KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The flip side to Tennessee’s impressive NFL draft offering is that the Vols have to replace those soon-to-be professional players.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs may not have the highest draft stock of the outgoing players, but he surely will be the most difficult for Tennessee to replace this season.
Dobbs, with his experience and playmaking ability, had the skills to make an ill-fated play turn into a long gain.
On defense, Derek Barnett, the school’s all-time sacks leader, is taking his game to the next level. While there will be no replacing Barnett, there is a rising star at the position this spring.
The Vols have a pair of preseason first-team All-SEC defensive players moving on to the NFL, but neither is on this list because both linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton missed the crux of last season because of injuries.
In essence, Tennessee already has had a season to work on replacing them.
Here’s a look at how the Vols are looking to replace the four players they will miss most from last season:
1. Replacing Tennessee Football QB Josh Dobbs
Tennessee’s QB derby has been well-documented, and it appears it will come down to redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano and junior Quinten Dormady.
The Vols likely will grow more conservative with their play calls to protect the new quarterbacks, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see coach Butch Jones use both Guarantano and Dormady early in the season.
Guarantano possesses great mobility and can throw accurately off the run, while Dormady has more experience and appears to be the more conventional pocket passer.
2. Replacing Tennessee Football DE Derek Barnett
The school’s all-time sacks leader leaves big shoes to fill, but last year’s No. 1-ranked junior college signee is showing signs he could make a mark himself.
Jonathan Kongbo, who emerged late last season after moving inside to help at defensive tackle, has had a strong spring session.
Darrell Taylor is a rising third-year sophomore who has blown up in the weight room during the offseason and is making an impact this spring.
With newly-hired defensive line guru Brady Hoke on board, the sky is the limit for Kongbo and Taylor this season.
3. Replacing Tennessee Football RB Alvin Kamara
Kamara developed into the sort of multi-dimensional back every offense covets, able to run effectively inside or outside the tackles, as well as turn crisp routes and catch the football.
Tennessee rising junior John Kelly is trying to prove this spring that he, too, can handle all of those tasks.
The Vols have a speedy sophomore named Carlin fils-Aime who also is showing the potential to handle both running and pass-catching assignments.
Tennessee also signed the Volunteer State’s top running back prospect in Ty Chandler, and big things will be expected quickly from the Nashville product.
4. Replacing Tennessee Football WR Josh Malone
Tennessee’s leading receiver of the past two seasons has moved on, taking with him his 4.40-second speed in the 40-yard dash and 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame.
Malone was that good, and without him, rising junior Jauan Jennings will be challenged to step up and be “The Man.”
That means the Vols need an up-and-comer to provide whoever is at quarterback another option, and rising sophomore Marquez Callaway appears to be that player.
Callaway is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound target who has shown the same blend of speed and size that made Malone one of the better — though underrated — receivers in the SEC last season.
Tyler Byrd, meanwhile, clocked in as the fastest player on the team last fall and was used in the slot.
While the athletic Byrd (6-foot, 195 pounds) does not have Callaway’s length — and some still believe him better-suited for cornerback — he has proven effective playing receiver out of the slot and could break out.