I love the SEC and Saturday’s in the southeast during college football season. There is no better conference in America when it comes to college football than the SEC. The rich tradition of the league and the list of stars that have come from this league that changed the game of football and the way that it was played and coached.
Let’s kick this off with a little run-through of some of those names. The coaches are legendary, from Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Pat Dye, and Johnny Majors to Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, this conference has seen coaches that changed the game forever.
Its player’s history is extremely rich too. From Peyton Manning to Herschel Walker, to Bo Jackson and Julio Jones, national championships and thousands of players that have moved on to play in the NFL. The prestige surrounding the conference is incredible, and it makes our Saturdays better in the long run of the fall and winter months.
Every season, there are NFL prospects lined up in large numbers looking to make an impact on the future NFL. The game that they love, that they have given so much for and pursued an almost impossible dream is becoming a reality for many of these players. This, to me, is one of the biggest things that really makes this game special.
Tennessee was one of the founding 8 schools at the conception of the SEC in 1933, coming off almost a decade of dominance in the Southern Conference. Bob Neyland and John Barnhill made Tennessee a school to be reckoned with, winning the schools first National Championship in 1951.
This school has held numerous all-time legends throughout the years. In fact, the list is quite extensive. Johnny Majors, the great player who later became a great coach, Reggie White, Peyton Manning, and Alvin Kamara are just a few of the names that have come through this school.
Who Tennessee lost from last season
The Tennessee program was essentially run into the ground by the previous head coach, Butch Jones, who attempted to dismantle all of the positivity surrounding the program before he left the school. He actually called several recruits that were committed and told them not to come to Tennessee.
That being said, it’s not that the school was devoid of talent, it’s that the program struggled to get back on its feet for a little while. Current head coach Jeremy Pruitt struggled in his first season but really bounced back in the latter portion of year two, giving the program incredible momentum moving forward.
Defensive end Darrell Taylor was taken in the second round (48th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks. He was a solid two-way player who will be missed this season at Tennessee.
In the 7th round, the San Francisco 49ers selected the scrappy wide receiver, Jauan Jennings, with the 217th overall pick. Jennings is a physical freak, someone who is hard to take down with the ball in his hands in the open field.
Tennessee is a very proud school with a rich tradition, but as of recent memory they have struggled to put professionals into the NFL. There have been some hits, yes, but more misses come to mind. Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray, etc.
The Prospects this season
Now back on the uptick, Tennessee is threatening to become a powerhouse on their own. The recruiting numbers are phenomenal, and Jeremy Pruitt has made Tennessee a likable destination again.
Here are the seven players that you need to know about entering the season.
QB Jarrett Guarantano (Rs-Sr)
#2 | 6’3″ | 210 lbs | Bergen Catholic (Lodi, New Jersey)
It’s not even a given that Jarrett Guarantano will be the starting quarterback his senior season at Tennessee, but many professional evaluators hope that he is. He was on both the Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Preseason Watch Lists entering 2019, but struggled to keep the starting position because of what was described as “discipline.” Guarantano was making unauthorized pre-snap adjustments last year that usually went south, which is why the coaching staff didn’t want him messing with the play call. The quarterback sneak on the goal line against Alabama that he fumbled? That was a halfback dive play call that he didn’t execute. Still, Guarantano managed to throw for just shy of 3000 yards and 16 touchdowns, completing just shy of 60% of his passes.
One of the most interesting things about his game is that from a technical standpoint, Guarantano is pretty solid. He has good footwork, a tight and quick release, and he’s got a good arm.
That being said, Guarantano is limited significantly in the mental game. I think that he lacks the confidence to pull the trigger on most of the openings that he sees and misses his targets. His accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, as it is inconsistent at best. He’s much like Kirk Cousins in the aspect that when on script, he’s pretty good. However, he’s an on-script quarterback that you can’t trust to stay on script.
Grade: Future Impact (2+ Years Back-Up).
