Six of Tennessee’s top players were drafted this past April, which presents the opportunity for new players to step up and make an impact. Here is a look at several players who need to step up or lead in 2017.
PLAYERS WHO NEED TO STEP UP
Jonathan Kongbo: Tennessee fans were ecstatic when the five-star prospect signed his letter of intent to play football for the Vols. He dominated JUCO level competition and arrived on The Hill expected to make an immediate impact.
In his first season he underwhelmed according to expectations, but improved when he was moved from defensive end and embraced his new role at defensive tackle. He recorded a pick-6 against Missouri and improved towards the end of the season, which gives him something to build on heading into the 2017 season.
2016 Stats: 11 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and a pick-6.
Kahlil McKenzie: He was Tennessee’s top prospect in 2015 and some recruiting sites labeled him as the #1 player in the country, but that was then and this is now and it’s time for Kahlil to step up. If the Vols want to establish consistency in the secondary then McKenzie needs to be the disruptive force to take pressure off the back end of the defense.
2016 Stats: 12 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss.
Dillon Bates: Where art thou Dillon Bates? Coming out of high school he was one of the most sought out linebackers in the country, but has yet to establish consistent playing time since committing to Tennessee. The Vols linebacking corps is in need of leadership and Bates needs to step up to provide the depth that Tennessee desperately needs in 2017.
2016 Stats: 3 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries.
Tyler Byrd: Last season Byrd showed glimpses of his speed and athleticism, and with the departure of Josh Malone someone needs to step up and take the pressure off Jauan Jennings. Tyler Byrd has the athleticism to make an immediate impact this upcoming season.
2016 Stats: 15 receptions, 209 yards, 63 rushing yards.
Aaron Medley: Hit. Your. Field. Goals.
2016 Stats: 11/16 Field goals made, 68.8%
Jauan Jennings: In the words of Jon Reed, “He’s a dog!” When there is play that needs to be made his hands are as reliable as any wide receiver in the country. Jennings welcomes contact and isn’t afraid to go up and get the ball. If Tennessee wants to move the ball down the field Jauan Jennings needs to lead the way.
John Kelly: Tennessee fans know the talent John Kelly brings to the running back position after a strong performance to end last season. Kelly is a smaller running back, but the ability to break tackles and continue after contact shows his capability to take the pressure off an unproven quarterback.
Jack Jones: When you think of Tennessee the name Jack Jones doesn’t immediately come to mind, but when Jones is absent the solidity of the offensive line is sub-par. If Jack Jones and the offensive line can stay healthy it will make life easier for all the players surrounding them on offense.
Todd Kelly Jr: He’s one of 42 defensive players named to the Lott Impact Trophy watch list, and last year he displayed why he deserves to be on a list with some of the top defensive talent in the country. His football IQ and on field instincts makes him one of the top leaders on defense.
Rashaan Gaulden: It’s impossible to watch a game without noticing the aggressive play making ability of Rashaan Gaulden. He never quits on a play and his willingness to pop any player of the opposing team is why he will be looked upon to be an impactful leader in 2017.
Colton Jumper: When it comes to on-field talent he doesn’t jump out like a Darrin Kirkland or Todd Kelly Jr., but lining the team up in the right positions to make plays is something he’s excellent at.
He gets a lot of flack for his size and skills, but his leadership on defense is crucial for Tennessee this season.
Butch Jones: He IS the leader of the ENTIRE football team and it’s time for him to step up, stop making excuses, and stop getting emotional when it comes to the “outside clutter”.
Man up, Butch.
Maleik Gray, DB
Daniel Bituli, LB
Darrell Taylor, DE
Marquez Callaway, WR
Ty Chandler, RB
Brandon Johnson, WR
Austin Pope, TE
Nigel Warrior, DB