During Tennessee’s spot at the SEC Media Days on Tuesday afternoon, Butch Jones was asked about his wide receivers and the upcoming season. In response, Jones stated that the Vols are “the orignal wide receiver U” and are well on their way to proving once again why they deserve that title.
Many teams claim to be “the original (enter position of choice here) U” based on that team’s historical success at that position. For example, USC claims to be “linebacker U,” and the stats tend to back up their claim. Over the last 50 years, only Alabama has had as many linebackers drafted in the 1st round of the NFL (9) as the Trojans.
So does Tennessee live up to Butch Jones’s claim as the original “wide receiver U?” Does history support his statement, and what suggests the Vols are on their way back to reclaiming that moniker?
Most of the arguments for schools being considered for the positional “U” title is based on how successful that school is in placing players in the NFL. Based on the numbers from the NFL Draft, Tennessee is definitely in the conversation for “wide receiver U.”
Since 1971, the Vols have had 34 wide receivers drafted, including 11 1st round selections, which is by far the most in that span. Tennessee had 10 wide receivers drafted in the 80’s, including 3 in the 1983 draft, which saw Willie Gault go to the Chicago Bears in the 1st round. The Vols also had a wide receiver drafted every year in the 90’s, aside from 1993. This includes 3 in the 1991 draft, which was headlined by Alvin Harper going to the Dallas Cowboys with the 12th overall pick.
If the draft numbers fail to persuade, one need only take a look at statistical records to find more proof.
Peerless Price is tied with Andre Johnson for most receiving yards in a BCS National Championship game with 199 yards. Price amassed those yards on only 4 receptions, and his yards per reception average (49.8) is the highest in any BCS bowl during the BCS bowl era (minimum 3 receptions).
The Vols also top several yearly SEC statistical categories. Larry Seivers led the SEC in receptions in 1975 and ’76, and Carl Pickens followed in his footsteps by doing the same in 1990 and ’91. Da’Rick Rogers led the SEC in receptions in 2011 with 67 receptions.
Joey Kent (1995), Marcus Nash (1997), and Robert Meachem (2006) all led the SEC in receiving yards per game in a season. Kelley Washington set the SEC record for most yards per catch in a game in 2001 with 23.3 yards per catch on 11 catches for 256 yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson led the SEC in all-purpose yards in 2012 with 1,858 receiving, rushing, punt return, and kick return yards. Stanley Morgan led the SEC with most points scored in a season in both 1974 and 1975.
While these numbers are impressive, there is something unsettling about the dates for most of the records and draft numbers. Aside from Robert Meachem and Cordarelle Patterson, nearly every other statistical leader or significant draft product is over fifteen years removed from playing for the Vols. So why does Butch Jones think the Vols still deserve to be called “wide receiver U?” Why does he believe they are on their way back to earning that title?
A look at more recent history seems to back up Jones’s claim, and the future certainly seems bright at the position. Denarius Moore ended a 4 year drought for Tennessee receivers in the NFL Draft in 2011 when the Oakland Raiders selected him in the 5th round, and the Vols added a pair of receivers to the NFL only two years later.
Cordarrellee Patterson became the first receiver selected in the 1st round since Meachem in 2007, and Justin Hunter joined him in the 2nd round, making it the first time since 1998 that two Tennessee receivers had been drafted in the same NFL Draft.
And as great as Hunter and Patterson were for the Vols in 2012, the future at wide receiver is looking even brighter on Rocky Top. Marquez North was the most productive freshman receiver the Vols have seen since both Kelley Washington and Hunter, and he has two new teammates in 2014 that could wind up being one of the best wide receiver trios in not only Tennessee history, but in all the SEC as well.
Josh Malone was rated as a consensus high 4-star or 5-star wide receiver product in the 2014 recruiting class, often ranked the top recruit in the state of Tennessee by those services who didn’t have running back Jalen Hurd in that spot. Von Pearson joins Cordarrelle Patterson as a high-profile JUCO receiver to join the Vols in recent years, as he was the No. 2 JUCO receiver in the 2014 class. Both possess extremely high ceilings, and both impressed at various times throughout spring practices. If both live up to their hype, then SEC defenses beware.
The Vols also have a commitment from another elite receiver in the 2015 recruiting class. The No. 1 receiver in the nation, Preston Williams, has pledged his services to the Vols for 2015, and he may not be the only top receiver who joins Tennessee. Van Jefferson and Christian Kirk are two more high-profile receivers the Vols have a legitimate shot at landing.
It’s because of this recent recruiting surge that Jones’s claim that the Vols are well on their way to reclaiming the “wide receiver U” title cannot be scoffed at. The aforementioned trio doesn’t even take into account Alton “Pig” Howard’s potential and the rising stock of Jason Croom, as both figure to play significant roles in 2014 and beyond.
From Larry Seivers, Stanley Morgan, and Anthony Hancock in the late 70’s and early 80’s to Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, and Peerles Price in the 90’s to Donte’ Stallworth, Kelley Washington, and Robert Meachem in the 2000’s, the Vols have had a plethora of talented receivers don the orange and white. And if Justin Hunter, Cordarrellee Patterson, Marquez North, and the most recent recruits are any indication of the future, “wide receiver U” looks to be back in business.
Now if only Butch Jones can find the newest Vol receivers a quarterback to get them the ball.
All SEC and Tennessee records not attributed were via UTsports.com