These are the top 10 Tennessee football players you need to know for 2016. Get acquainted with the Volunteers’ key stars to watch out for.
1. DE Derek Barnett, Jr.
The only thing that’s missing is that he’s not Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. Barnett is a devastating pass rusher, an active presence against the run, and has all the skills to be just the type of hybrid producer NFL teams are drooling over. Can he take his game up one extra notch to become a sure-thing first round must-have prospect?
At 6-3 and 257 pounds he’s just big enough to hold his own, making 72 tackles as a freshman and 69 last year. But his real worth is as a terror behind the line, coming up with 20.5 tackles for loss as a freshman and with 12.5 last year, coming up with ten sacks in each season.
Consistent, he’s always making plays and always producing, with at least one sack in seven of his last eight games, and best of all, he can’t be double-teamed on every play – the rest of the line will be too good.
2. QB Joshua Dobbs, Sr.
While he wasn’t that bad, he didn’t take his game to another level and didn’t carry the team through the adversity late in a few key games. But the hope is for so much more, because he’s got everything in place to put together a special season and be the star on a national scale.
The ideal leader everyone wants as their quarterback, he’s the smartest guy in almost any room, he’s got the right personality, and he can do it all on the field with 671 rushing yards and 11 scores while hitting 60% of his passes for 2,291 yards and 15 score and five picks. Again, that’s all fine, but he sputtered against Oklahoma and threw just two touchdown passes in the four losses.
At 6-3 and 207 pounds, and with silky-smooth running ability, he’s plays the part, he has the experience, and he knows how to produce. Now he needs to come up with a few big wins and pull out a few clutch performances.
3. RB Jalen Hurd, Jr.
One of the most powerful runners in an SEC full of power runners, the 6-4, 240-pound Hurd is like a hybrid defensive end thumping his way through defenses. Hardly just a plowhorse, he caught 22 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns.
A workhorse when needed, he’s good for 20 carries or more and is phenomenal at wearing down defenses with six 100-yard games including the final three games of the year. The passing game should start to do more, but he’s the steadying factor who’ll control games.
4. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Sr.
He chose to come back for his senior season – he likely would’ve been a second round draft pick – and now he should be among the SEC’s best all-around linebackers after coming up with an all-star junior year. He’s only 6-0 and 225 pounds, but he’s able to get in on every play with a team-leading 105 stops to go along with six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. A big hitter, he’s a guided missile to the ball, but most of all he’s a team leader who’ll set the tone for the defense once he’s healthy – he missed time this spring but should be ready for fall camp.
5. OG Dylan Wiesman, Sr.
Still improving, he came up with a strong second half of last year to turn into one of the key cogs up front. The line should be stronger and more consistent this year, and while there’s talent on the outside, the 6-4, 304-pound veteran on the inside will be the blaster. A steady, two-time academic all-star, he can play either guard spot and he should be just on the verge of All-SEC honors if all goes according to plan.
6. S/KR Evan Berry, Jr.
Is he ready to shine for the secondary? He only made 15 tackles last season, and he only came up with one pick, he made things happen whenever he got the ball in his hands. The 5-11, 207-pounder took that one interception 100 yards in the bowl blowout over Northwestern, and he dominated as an All-American kick returner averaging over 38 yards per try with three scores, taking one the distance against Kentucky and another against Arkansas. The brother of former superstar and current Kansas City Chief Eric Berry, he’s got the talent to become a bigger factor on D, but if he can do it all again as a return man, he’ll be doing his job.
7. RB Alvin Kamara, Jr.
Adding a different look to the offense than the pounding Jalen Hurd, the 5-10, 215-pound former Alabama back went the JUCO route and came up with a nice first season for the Vols running for 698 yards and seven touchdowns averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Versatile, he caught 34 passes for 291 yards and three scores and even returned a punt for a score. He started out with 144 yards and two scores in the blowout over Bowling Green, and ran for 127 yards and two scores against North Texas, but he’ll now play a bigger part in the rotation.
8. LB Darrin Kirkland, Soph.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin might be the leader and the best linebacker in the corps, but Kirkland will be next up and this will be his defense next year – he’s that type of player with that type of attitude. He’s only 6-1 and 224 pounds, but he proved he could handle the work in the middle as a true freshman making 66 tackles with a pick and 6.5 tackles for loss. He needs to be a little bigger, but he flies around and brings the thump when he gets to the ball. If it’s not Reeves-Maybin, Kirkland will lead the team in tackles.
9. DT Kahlil McKenzie, Soph.
And here it comes. The nation’s No. 1 recruit according to most last year, McKenzie got his feet wet as a true freshman making 24 tackles with a sack, but now it’s anchor time. He’s 6-3 and 344 pounds with the body type and talent to be a true nose tackle for everything to work around, but he’s trying to get his weight down and he’s looking to be more active. The NFL ability and upside are all there, and once he matures into his frame, and once he gets into the right conditioning track, he’s going to be an all-star. He’ll be in everyone’s 2018 NFL first round mock draft.
10. P Trevor Daniel, Jr.
An all-star difference-maker for the defense, he’s phenomenal at getting the team out of jams averaging close to 46 yards per blast putting 25 of his kicks inside the 20. There might be a few too many touchbacks, but that can be tweaked. At 6-1 and 248 pounds he’s a big kicker with a massive leg, and this year he should be in the mix for All-America honors if he can keep on blasting away.