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Tennessee football: Darnell Wright entering NFL Draft, but his bowl opt-in outweighs Vols’ bowl opt-outs

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Of all the players Tennessee football is losing that the Vols could have back next year, Darnell Wright is their biggest loss. However, his decision to play in the bowl game is their biggest game.

Wright, the Vols’ starting right tackle all year, revealed that he would enter the 2023 NFL Draft. He will still suit up for the Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers.

One of the Vols’ best players all year, Wright has been a starter for Tennessee football when healthy every year since 2019. He announced his intentions to enter the draft and play in the bowl on Twitter.

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Make no mistake, Wright playing in the bowl is a huge deal. Josh Heupel has shown in this offense he can replace receivers. That’s why Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt opting out aren’t big deals.

It’s not even that big of a deal that both will be gone to the pros next year. Heupel still has Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy and Squirrel White along with a deep collection of young guys.

The offensive line is a different story, though. UT didn’t have a lot of consistency on the other side at lefttackle with Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford. If one got hurt, issues arose. On the interior, Jerome Carvin is also gone.

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As a result, Glen Elarbee has some rebuilding to do up front, and Wright being gone complicates that. Heupel can’t just plug in a replacement the way he does at receiver.

In fact, there probably is nobody for the bowl game. It’s likely Heupel finds somebody on the recruiting trail or in the transfer portal to replace Wright.

Taking that into account, Wright is the one player Tennessee football wants playing in the bowl. Clemson’s biggest strength is its pass rush. The Tigers have 40 sacks on the year, fourth in the nation.

Everybody saw what Wright was able to do against Will Anderson Jr. earlier in the year. He has allowed 0 sacks on the season. Having him in this game against that pass rush is huge.

If Heupel could pick to have anybody in this game, the only player he would take over Wright on offense is Hendon Hooker. Jeremy Banks may be crucial on defense given what we saw from the Vols at the South Carolina Gamecocks without him.

After those two guys, though, Wright is clearly the most important player. Tennessee football will have a tough time figuring out how to replace him, but his decision to play in the bowl means a lot.

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