The Tennessee Volunteer knew that wide receiver would be a priority in the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes. The Vols lost Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Tyler Byrd at the end of the 2019 season, and the 2020 season will see Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson depart the program as well. That left the Vols needing to replace a significant amount of production, talent, and depth in their receiving corps. In 2020 the Vols made the receiver position a priority, signing four pass-catchers rated as four-star players, Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Calloway, Dee Beckwith, and Malachi Wideman, with Jimmy Holiday as another potential option. In the 2021 cycle, Tennessee has continued to try to infuse talent into Tee Martin's receiver room, adding Jordan Mosely and Walker Merrill so far in the class. Today, the Vols added another immensely talented, four-star receiver to their class with the commitment of Centennial High School (Roswell, GA) product Julian Nixon.
Nixon is a big wide receiver at 6’4” and 210 pounds going into his senior year of high school. Because of his size, Nixon is extremely difficult to jam for corners. He uses his size well to play through contact, fight through corners, and get out into his route. Nixon has excellent size, but so do many athletes playing at the receiver position. Nixon separates himself from the pack by pairing his size with elite ball skills. Shown when working back-shoulder throws, Nixon locates the ball in the air, elevates his long frame, and high points the ball with exceptional skill. He fights for contested balls and wins regularly. Nixon shows the ability to win 50-50 balls and pull in back shoulder throws consistently, even through very physical defenders fighting for the ball as well. Those back shoulder throws are a staple of Jim Chaney's offense in Knoxville, and having receivers that can win contested catches creates a far more potent attack. When the Vols were at their best in 2019, it was when Jennings, Callaway, and Palmer were using their big frames to out-leap and out-physical corners to bring down long receptions. Nixon has that frame and that same skillset upon arriving in Knoxville, and his time there should only see that developed.
Again, like some of the receivers that departed Tennessee after 2019, Nixon is an exceptionally physical runner. At Centennial, Nixon is asked to serve as the Wildcat Quarterback at times and serves as one of his team's best short-yardage options. Nixon is big and strong, and when he has a head of steam, he becomes a load to attempt to wrestle to the ground. He fights through contact at the point of attack when carrying the ball as a runner, able to drive defenders back and fall forward. Taking snaps out of the gun, Nixon runs more like a power back than a receiver. That similarity continues when he does catch a pass as a receiver. Nixon is able to simply run through most defensive backs downfield, particularly when he can square his pads. It is a combination of out sizing most defenders and being weight room strong that makes Nixon so difficult to defend and to tackle.
That isn't to say that Nixon is a finished product. Despite being an excellent athlete and prospect, Nixon must develop his routes to be effective at the next level. Nixon is often well covered in man coverage, failing to create separation from corners, but utilizing his size and strength to make plays all the same. Against SEC corners, Nixon will have to learn to create space and present his quarterback with windows to throw into rather than trying to turn every ball into a jump ball. It is difficult to blame Nixon for his route tree at this stage of his career, as he is entirely effective against the competition he sees each week. The game will change for him at the next level, and he will have to build a wider, more diverse game off of the comebacks, hitches, and fades that he runs so well. Even with that room to grow in his routes and the finer points of the receiver position, Nixon shows promise in areas requiring more polish. Nixon feels zone coverage well and shows a knack for finding the soft spots, settling, and giving his quarterback a target. Similarly. When his quarterback has to scramble on a broken play, Nixon does an excellent job of finding him and working to give him a target. Between his size and his scramble drill, Nixon is a very quarterback friendly receiver. He thrives on situations where it is difficult for the quarterback to deliver a perfect ball. His size, leaping ability, and awareness allow his quarterback room for error when they are forced to scramble or throw a jump ball into the endzone.
The Vols will have an exceptionally talented receiving room when Nixon arrives on campus with his teammates, even if it is a young one. In the 2020 and 2021 classes so far, the Vols have landed receivers with varied skillsets, giving Chaney and Martin a tool to call on for whatever job they require. Nixon is a talented target for the Vols the day he arrives on campus, however, his development along with those around him will be intriguing to monitor. The Vols want to throw the ball downfield more as their offense grows, and Nixon should provide a target able to fill in there and the red zone early in his career. How he and this talented group of receivers develop beyond that will likely determine how good the Volunteer offense can be.