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Tennessee football: By going pro, Jalin Hyatt avoids Vols’ 1,000-yard receiver curse

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Jalin Hyatt’s reason for opting out of the bowl game and not returning to Tennessee football for another year was probably pretty simple. He just won the Biletnikoff Award while catching 67 passes for 1,267 yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns.

Simply put, his draft stock will never be higher. He just However, there may be another reason, and all you have to do is look back on the history of the Vols to see it. Hyatt just had the Vols’ 10th 1,000-yard receiving season in history, and with that comes a curse.

In five of those 1,000-yard seasons with Tennessee football, the receiver did not enter the NFL Draft the following year. That move almost never worked out.

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Honestly, Hyatt doesn’t have to look too far back. A huge reason for his increase in production this year was the decision by Cedric Tillman to return in 2022.

Tillman was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021, catching 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns. He decided to run it back with Hendon Hooker and then suffered an ankle injury in the third game of this season.

Because of that injury, Tillman only appeared in six games and finished with 37 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He wasn’t the same when he returned.

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Although Tillman was the most recent case, the first case of this is probably the strongest evidence of a curse. You have to go back to Kelley Washington in 2002.

Washington caught 64 passes for 1,010 yards and five touchdowns in 2001. He was 6’4″ 225 pounds and a physical specimen. A 22-year old walk-on at the time, it was clear he was the future of playing wide receiver in the pros.

At the time, Washington and Donte Stallworth were rumored to enter the NFL Draft. Stallworth entered, and then Washington decided to stay. Rumors swirled that Washington talked Stallworth into entering so he’d have more catches for himself in 2002.

After Washington’s decision, Stallworth attempted to return but had already received benefits from an agent, making him ineligible, according to reports. He decided against an appeal.

Despite being the only go-to receiver, though, Washington had an underwhelming 2002. He missed the first two game due to a knee sprain. Then in the sixth game of the year against the Georgia Bulldogs, he suffered a season-ending concussion.

Neck surgery in November later of that year made for three different injury issues facing Washington. He finished that season with 23 catches for 443 yards and a score, and he fell from a first-round lock to a third-rounder who never reached that 2001 hype.

Of course, Washington was indicative of Tennessee football in general that year. They started the season ranked No. 5, largely due to him, and stumbled to an 8-5 record because of a litany of injuries, including his own.

Beyond Washington and Tillman, though, two other 1,000-yard receivers who didn’t immediately enter the draft suffered bad breaks. Some were self-inflicted, to be fair.

Da’Rick Rogers, for instance, caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. However, he was dismissed from the team before the start of the 2012 season.

Lucas Taylor, meanwhile, stepped up in 2007 after Tennessee football lost record-setting receiver Robert Meachem along with Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. He caught 73 passes for 1,000 yards and helped the Vols win the SEC East.

A year later, with Erik Ainge gone and Dave Clawson replacing David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator, Taylor was stuck in one of the worst offenses in school history. He had just 26 catches for 332 yards and a touchdown.

Taylor still led the team in receiving, but it was obviously a huge drop-off, The Vols went 5-7 that year, Phillip Fulmer was fired, and Taylor wasn’t selected in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Only one 1,000-yard receiver in history replicated his performance. Joey Kent had 69 catches for 1,055 yards and nine touchdowns in 1995 and followed that up with 68 catches for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns in 1996.

Kent had this guy named Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, though. At the time, those were No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of most receiving yards in Tennessee football history.

Marcus Nash replaced Kent the next year and broke that school record with 76 catches for 1,170 yards and 13 touchdowns, the latter of which was a school record that stood until this year. Simply put, the rules are different when Manning is quarterback.

Overall, though, it’s easy to see with this history why Hyatt would leave early. His draft stock can only fall at this point, so it makes perfect sense for him to focus on that.

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