RB Ty Chandler (Sr)
#8 | 5’10” | 205 lbs | Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville, Tennessee)
Ty Chandler was one of the top recruits in the state of Tennessee leaving High School in 2017. Chandler’s junior season was highly anticipated by the media, as he was placed on the Doak Walker Award Preseason Watch List in 2019. However, he hasn’t quite been able to nail the starting position down, as now he battles Tim Jordan and Eric Gray for the starting position on a weekly basis.
The talent is certainly there, as Chandler is generally more of a home run threat with the football. He’s very explosive from the snap and accelerates extremely quickly. The thing that stands out on tape to me is that Chandler is effective in all three aspects of the game that the NFL asks of running backs now: he’s a very good runner, a suitable receiver, and a capable blocker. He’s got great field vision and moves extremely well in both traffic and the open field.
The things that Chandler could improve on? As a receiver, he needs to be more consistent with his hands. There were a lot of quick throws as the check-down option that I saw him drop. As a blocker, he just needs to work on his strength and lower his pad level. He’s a capable blocker, but it was clear that Tennessee preferred having Tim Jordan on the field in those situations.
Overall, Chandler is an excellent prospect who just needs the repetition and production this year to ascend into the upper echelon of draft boards. The tools are there, now we want to see it all come together for him.
Grade: Future Impact (2+ Years Back-Up).
IOL Trey Smith (Sr)
#73 | 6’5″ | 325 lbs | Jackson (Jackson, Tennessee)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2020 season for the Tennessee Volunteers was getting back their star interior lineman, Trey Smith. He was a 2017 Freshman All-SEC but missed the last 5 games of the 2018 season due to a career-threatening injury. He returned for the 2019 season healthy and earned 1st Team All-SEC honors. Smith is a fantastic individual, named to the 2018 SEC Community Service Team, and was a finalist for the 2019 Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award.
Not many expected Smith to return to Tennessee, but he did to put teams at ease about his injury history. Another healthy season in the SEC will most certainly do that.
On the tape, Smith is an absolute boss. Talent-wise, he’s one of the best prospects in the country at the guard position (if not the best). He has excellent footwork and leads very well into his anchor, and is the strongest body on the Tennessee offensive line. I don’t see him miss many assignments at all, in fact, he impacts the game on many levels and not just his assignment. He has a natural understanding of what the defense is doing, clearly doing a tremendous amount of tape study, and reacts accordingly to the play call.
If I had to criticize him, it’s that he tries to do too much on the field sometimes, and I think it was because he knew he had a true freshman tackle next to him and he tried to make up for the lack of experience himself. He does need to learn how to settle into his assignment and take that down before he starts working on other assignments.
Grade: Instant Impact (Immediate Starter).
IOL Brandon Kennedy (6th-Sr)
#55 | 6’2″ | 290 lbs | Wetumpka (Wetumpka, Alabama)
Brandon Kennedy enters his third season in Knoxville after having transferred to Tennessee from the University of Alabama. He started the first game of the 2018 season against West Virginia before falling victim to a season-ending injury in practice. Kennedy started every game at center in 2019, though, and was one of the highest graded linemen on the Tennessee front.
Kennedy is very quick, and it’ll take people by surprise. His sturdy frame and low pad level allows him to move people downhill as a run blocker while his crafty hand placement allow him to properly control defenders.
He’s not the biggest or strongest body on the line, but he has a suitable size that won’t hurt his NFL chances. What’s going to hurt them is the very long injury history that saw him get his 6th year of eligibility. He missed the entirety of the 2018 season (except for the season opener) because of a knee injury. He has a minor procedure done on it after the 2019 regular-season finale and was a game-time decision in the Volunteers bowl game.
Grade: Low Impact (Future Starter).
IDL Aubrey Solomon (Sr)
#98 | 6’4″ | 305 lbs | Lee County (Leesburg, Georgia)
Aubrey Solomon is the transfer from Michigan entering his second year in Knoxville. Last season with the Volunteers, he started 9 of 12 games that he appeared in, and finished the season with 28 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks. He had only appeared in 18 games at Michigan, including 13 his true freshman campaign.
