Josh Heupel has always been supremely confident in the next man up mentality at wide receiver. When Tennessee football lost 1,000-yard receiver Cedric Tillman, Jalin Hyatt stepped up and became a Biletnikoff Award winner.
Now, both receivers are going to the NFL and opting out of the Vols’ Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers. That opens the door for a new star to break out.
Two of the three potential breakout stars have already been starting most of the year anyway at wideout with Tillman hurt, Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton. Ron Slay named McCoy as the breakout offensive star when speaking on Off The Hook Sports Wednesday.
At 6’3″ 220 pounds, it’s easy to see why McCoy has the most pro potential. He caught 48 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Starting alongside him, though, Keyton really emerged as a solid complementary wideout. He caught 27 passes for 486 yards and four touchdowns.
It seemed like Keyton was always able to make a key catch when it mattered. He had the diving catch to spark the Tennessee football offense against the Florida Gators, and he made a huge catch on the game-winning drive against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
To be fair, Keyton and McCoy both came up big in that drive against Alabama. Also, McCoy had a key touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers earlier in the year, so they both have come up big.
The main replacement, though, will be in the slot, as that’s the role Hyatt occupied. Squirrel White will likely take that on, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t be just as good.
With 21 catches for 373 yards and a touchdown, White moved past Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holiday as the No. 2 slot option behind Hyatt. He is also Joe Milton III’s favorite target.
White’s only touchdown, 11 of his catches and 239 of his yards were on passes form Milton. They are already establishing a rapport, and it could emerge in this game.
More importantly, Heupel has proven that the slot position can easily be filled. Before Hyatt, Velus Jones Jr. had 62 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. If not for Tillman getting hurt, Hyatt probably would’ve had similar numbers this year.
Simply put, without Hyatt and Tillman, Tennessee football has options for its next breakout star at receiver. The only question will be whether or not Milton can get the ball to them. McCoy, Keyton and White should work well together.