Tennessee will kick off its 2022 season inside of Neyland Stadium on September 1st against Ball State. Year two of the Josh Heupel era has plenty of excitement coming, as the Vols will look to build on a 7-6 campaign that saw Tennessee compete down the stretch of every game last season. Heading into camp, we pick our preseason superlatives.
Newcomer of the Year
This is a tough choice as Tennessee has added several important pieces this off-season, but none will likely have the chance to make as big of a splash as USC transfer Bru McCoy. The physically imposing wide receiver has an opportunity to be the receiver opposite Cedric Tillman, and he could change the complexion of Tennessee's offense by making team's have to honor him as much of Tillman. McCoy has the makings to be the newcomer of the year, in our opinion.
Most Valuable Offensive Lineman
From our viewpoint, Darnell Wright was stellar last season, and he has a chance to build on that, even more this season. He will help anchor one of the tackle spots and should continue to improve his draft stock, which was once considered as high as the first round coming out of high school. Wright should be even more complete this season and a huge part of Tennessee's offensive success.
Most Valuable Defensive Lineman/Pass Rusher
Tennessee will hope to find more success up front this season, especially in creating a pass rush. The Vols replace high motor defensive end Matthew Butler who played an immense amount of snaps last fall, as well as veterans Caleb Tremblay and Jay Blakeley. Now, ideally, at the end of the season, the hope for Tennessee will be that this award is way too close to call, and they find a significant presence on the inside and the edge. Omari Thomas immediately pops to mind, but Byron Young gets the nod in this preseason superlative list (which means nothing, by the way).
Player With The Most to Prove
This one is easy. Jalin Hyatt has had high expectations placed upon him going into each of his past two seasons on Rocky Top, but this season, all of the expectations are out there for the right reasons. Hyatt has worked tirelessly to improve his weight, leadership, and overall game. He spends countless hours inside of the facility and heading into his third season on Rocky Top, his chemistry with Hendon Hooker is phenomenal. Hyatt has the attention of Tennessee coaches, and he will get plenty of targets this fall. It is safe to say that he has the most to prove this fall.
Most Overlooked Player
We could go a couple of different directions with this spot, and the pick may surprise some, but there is a good reason for it. Ramel Keyton is our most overlooked player heading into the season. He will be an important piece of Tennessee's depth because of his ability to play on the edge. Throughout his career, Keyton has had his fair share of ups and downs, but he can be productive, and should Tennessee see an injury at receiver on the outside, Keyton's role would become crucial to Tennessee's success.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jeremy Banks is coming off of a monster season in 2021, which he will look to build upon this fall. In his second year in this defense, he will have a chance to run freely and make tackles. Banks will be a player that opposing teams have to scheme around, and he should be setup to put together another impressive campaign.
Most Valuable Player
This one is pretty simple and goes without saying. No one coming into the season is more valuable than Hendon Hooker. He will be the driving force in Tennessee's offense. There is no reason to expand on something most already understand.
Coach of the Year
This is tough, but the coach set up for the most success this season is Glen Elarbee. The veteran offensive line coach has been stellar at piecing together rotations over his career and last season at Tennessee was no different. This season, though, Elarbee's unit looks poised for success under his tutelage. It may be the most veteran group on the team, featuring Darnell Wright, Jerome Carvin, Cooper Mays, and Javontez Spraggins. Depth-wise, the Vols added talent in the 2022 recruiting class, and if they can get consistent play, even if by committee at the second tackle spot, which has plenty of promise with Gerald Mincey, Dayne Davis and Jeremiah Crawford all battling to lock in the position, then Elarbee's unit will be more than productive and essential to Tennessee's success.