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Regular Season Report Card: Running Backs

Tennessee's 2021 regular season is over, and Josh Heupel helped the Vols achieve a 7-5 record. With 12 games on the books, we take a look at each position group in this report card series, starting with the quarterback position.

OVERVIEW

The Tennessee running back room had plenty of intrigue coming into the 2021 season; while the room was filled with young talent, the departures of veterans Ty Chandler and Eric Gray left plenty of question marks around Jerry Mack's room ahead of the season. Still, Jabari Small, Tiyon Evans, Jaylen Wright, Len'Neth Whitehead, and Marcus Pierce made for a more than serviceable group for Jerry Mack.

Small and Evans started the season splitting touches, and when both were healthy were the one-two punch in Tennessee's backfield. Small dealt with a nagging shoulder injury, while evidence dealt with an ankle injury that would limit production for both of them during the 2021 campaign. Jaylen Wright and Len'Neth Whitehead both had impressive first-year campaigns running behind Tennessee's offensive line.

Evans, who at the time of the announcement was Tennessee's leading rusher, entered the transport portal just ahead of the regular-season finale. This left Tennessee with Small, Wright, and Whitehead garnering the bulk of carries.

Throughout the season, the group utilized the next-man-up mentality and flourished under Jerry Mack's tutelage. Now let's take a look at the stats.

STATS

Jabari Small- 114 carries for 612 yards (5.2ypc) and eight touchdowns. Eight receptions for 75 yards.

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Tiyon Evans- 81 carries for 525 yards (6.5ypc) and six touchdowns. Four receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Jaylen Wright- 68 carries for 355 yards (5.2ypc) and four touchdowns. Six receptions for 22 yards.

Len'Neth Whitehead- 32 carries for 207 yards (6.5ypc) and two touchdowns. One reception for 10 yards.

Marcus Pierce- 32 carries for 130 yards (4.1 ypc) and one touchdown.

Dee Beckwith- One carry for two yards.

Grade

As you can clearly see from the stats, Tennessee did not gain a thousand-yard rusher this year; however, the group as a whole performed very well. Not factoring Dee Beckwith into the equation, Tennessee's other running backs who solve multiple touches all averaged over 4 yards per carry, which is more than you can ask for from a group. With small and Evans pacing the way, while Whitehead and Jaylen Wright proved to be more than just serviceable backups, this group had a solid of the gear as anyone could have expected given the previous departures and new offensive scheme to pick up.

From a turnover standpoint, this group also protected the ball extremely well, caught the ball out of the backfield, and turned out yards after contact and catch. The biggest criticism for this group would likely be pass protection, which is not uncommon for young running backs to struggle with. Still, I felt Tennessee got better there week over week as the position navigated injuries and setbacks. Jerry Mack's time as a head coach in offensive coordinator was clearly beneficial to this young group this fall, and even with Evans's departure, this group has plenty to be excited about moving forward. I think this group was as solid as one could ask for, which is why I am handing that a B+ as the importance of the ability to pass protect did leave a little to be desired.