Tennessee football: Byron Young declaring for NFL Draft leaves wide open race at edge

This is something we partially expected. Tennessee football edge rusher Byron Young is declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft. That we figured would happen. However, he also revealed he’d play for the Vols in the Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers.

With this move, Young is doing what Darnell Wright is doing. Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, however, have opted out of the bowl. These are decisions only the players can make. Still, it’s clear Young gives the Vols a better chance to win against Clemson.

It’s also clear, though, that Tennessee football is about to have a wide open race at edge next year after losing one of its greatest weapons and overachievers over the past two seasons. Young announced his decisions Thursday afternoon on Twitter.

Tim Banks often ran LaTrell Bumphus and Young opposite each other at the two defensive end or edge rusher spots. Bumphus is out of eligibility now, and Young is gone. That would seem to suggest Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison will step in and fill those roles.

Banks and Josh Heupel probably want that, but there is now a ton of competition at the spot. Joshua Josephs and James Pearce Jr. were huge pickups in the Vols’ 2022 recruiting class, and both had multiple tackles for a loss this year. The coaches have believed in them for a while.

Meanwhile, Caleb Herring is a high-profile edge rusher in the 2023 recruiting class who is already practicing with Tennessee football as they prepare for their bowl game. Herring, Josephs and Pearce could all be in competition to take one of the spots on the end.

Finally, Chandavian Bradley is another high-profile commitment who signed with the Vols Wednesday. As a result, he’ll be there by next summer, and that allows the Vols to go six-deep at the position. Daevin Hobbs, Tyree Weathersby and Nathan Robinson are also all defensive line commitments who could play edge too if needed.

Simply put, Heupel has a lot of options next year, and he’s not going to have his star edge rusher from the past two years. That means the race for those two spots is going to be wide open, even if Baron is the favorite to occupy one of them.

Young finishes his Tennessee football career with 10.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for a loss, an interception, two pass deflections and 80 tackles, 39 of which were solo, over 22 games the past two years. Like Tillman, he was an overlooked prospect who thrived under Heupel, and his story is among the best. He’ll be great int he pros.