Tennessee opened up its 2021 season with a 38-6 victory over Bowling Green. Each week, we’ll share how the Vols graded out according to Pro Football Focus grades.
Here’s how PFF works, the company grades each player on every play from a scale of negative two to two in 0.5 increments. Here’s how the company defines the benefits of their grading system.
“Taking every play into consideration allows for a larger sample size of data to tell the proper story rather than just a highlight reel of plays that we tend to remember, for better or worse. We also work to eliminate bias by not caring about the level of player who is being graded, so whether it’s the best tackle in the league missing a block or one of the worst, the same grade is given. Preconceived level of ability has no impact on the grading system. This style has worked well in unlocking undervalued gems through the years, while also not being swayed by player hype if it is undeserved.”
Each game players are graded on a scale from 1-100. 90-100 represents an elite grade, 85-89 represents an all-conference player, 70-84 is starter quality, 60-69 is backup quality and everything under 60 is replaceable.
With that, let’s see how Tennessee graded out against Bowling Green.
Offensive Grades (minimum of 26 plays — 30% of offensive plays)
RB Tiyon Evans — 86.6 (28 plays)
OT Cade Mays — 80.4 (86 plays)
RB Jabari Small — 67.5 (49 plays)
OG Jazontez Spraggins — 66.5 (86 plays)
C Cooper Mays — 64.7 (26 plays)
QB Joe Milton — 63.0 (86 plays)
OG Olie Lane — 60.3 (60 plays)
WR Cedric Tillman — 60.2 (82 plays)
TE Jacob Warren — 57.6 (51 plays)
WR Jalin Hyatt — 57.1 (70 plays)
WR Velus Jones Jr. — 56.0 (35 plays)
OT Darnell Wright — 55.7 (86 plays)
TE Princeton Fant — 55.0 (44 plays)
WR JaVonta Payton — 54.6 (53 plays)
OG Jerome Carvin — 54.3 (86 plays)
Tennessee’s offensive limitations showed up in their grades with only Tiyon Evans and Cade Mays turning in starter quality performances. The passing game struggles showed up too with Milton earning just a 63.0 grade and his receivers performing no better.
Jimmy Calloway was unavailable but it was surprising to see Tennessee’s receiver rotation so short in the opener. Just four receivers played 26 or more snaps.
Defensive Grades (minimum of 19 plays — 30% of defensive plays)
DT Elijah Simmons — 91.9 (21 plays)
DE Caleb Tremblay — 85.0 (22 plays)
DE Tyler Baron — 82.7 (34 plays)
DT Matthew Butler — 81.1 (33 plays)
CB Alontae Taylor — 78.7 (46 plays)
FS Trevon Flowers — 73.3 (56 plays)
MLB Jeremy Banks — 71.9 (29 plays)
DT Omari Thomas — 70.5 (24 plays)
STAR Theo Jackson — 69.0 (56 plays)
SS Jaylen McCollough — 68.0 (56 plays)
MLB Juwan Mitchell — 64.3 (29 plays)
DT LaTrell Bumphus — 63.8 (19 plays)
CB Warren Burrell — 62.7 (54 plays)
OLB Roman Harrison — 62.6 (27 plays)
DE Ja’Quain Blakely — 60.8 (34 plays)
MLB Aaron Beasley — 56.1 (27 plays)
MLB Solon Page III — 52.5 (27 plays)
CB Kenneth George Jr. — 44.4 (20 plays)
Tennessee played a lot of defenders Thursday night, especially in the front seven. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks played his first and second team linebackers nearly the same amount of snaps. Bowling Green had very little success when Juwan Mitchell and Jeremy Banks were in, but the Vols’ backup linebackers Aaron Beasley and Solon Page III really struggled.
Elijah Simmons didn’t show up much on the state sheet, batting down one pass but recording no tackles. The redshirt-sophomore was disruptive in his first ever start though. He was frequently in the Falcons’ backfield and in turn earned an elite grade. Transfer defensive linemen Caleb Tremblay and Da’Jon Terry each had solid debuts.
Tennessee controlled the line of scrimmage Thursday and that showed up on PFF grades with the Vols’ top four defenders being defensive lineman. Bryson Eason— who played just five snaps— turned in an elite 94.0 grade.
Theo Jackson played better to the naked eye than according to PFF. The senior nickelback recorded a team high 11 tackles— 2.5 for loss— and three pass breakups but graded out just as an elite backup.