KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Justin Hunter (sort of) announced Monday what most had long assumed: He will forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
Junior Cordarrelle Patterson will likely take the same path, although he deserves the chance to make the announcement on his own terms.*
Hunter and Patterson will get the most attention, but the loss of two seniors — tight end Mychal Rivera and receiver Zach Rogers — will also seriously deplete the Vols’ receiving game.
There is no position that will undergo a greater rebuilding in 2013, and first-year coach Butch Jones and his newly hired receivers coach, Zach Azzanni, will have to break in receivers this spring and summer in order to have some bodies ready for the opener.
Let’s first take a look at the production the Vols are (potentially) losing…
1. Justin Hunter: 73 catches, 1,083 yards, 9 touchdowns.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson: 46 catches, 778 yards, 5 touchdowns.
3. Mychal Rivera: 36 catches, 562 yards, 5 touchdowns.
4. Zach Rogers, 32 catches, 491 yards, 7 touchdowns.
Total: 187 catches, 2,914 yards, 26 touchdowns.
To put those numbers in perspective, that’s 66 percent of the Vols’ overall receptions and 77 percent of Tennessee’s overall receiving yardage in 2012. Much of that remaining production was handled by running backs. The list of other receivers who contributed is quite slim.
Now let’s look at the receivers who caught passes in 2012 and are returning in 2013…
1. Vincent Dallas: 9 catches, 149 yards, 1 touchdown.
2. Jacob Carter: 8 catches, 126 yards, 1 touchdown.
3. Alton “Pig” Howard: 13 catches, 54 yards, 1 touchdown.
Dallas, who started the season at defensive back before moving to receiver, will be a junior in 2013. Jacob Carter, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship in August, will be a senior in 2013. Howard was a freshmen in 2012.
That’s a pretty short list.
Who else will be back?
1. Cody Blanc, who played in 11 games as a freshman in 2012 but did not catch a pass.
2. Drae Bowles, who redshirted.
3. Jason Croom, who will likely get a medical redshirt after playing three games in 2012. He was considered a likely candidate to move to tight end.
4. Walk-ons Dylan West, Sam Cranford and Tyler Drummer. Drummer will be a senior holder.
The Vols have at least two receivers committed to their 2013 signing class in Paul Harris and Josh Smith. Cameron Sutton is listed as athlete but is likely to play cornerback in college (another position of need for UT). Jalen Reeves-Maybin, also listed as an athlete, could play any number of positions but is not considered a likely receiver.
* A note on Patterson: I get the sense the Patterson and his family have been a bit annoyed at Internet chatter that he has yet to see the inside of a classroom at Tennessee. In fact, I’ve heard he tried to end the semester the right way. Few people expect him to return for his senior year, but there’s no evidence that he’s been anything other than a model citizen during his brief time at UT. That ought to count for something.
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