Tennessee football’s Ty Chandler is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list. Here’s how the Volunteers running back could win it in 2019.
The Doak Walker is right there with the Heisman Trophy when it comes to awards that Tennessee football players were robbed from winning. Sure, there’s Peyton Manning and Johnny Majors when it comes to the Heisman.
But Travis Stephens lost out on the Doak Walker to BYU Cougars running back Luke Staley. And it came the week after he torched the Florida Gators for over 200 yards on the ground in what would be Steve Spurrier’s final home game with UF.
Such an experience left a sour taste in the mouths of Vols fans when it comes to that award. But with the news that Tennessee football running back Ty Chandler was among the 72 candidates on the preseason Doak Walker Award Watch List, there is attention being paid to it again.
Chandler appears to have the tools to win it. He was the Vols’ best offensive weapon by far last year, averaging five and a half yards per carry en route to 630 yards on the ground while adding 186 receiving yards and scoring seven total touchdowns. As an athletic back who added physicality, there are almost no weaknesses in Chandler’s game.
Remember, he had that average with what was a historically bad offensive line blocking. That combined with the fact that he has the highest grade as a receiving running back in the SEC according to Pro Football Focus College serve as proof that he’s an incredibly talented player.
So what’s going to hold him back from winning the Doak Walker? Well, there are two things. Tennessee football remains unproven on the offensive line, which could be a big issue for new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. And the Vols’ coaching staff may not use him enough.
Jeremy Pruitt has emphasized the need to use running backs by-committee. Meanwhile, with so many elite receivers and Jarrett Guarantano’s big arm, Chaney will want to air it out lots more than he did last year.
Even with those things, though, there’s still a path to the Doak Walker Award for Chandler. Provided the offensive line does take a dramatic step forward, Chaney’s offense has proven that it allows for multiple 1,000-yard rushers. Even if three backs are used, the usage rate and average still gives Chandler a chance at 1,000 yards.
He’d only need 15 carries a game and keep his averages last year to do that. Assuming the offensive line gets better, you could conceive of Chandler only needing about 12 carries a game. So that’s where he gets his 1,000 yards. However, for the Doak Walker, he probably needs closer to 1,200. So, again, the goal should be to find a way to get Chandler 15 carries.
Then you utilize him in the passing game. Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer, Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson all provide great size in the passing game. Dominick Wood-Anderson is another great option for Guarantano at tight end.
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But there is no true speedy slot receiver. So Chaney will have to use Chandler more than most coaches use backs in the passing game. To do that, Chandler needs to spend the offseason picking up blocking schemes. That’s a big reason the coaches had Tim Jordan in there over him at times last year.
If Chandler picks up blocking schemes, he’ll be incorporated into the passing game much more often. Should that happen, you could see Chandler rack up 500 receiving yards on the year. If Chandler does that with his 1,200 rushing yards and also gets 12 to 15 touchdowns in the process, then yes, a Doak Walker Award could come calling.
To do this, Tennessee football’s offensive line needs to improve, Chaney needs to give Chandler about 15 carries a game, and Chandler needs to pick up blocking schemes so he can be used on more passing downs. Those three things could put him in great position to win a Doak Walker Award and right the wrong that was delivered to Stephens 18 years ago.