The Tennessee Volunteers will be well represented in the upcoming NFL Draft for the first time in several years. That's nice, but the drawback is that the Vols will have plenty of big shoes to fill on Rocky Top in 2017. In order to help fill that void, Butch Jones will undoubtedly have to turn to some of the younger players on his roster.
While it will be a tall order to replace the likes of Joshua Dobbs and Derek Barnett (amongst others), Tennessee does have a promising group of young candidates that have the potential to step up. That includes one particularly special redshirt freshman, as well as a handful of talented prospects that were added by way of this year’s No. 17 ranked recruiting class. Here is a closer look at five newcomers that could see the field early and often as the Volunteers attempt to make another run at the SEC East in 2017.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB – RS Freshman
Following a redshirt in his first year in Knoxville, Guarantano appears poised to make a run at the Vols’ vacant starting quarterback position this fall. The former Under Armour All-American will have to beat out the slightly more experienced Quinten Dormady to earn the honor. However, many feel that Guarantano’s athleticism and dual-threat abilities make for a better fit in Butch Jones’ offense. If he earns the spot, Guarantano could easily have the biggest impact of any player on the Vols’ roster in 2017.
Trey Smith, OL – Freshman
The Volunteers return four of their five starters on the offensive line from 2016. They also feature a host of other experienced offensive linemen that help make up one of Tennessee’s deepest position groups heading into 2017. That being said, it will be difficult to keep the Vols’ most prized 2017 recruit on the sidelines this fall. Trey Smith was ranked the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation for a reason. At 6-6 and 313 lbs., Smith has an SEC ready frame and a nasty disposition on the field to go along with it. As an early-enrollee, Smith should immediately be able to put himself in the running for a starting position. His impact could go a long way in helping the Vol offense this season and beyond.
Ty Chandler, RB – Freshman
The Vols return just two scholarship running backs from last year’s team, making it one of the thinnest position groups on the team. Tennessee addressed this issue by adding three running backs to its 2017 signing class. The most prominent addition being Army All-American Ty Chandler. The nation’s No. 5 ranked high school running back rushed for 6,158 yards and 92 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. Chandler projects to be a prominent fixture in the Tennessee rushing attack in 2017.
Will Ignont, LB – Freshman
Tennessee’s depth at linebacker was seriously put to the test last season following a rash of injuries, and the results were not pretty as the Vols were gashed repeatedly down the stretch. That is a big reason why 4-star linebacker Will Ignont became a priority for Butch Jones in the ’17 signing class. At 6-2 and 237 lbs., this one-time Alabama commit is SEC ready. He should see the field early in 2017, and at a minimum, Ignont will add some much-needed quality depth to the Vols’ linebacker corps and play a significant role on special teams.
Matthew Butler, DL – Freshman
Butler flew under-the-radar with regard to several of the recruiting services, but a monster senior season at Garner High School in North Carolina speaks for itself. He racked up 96 tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in his final year of high school ball. Those numbers are practically unprecedented for a defensive linemen, which is a big reason why he was able to garner first-team Parade All-America honors. His ability to play either defensive end or defensive tackle in college, which are both huge positions of need for the Vols, makes him a very special addition to the 2017 signing class. Butler should quickly find his way into the Volunteers’ defensive line rotation, along with fellow freshman Eric Crosby.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.