You always start with the quarterback when doing the ominous summer piece on who you can least afford to lose. And Guarantano fits that bill, with unproven options behind him and untapped potential in front of him.
It’s more fun to think of this conversation in terms of replacement value. There are plenty of players we know will be valuable to the 2019 Vols, but many of the names that immediately come to mind play positions where depth is on Tennessee’s side: Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings, Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson, and maybe even Emmit Gooden and Aubrey Solomon. We also don’t know what version, if any, of Trey Smith we’ll get until we see him out there.
You have to look beyond Tennessee’s biggest names on offense, and many of them on defense. I do think you can make a case for Darrell Taylor; his eight sacks last year were the most for any Vol this decade other than Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, and his performance against ranked foes from Georgia and Kentucky definitely turned heads. Phil Steele lists him as the number four draft-eligible outside linebacker and a fourth-team All-American. The Vols are especially deep at linebacker, including some of their most exciting freshmen. But if Taylor simply proves to be that much better than the rest of that group, it’s good news for the Vols.
Still, I might through another name out there for most difficult to replace, at least in theory: Dominick Wood-Anderson.
The unrealistic expectations we tend to put on high-profile newcomers were just that for him last season: 17 catches for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was the number six option in the passing game last season. Likewise, the expectations we might have for Jim Chaney and tight ends may also be unfounded.
But if the Vols do find a spark getting Wood-Anderson involved this time around, it could get really thin behind him.
Tennessee’s only other returning reception by a tight end was a memorable one: Austin Pope against the Gators. I really want something good to happen to that kid. Behind him, it’s a bunch of unknowns, including four-star freshman Jackson Lowe.
The Vols might find something really good with Wood-Anderson this fall. If they do, he’ll instantly become one of the most valuable players on the team, in part because the options to replace him are so unproven.
Who else might be on the hardest-to-replace list?