Butch Jones’ 2016 Tennessee recruiting class wasn’t as heralded as many of his previous recruiting classes, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t include a bevy of seriously gifted players.
In its first season, many members of Tennessee’s class of 2016 were given opportunities to contribute right away.
Of the 22 members of the class, 13 saw playing time in at least one game.
Those 13 players combined for 107 games of action, including five players who played in at least 10 of 13 games and three others who played in nine games. If there’s one knock, however, it’s that the group only managed to turn 7 of those 107 game appearances into starts — two each for Baylen Buchanan, Jonathan Kongbo and Jeff George and one for Nigel Warrior.
Most of the snaps for Tennessee’s class of 2016 came on defense, but there were a few notable contributors at the receiver and running back positions.
Receiver Tyler Byrd looks to be a major contributor for the Vols in 2017. He showed off his ability catching 15 passes for 209 yards as a true freshman and even had 8 carries for 63 yards, although he still has yet to find the end zone. With a talented group of receivers ahead of him, it’ll still be a fight for players like he, Marquez Callaway and George to see significant upticks in playing time.
Carlin Fils-aime, on the other hand, has a chance to be a major contributor in 2017 in place of Alvin Kamara. Fils-aime didn’t get much playing time behind John Kelly and Kamara, but he did net 2 touchdowns on his 14 carries for 58 yards. His 14 carries are the second-most for a returning Tennessee running back behind Kelly.
The tandem of Warrior, Buchanan and Konbo is really where this class left its mark.
Each recorded double-digit tackles, with Warrior and Buchanan both eclipsing the 20-tackle mark. Buchanan also added a pass deflection to his contributions.
Kongbo, the JUCO transfer, made the most of his 11 tackles by netting 3 tackles for loss and a sack. He also had 7 quarterback hurries.
All three of them could see their roles increase next season.
Tennessee handed out just a handful of redshirts to the 2016 class — quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, offensive tackle Ryan Johnson, offensive lineman Devante Brooks and outside linebacker Ja’Quain Blakely.
Three others — defensive lineman Mykelle McDaniel, receiver Latrell Williams and offensive lineman Nathan Niehaus — were not given redshirts according to Tennessee’s 2017 roster despite not registering any participation in the 2016 season.
Of that group, Guarantano may have the best shot of seeing some serious playing time in 2017. He’s in the thick of the quarterback battle, along with Quinten Dormady, Sheriron Jones and true freshman Will McBride, to replace Josh Dobbs.
Johnson, also a four-star recruit, has a bit of an offensive-line logjam to overcome, with just one starter on last year’s line being a senior.
The Vols also lost one player from the 2016 class — running back Jeremy Lewis. Lewis, who had 6 carries for 34 yards. Lewis announced he was leaving the program in November.
For the most part, Tennessee’s 2016 class mostly served as special teams pieces, which could actually continue for the most part in 2017.
While there are a few major pieces to replace on both sides of the ball, including Dobbs, Cam Sutton, Derek Barnett, Josh Malone and Kamara, the Vols were a junior-heavy team last season, which doesn’t leave a lot of starting spots up for grabs.
Guarantano has a real chance to nab the starting quarterback job, which would be a huge boost to the 2016 class. Fils-aime will also have his chance to get some added snaps with Kamara moving on and Byrd is sure to get a chance to help replace the catches lost by Malone’s departure.
On defense, Kongbo is sure to get first dibs to start at defensive tackle next season, while Sutton’s corner spot is Buchanan’s to lose. But outside of that, there isn’t a lot of extra space for defensive players to jump in. Even super talented players like Nigel Warrior are still looking forward at the same player that was in front of him last year, safety Micah Abernathy.
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