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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #34

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 11, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews

 

#34 Tennessee Volunteers

 

2012 Recap:

Things can’t get much worse for Tennessee after going through the worst two year SEC stretch in team history. Tennessee has just two SEC wins to show for itself but the individual talent is there and this team can win 6-7 games in the upcoming season.

Coaching:

Butch Jones becomes the 4th Volunteer coach since 2008, as change seems to be the only constant in Knoxville. Butch Jones comes aboard after being with the Cincinnati Bearcats for the last three seasons. This of course means that Tennessee has new offensive and defensive coordinators.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Tyler Bray has moved on to greener pastures in the NFL, so there is a big question mark at the quarterback position. Justin Worley threw 23 passes a season ago and that is enough to have him take over the reins at Tennessee.

There are no running backs that scream NFL caliber talent, but the top two rushers from a season ago, Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are back, after virtually every other skill player is gone. This team will have to rely on it’s strength and that has to be running the football because they have a talented line coming back that averages 321 pounds per man, and that’s a lot of beef to run behind.

Best Draft Prospect: Rajion Neal RB UFA 2014.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter were both off the board by the second round in 2012, so that leaves 119 catches 1,861 yards and 14 touchdowns out there to be claimed. Vincent Dallas and his 9 catches seems to be the most experienced receiver that will now be a starter, which is obviously an area for concern as the waters are untested. Brendan Downs only caught 3 passes a year ago but the junior tight end shows a lot of promise and he should catch between 40-50 passes this year, as he is the best prospect catching the football on the current roster. One thing overlooked about the receivers here is how well the receivers blocked out of the spread formation.

Best Draft Prospect: Brendan Downs TE 6th Round. 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

6'7" 330 pounds - That is the average size for the starting tackles on this team and both are serious NFL prospects. Senior right tackle Ja’Won James I currently have projected as a 4th/5th rounder while left tackle and underclassmen Antonio Richardson is a 1st/2nd round prospect who looks like he will declare a year early and leave for the draft.  After senior standouts Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan, the race is on to see who will lead the next pack of tackles at #3 overall, to which Richardson should be in the discussion. Center James Stone is also a draft prospect who looks to be in that 7th round/UFA range. Tennessee has a rich history of fantastic lineman and prospects on both sides of the football, and despite the programs missteps the last three years, getting big time recruits does not seem to be a problem.

Best Draft Prospect: Antonio Richardson OT 1st/2nd Rounder 2014 (Should declare early).

 

Defense

Defensive Line

When looking at Daniel McCullers at defensive tackle it is easy to see why he is considered a 1st round draft choice for 2014, and also why you may mistake him for a pair of prospects instead of one. At 6'6-1/2" and 370 pounds he may be the largest athlete we see. What you expect to get from McCullers is exactly what you receive; someone who clogs up the middle and is difficult to run around, as you may get winded just trying to run around him. Unfortunately McCullers is surrounded by a group of players that underperformed all season long and were routinely whipped at the line of scrimmage. Jacques Smith and Jordan Williams must do a better job at end as the two combined for only 4 sacks a season ago. McCullers is far and away the best draft prospect here and the star of this group. I don’t feel too many NFL teams will be concerned about his weight and size because he shows quickness and it doesn’t seem to affect his play.

Best Draft Prospect: Daniel McCullers DT 1st Round 2014.

                       

Linebackers:

Curt Maggitt has been coming along slowly, but will be better this year in the middle of the defense. We all know who the star is though, and that's A.J. Johnson. He is not only the best linebacker on this team, but he may be the best in the nation at his craft. 138 tackles with 8.5 for loss as well as 6 touchdowns rushing the ball out of “The Beast”, what Tennessee calls their version of the Wildcat offense, shows just how dangerous Johnson really is. Johnson is so versatile that nearly any NFL team can draft him based on need due to the fact that he would be comfortable on the outside or on the inside. Johnson is almost assured of coming out as a junior and could even be a top 10 selection. With Johnson on the field and the emerging Maggitt this is the strongest portion on the defense, one that ranked 13th out of 14 SEC teams a season ago.

Best Draft Prospect: A.J. Johnson 1st Round 2014 (Should declare early).

 

Secondary and Special Teams:

Byron Moore is the only player in this secondary that I can see having a future in the NFL at this point. Moore is the only starting senior and his 86 tackles were second on the team to A.J. Johnson. Daniel Gray and Justin Coleman are the starting corners and one disturbing trend I have noticed at Tennessee the last 3-4 years is how unphysical the cornerbacks seem to be. The wide receivers in the SEC are notoriously tall and very physical, so Tennessee must do a better job jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage because the corners are constantly looking for safeties to bail them out when they fail at the point of attack. The defense gave up many points per game in the SEC and allowed 26 passing touchdowns, statistics similar to this in 2013 will assure Tennessee goes another year without going to a bowl game.

Best Draft Prospect: Byron Moore S UFA 2014.

 

Schedule:

Tennessee has to win the games they are expected to win and hope to score 1-2 upsets along the way. Weeks 3-4 will be the first two road games of the season and where will they go….Oregon and Florida in back-to-back weeks, which is not exactly a cakewalk. Tennessee has to hope to steal a home game, whereas Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn seem to be the most likely candidates.

Draft Outlook:

Even when times are lean, NFL teams can’t help to look at Tennessee due to the fact that they play in the SEC. With sure-fire first rounders in A.J. Johnson and Daniel McCullers, all eyes will be on Tennessee this year and for future prospects.

 

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