last two years, the talented lineman elected to come back for his senior year and attempt to better himself and his team.
According to one college football analyst, Smith’s return is not only big for Tennessee’s offensive line, but Smith might actually be the most talented and best returning player in the entire SEC in 2020.
SEC Network analyst and former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic appeared on The Swain Event morning radio show in Knoxville on Friday morning to discuss the return of Trey Smith for his senior season. If you follow Cubelic on Twitter, you’ll know that the SEC Network analyst is a big fan of Smith’s game, and he even named him to his First Team All-American Offensive Line for the 2019 season.
Needless to say, Cubelic is excited to get to see Smith for another season in the orange and white, and he thinks Smith could be the best returning player in the conference this upcoming season.
“I think there’s a good chance, Jayson, that the health stuff aside, he’s not just the best offensive lineman returning in the SEC; he might be the best football player returning in the SEC in 2020,” Cubelic told Swain on The Swain Event. “I know (LSU wide receiver) Ja’Marr Chase is going to be back. A lot of people talk about him. Maybe (Alabama wide receiver) DeVonta Smith. People will talk about him. But this young man, if you took the health issues away and you’re projecting the 2021 Draft, I can’t think of many guys that are going to be off the board before him because we don’t have that automatic quarterback. We’ve got some good receivers. I don’t know if we look at any of them as top five or top 10 receivers as of right now.
“(Smith) is a guy who plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He’s the ultimate tone-setter.”
To Cubelic’s point, the premiere quarterbacks in the SEC in the 2019 season are all going into the 2020 NFL Draft (or are expected to). Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa declared for the draft, as did Georgia’s Jake Fromm. LSU’s Joe Burrow is playing for the national title in a few days, but he’ll be in the draft as well.
There are certainly other quarterbacks to consider such as Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Florida’s Kyle Trask, and rising sophomore Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is an obvious talent. But the top returning quarterbacks in the league aren’t likely Heisman contenders like the trio who are leaving for the NFL, and some of the more talented running backs are also going into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Cubelic clearly thinks highly of Smith, and he believes Smith made the right decision to come back to UT for another year. The SEC Network analyst thinks Smith deserves to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, and staying in school one more year and showing he can remain healthy another year should allow him to do that.
“Based on scouts I talk to, there were gigantic unknowns with his situation this year,” Cubelic said of Smith. “As far as I’m concerned, Trey Smith deserves better than to be drafted in the third or fourth round. Trey Smith deserves to be drafted in the first round because that’s the way that he’s played, and that’s the kind of talent that he is. My hope is that, by coming back for another year, putting together the same kind of tape — maybe better tape — and for this doubt to be removed about his health situation, (it will) allow him to be drafted where it would be appropriate for him to be drafted. I believe that’s in the first round, based on his talent.”
Tennessee hasn’t had a player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since Derek Barnett was selected No. 14 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 draft. While the Vols are likely to have several players selected in the 2020 draft later this year, it’s not expected that any of them will be first-round picks.
Smith started 12 of Tennessee’s 13 games this past season, all at left guard. Assuming there are no hiccups in his health, he should be the Vols’ starting left guard at the beginning of the 2020 season, too.
Cubelic also talked about the Vols’ addition of Cade Mays, where UT’s offensive line ranks as a whole in the conference, and more on The Swain Event. You can hear the full interview here.