Solomon isn’t just a random transfer interior defensive lineman. He was the 2nd ranked player coming out of Georgia in 2017, and a 4 star prospect. He played in the 2017 Army All-American Bowl and received MaxPreps All-American honors.
The thing you have to understand about Solomon’s game is that he is a powerful space-eater. He’s not someone who has good speed to really pressure the quarterback, but is rather someone who can eat run plays, prevent runs from moving to the second level, and compress the pocket. He’s excellent working on offensive lineman, and disengages from blocks well to come off and make a play on the run.
That being said, Solomon doesn’t have a great motor. His energy level isn’t great either, which is why Tennessee feels the need to rotate so many defensive linemen every game. If Solomon puts everything together this season, the Volunteers could make him a very interesting prospect for a lot of NFL teams to consider.
Grade: Future Impact (2+ Years Back-Up).
IDL Emmit Gooden (Rs-Sr)
#93 | 6’2″ | 285 lbs | Haywood (Brownsville, Tennessee)
Emmit Gooden is an exciting talent. A JUCO transfer who arrived to the program in 2018, Gooden immediately impacted at Tennessee, appearing in all 12 games throughout Jeremy Pruitt’s debut season and even getting a start against Vanderbilt. However, his 2019 season was ended before it began, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury during fall camp.
In 2018, Gooden recorded 33 tackles, 7 TFL, and a sack. He’s another run plugger and doesn’t offer much in the aspect of pass rushing. He’s very powerful, and he can command the game when he is on. That knee injury will be concerning for NFL teams considering drafting him, and so I think that this year is crucial for Gooden to perform and show what he can do.
Grade: Project (Uncertain Future).
CB Shawn Shamburger (Sr)
#12 | 5’10” | 180 lbs | Colquitt County (Mobile, Alabama)
Shawn Shamburger is a three-year letterman who has been a contributor to the defense since day one. He’s appeared in 36 career games and started 15 of them. Now, he enters his second season as a starter with 77 career tackles, 4 sacks, and a career interception.
Shamburger was used in the nickel role, playing a hybrid safety/cornerback mix. He has the speed of a cornerback, but can be a valuable run support piece as well as a good tackler. Tennessee preferred playing him closer to the line because of his physical playing style.
Shamburger is fast, and when he wants to move, he can do so with relative ease. His hips are extremely fluid as well. However, Shamburger isn’t the strongest prospect, and he bites on a quick fake-release move while playing press far too often. He won’t have the speed to cover receivers on an island down the field in the NFL, so it should limit his potential role at the next level.
Grade: Future Impact (2+ Years Back-Up).
Tennessee Volunteers NFL Draft Projections
The Volunteers have a rich history of wonderful talent, and the NFL does consider the school to be a solid pipeline of talent. Regardless, it’s an SEC school and those are appealing to any NFL team.
Trey Smith will be a hot name throughout the NFL Draft cycle, mostly because of his injury history. If he stays healthy in 2020, he will probably be a first round pick. He is by far the most talented prospect on this team.
I really like Ty Chandler, and I think the NFL will too. If he has a productive season, even if he shares the backfield, he could be drafted sooner than most people think. Chandler is capable in all aspects of the offense, and a very good runner.
Aubrey Solomon has an excellent chance to put everything together and become a very effective football player. He’s the exact type of a body that any defense would like to add to their rotation, and that may be the reason he gets drafted (if he does at all).
Instant Impact (Immediate Starter)
IOL Trey Smith
Low Impact (Future Starter)
IOL Brandon Kennedy
Future Impact (2+ Years Back-Up)
QB Jarrett Guarantano
RB Ty Chandler^
IDL Aubrey Solomon^
CB Shawn Shamburger
Project (Uncertain Future)
IDL Emitt Gooden
^Denotes that there is more than a 50% chance that prospect will improve draft grade during the 2020 season.