Injuries are part of the game, but Tennessee Football is still not yet at the level where it can replace anybody at will. Here are the 10 players the Vols can least afford to lose for 2023.
10. John Campbell Jr.
He’s not even proven yet at left tackle, but John Campbell Jr. may be the Vols’ only option there with both Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford moving to the right side to replace Darnell Wright. Since Mincey and Crawford are there together, neither is among the most irreplaceable.
9. Joe Milton III
Yes, UT’s quarterback is extremely low on this list. However, if you look at the hype about Nico Iamaleava and listen to what the coaches said about him to open fall camp, it’s clear that he’s ready to go if Milton goes down. As a result, while losing your QB can still hurt, losing Milton won’t be as devastating.
8. Jabari Small
Sure, Tennessee Football has two all-purpose backs in Dylan Sampson and Jaylen Wright, and they have a power back in Khalifa Keith, but they only have one feature back, Jabari Small. Cameron Seldon’s headlines in the spring were likely just smoke and mirrors. Small is the only one who can handle 25 carries a game.
7. Jacob Warren
With Princeton Fant gone, the Vols are limited in their options at tight end in terms of proven talent this year, and that makes Jacob Warren critical. They have to be able to utilize their tight ends at least every other drive in Josh Heupel’s system, and Warren may be their only option.
6. Bru McCoy
Receiver is generally a replaceable spot. The Vols have two options in the slot in Dont’e Thornton and Squirrel White, and Thornton could play wideout. However, none of the wideouts have the build like Bru McCoy. Given his rare abilities, McCoy is irreplaceable just because of how great he can be.
5. Omari Thomas
He attended SEC Media Days for a reason. Omari Thomas is now the heart and soul of the Vols at defensive tackle, the one sure bet for them to start in the middle. Because of the questions surrounding everybody else and UT’s need to bring more pressure without blitzing, Thomas is crucial.
4. Jaylen McCollough
Already, Tennessee Football is in trouble because of Jaylen McCollough’s indictment. He’s the one veteran safety in a secondary that has major issues, and the Vols need him to get on the field. If this legal issue holds him back, UT’s secondary is in huge trouble this year.
3. Javontez Spraggins
One of the two returning starters at his position on the offensive line, Javontez Spraggins is a dominant run blocker at right guard. There’s no proven replacement at guard right now, so losing him would be devastating to the Vols’ offense. Questions on the line would get much bigger without him.
2. Wesley Walker
While McCollough is a returning starter, Wesley Walker emerged down the stretch last season at free safety. He’s now the only proven option for UT there with Trevon Flowers gone, so he’ll be crucial in the secondary this year. Doneiko Slaughter, Warren Burrell and Gabe Jeudy-Lally all show promise at cornerback, but the safeties are most crucial.
1. Cooper Mays
There’s Cooper Mays, and then there’s everybody else in terms of players Tennessee Football can’t afford to lose. The Vols have clearly still found nobody who can man the center spot behind him, and Mays is an All-SEC blocker. Everything about UT’s offense starts with him.