Tennessee football: Velus Jones Jr., Kivon Bennett named wild card Vols by Athlon

Athlon is high on the potential of these two Tennessee football Volunteers.

Despite a ton of returning talent heading into the season, Tennessee football lost a lot of production in the few players who did graduate this past year. That includes its two leaders in sacks and its two leading receivers.

As a result, there are plenty of candidates for wild card players who could potentially break out in Jeremy Pruitt’s third season, and it makes sense that an edge rusher and a wide receiver could be on that list. That’s at least how one outlet sees it.

Eric Sorenson of Athlon named rising redshirt junior outside linebacker Kivon Bennett and rising fifth-year senior receiver Velus Jones Jr., a graduate transfer from the USC Trojans, for Tennessee football when naming his top wild card players on each side of the ball for SEC teams heading into 2020. Here’s a look at what Sorenson said about them.

With quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, a bevy of running backs, and possibly the best offensive line in the SEC East, the only thing that is missing is the receiving corps. Josh Palmer (34 catches) returns, but virtually no one else does. That’s what makes Jones, a USC transfer, such a valuable asset to this 2020 offense. Jones has good speed and soft hands, but he also was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner in 2019 as a junior, so look for him to be a force on special teams too.

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The Vols will miss the influence of Darrell Taylor, who was a deft edge rusher with 16.5 total sacks the past two seasons. Bennett, who is not technically a returning starter, did rack up 6.0 tackles for a loss out of his 27 overall tackles last season, but he is expected to take up the Taylor role this season to give the Vols some semblance of a pass rush. By the way, if he can do anything to improve on UT’s lowly four fumble recoveries from 2019, that’d be good too.

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Although Sorenson left out Brandon Johnson as a guy who’s back after redshirting in 2019, Johnson is a wideout just like Palmer. As a result, Jones still has a chance to thrive as a speedy slot receiver at 6’0″ 190 pounds. His best year receiving at USC came in 2018, when he had 24 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown while adding a rushing touchdown.

A product of Saraland High School in Saraland, Ala. who is now reunited with Tee Martin, Jones could also be a breakout player as a return specialist. He was USC’s feature kickoff returner for three years, and last year he had a kickoff returned for a touchdown while averaging over 24 yards per return.

On the other side of the ball, Bennett appears to be preparing to fill the big shoes Taylor left. He and Deandre Johnson will both likely start as outside linebackers, but Bennett, who stands at 6’2″ 235 pounds and is a product of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is more built in the mold of Taylor.

Last year, Bennett tied LaTrell Bumphus for No. 2 on the team in tackles for a loss behind Taylor with six. They both also had two sacks, and Bennett had 27 tackles overall, 13 of which were solo. Much of that was as a by-committee starter, so as a likely full-time starter this year, it’s clear why he could be a breakout player.

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There are other positions of production that could produce wild card stars. After all, Tennessee football lost its leader in interceptions in Nigel Warrior and its best tackler in Daniel Bituli. But receiving and edge rushing are the biggest holes to fill, so naming Jones and Bennett makes sense.

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