All the talk surrounding Tennessee football this offseason has been the quarterback race when it comes to personnel on the field. The Vols do have lots of talent at receiver and running. back, though, even if lots of it is unproven.
One of those receivers was named by Matt Howe of 247Sports as the Vols’ biggest game changer this year. Howe gave that title to Jalin Hyatt, one of a couple receivers expected to step up amidst the departure of Josh palmer.
A rising sophomore, Hyatt stands at 6’0″ 175 pounds and was third on the team in receiving last year, catching 20 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Here’s a bit of what Howe wrote about the Tennessee football skill player.
"A true freshman in 2020, Hyatt was a bright spot in a Tennessee offense that often struggled.…Among SEC freshmen, Hyatt ranked sixth in receiving yards and third in yards per catch (13.8), and of his 20 catches, six were for more than 20 yards, three were for more than 30 yards and 10 went for first downs."
While there are lots of expectations for Hyatt to break out this year, it’s a bit shocking that Howe named him as the biggest game changer. There are a couple of open roster spots and key returners who seem to have proven more.
For starters, Hyatt was second in receiving last year among guys returning. Velus Jones Jr., fifth-year senior receiver, was first with 22 catches for 280 yards and three touchdowns. In the spring, Jones outperformed Hyatt, and he also can double as a return specialist. Simply put, it makes a lot more sense for him to be the biggest game changer.
If Howe is not going to go with Jones, though, he should look at a running back. Given the transfers of Eric Gray and Ty Chandler, last year’s top two producers on offense, to the Oklahoma Sooners and North Carolina Tar Heels respectively, there is a major opening for Jabari Small, Tiyon Evans or somebody else to step up and become a star.
Of course, then there is the quarterback race. Josh Heupel’s offensive system is built around elite quarterback play, and that makes it likely that Harrison Bailey, Joe Milton or Hendon Hooker becomes the top game changer.
What’s clear, though, is that quarterback or offensive skill player will be Tennessee football’s top game changer this year. Howe is certainly right about that. Whether or not that game changer is Hyatt, who still has a lot to prove, remains to be seen.