By Josh Ward
Tennessee’s wide receiver room looks very different from last fall.
Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman left for the NFL.
Jimmy Calloway, Jimmy Holiday and Walker Merrill all decided to transfer.
Their departures leave opportunity behind for Tennessee’s 2023 receivers.
Seniors Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy return after playing a big role in the Vols’ offense last fall. McCoy will be limited this spring but he and Keyton will provide a needed veteran presence in the fall.
Keyton’s emergence last season following Tillman’s ankle injury against Akron was a bright spot in the offense. Keyton put up solid numbers (31 catches, 532 yards, five touchdowns) and made timely plays – his 43-yard catch to set up a touchdown before halftime against Florida most notable.
Tennessee knows what it’s getting from McCoy. He should be ready to provide the same physical presence in the fall that he did for the Vols in 2022.
McCoy’s limited status will give less proven receivers a chance to see valuable practice time.
Second-year receivers Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb will have a chance to show how they’ve grown during their first year on campus. Both players arrived in Knoxville with “sleeper of the class” talk. Will either player show he’s ready to help this fall?
Rising sophomore Squirrel White showed at the end of the 2022 season that he’s ready to step into a bigger role.
With Jalin Hyatt opting out of the Orange Bowl, White caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Clemson.
Despite playing a limited role during the season, White caught a pass of 40-plus yards in five different games. Opposing teams will have to account for White’s speed every time he steps on the field. White’s legs + Joe Milton’s arm could pose a big problem for defenses in the fall.
What kind of threat will transfer Dont’e Thornton offer opponents? That’s one of the top questions entering spring.
Thornton was a big-play weapon for Oregon, averaging 21.5 yards per catch as a sophomore last season.
Thornton’s skillset at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds will be a welcome addition in Tennessee’s offense. Coach Josh Heupel praised Thornton’s ability to line up outside or in the slot.
Tennessee’s staff will have a better idea how they want to use Thornton after working with him this spring.
Will Thornton start for the Vols this fall? Keyton and White will have something to say about that as they compete for starting positions. But expect Thornton to make a big impact for the Vols either way.
So what should we expect from Nathan Leacock? The 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman is the final scholarship receiver to cover.
Leacock is an intriguing prospect. His recruiting profile rose during a solid senior year, helping him climb to the No. 45 overall ranking from On3 Sports.
“He’s long. He’s athletic,” Josh Heupel said in December. “He’s already made plays out on the practice field.”
That was during bowl practice when Leacock was only days removed from high school. This spring will offer him a chance to prove his ability to help as a freshman in college.
Tennessee has lost depth from last year’s receiving corps. But the Vols have talent and an offense that’s receiver friendly.
Next man up should be fun for this group.
Here are links to the following position previews: