Under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, getting Tennessee back to relevance is going to be an arduous rebuilding project, and 2018 will be a fresh start.
There’s going to be a little more newness after Friday’s news.
Junior running back John Kelly announced on his Instagram that he is foregoing his final season in orange and white and turning pro. It’s unclear where — or if — Kelly will get drafted, but this is a big blow to UT’s offense, especially considering a more pro-style approach seems to suit Kelly’s running style a lot better than the unfolding lawn chair offense under Butch Jones.
JUST IN: John Kelly announced on his Instagram page that he will be declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/YzIyGVBCK7
— Orange & White Report (@OandWReport) December 29, 2017
Against top competition early in the season, Kelly was at his best in his first season out of the shadow of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. As the season wore on and injuries piled up on the offensive line, the Vols went away from featuring Kelly. He wound up with 778 yards on the ground and a 4.1 rushing average to go along with nine touchdowns. He also had 37 catches for 299 yards.
Kelly can do it all. Though that rushing average isn’t pretty, it’s not indicative of the type of player he is. He is a beast with the football who can wear down defenses. Though this isn’t the smartest decision — in my opinion — somebody in the NFL is going to get a late-round war horse. Kelly hasn’t ever suffered a major injury, he’s still got fresh legs and his best days are in front of him.
With Kelly heading out, that means rising sophomore Ty Chandler will see an increased load of carries. He ran for 305 yards on a 4.3 average in his first year, and has game-breaking ability. Tim Jordan, Carlin Fils-Aime and Trey Coleman are other running backs on the roster who could wind up getting carries.
The Vols recently signed Memphis (Cordova HS) power back Jeremy Banks, and he seems to have a good opportunity to step right in and be a significant part of this offense. Though Georgia prep runner Anthony Grant is currently committed, he’s looking around, so it’s possible UT could sign another back. The Vols will likely look to do so.
One player Pruitt already has offered is 4-star recruit and Oklahoma commitment Tavion Thomas, from Dayton, Ohio, who didn’t sign during the early period. He would fit the mold of a power back who can step in with Banks and provide some rugged runs to go along with the finesse of Jordan and Fils-Aime and the complete-back style of Chandler.
It’s a big blow to the Vols to lose Kelly; but here’s wishing him the best in the NFL. He was a great player in Knoxville.