A wave of transfers and dismissals that left just four players from the 2021 recruiting class means Tennessee Football will be light on true juniors just as the Vols are on redshirt sophomores in 2023. Still, they have some impact players. Here are the five most important UT juniors on the season.
5. Christian Charles
Two speedsters, Christian Charles and De’Shawn Rucker, committed to play defensive back for the Vols in 2021 and are among those four remaining members of that class. With secondary help desperately needed, either could step up at cornerback. Charles seems to be in a better position at the moment, though, so he takes this spot.
4. Gerald Mincey
Once again, a pair of transfers are in competition for the top junior offensive lineman. Gerald Mincey came from the Florida Gators last year, and Andrej Karic comes from the Texas Longhorns this year. Mincey plays tackle, and Karic plays guard. Although Karic seems to be in better position to play right now, Mincey has more talent, so he should be. This is a bet that he’ll figure it out.
3. Bryson Eason
Last year, Bryson Eason was effectively the co-starter on the defensive line with Omari Thomas. Arizona State Sun Devils transfer Omarr Norman-Lott gives Tennessee Football another junior on the defensive line who can contribute, and they still have a deep rotation with Kurott Garland and Tyre West, Elijah Simmons. Still, Eason has plenty of experience and should make an impact.
2. Dont’e Thornton
The Oregon Ducks transfer wide receiver is a rare athlete. He’s a slot receiver who stands at 6’3″, bringing the best combination of size and speed to the position. Dont’e Thornton will be out there with Squirrel White, Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy and will be able to play in any of their spots, so look for him to thrive in Josh Heupel’s system.
1. Jaylen Wright
Dylan Sampson’s emergence, the arrival of Khalifa Keith and the proven production of Jabari Small makes Tennessee Football extremely deep at running back this year. However, Jaylen Wright has exploded in the offseason, and he was the Vols’ leading rusher last year, so at this point, he’s easily the top junior on the team.