We rolled out several new features in the 2019 edition of our Gameday on Rocky Top preseason football magazine, one of which is an eight-page Unit Rankings spread in the SEC section.
The GRT 2019 Unit Rankings section analyzes all 14 SEC teams by position and then ranks them for the upcoming season. The analysis varies depending on the position, but generally speaking, it’s based on how productive the unit was the prior season, how much of that production is returning, and how well the team recruited that position this cycle.
Tennessee, unfortunately, did not fare very well in most of the rankings. If you’ve purchased the magazine, you’ll know that the Vols rank first in the league in returning production percentage. According to our formula, Tennessee returns 89.47% of its offensive production, 68.07% of its defensive production, and 76.63% of its overall production. LSU is right behind the Vols with 76.29% overall, but there is a fairly significant gap between those two teams and everyone else.
Of course, returning production percentage tells only part of the story. It speaks to a team’s continuity, but it says nothing about how productive the team actually was the prior season, and it’s that second part that doomed the Vols in this year’s rankings. They simply weren’t very productive on either offense or defense in 2018.
Based on our calculations, here are the top SEC teams at each position for this fall:
And here’s where Tennessee came in at each position:
As you can see from the table above, Tennessee’s offensive and defensive production in 2018 is an anchor weighing down expectations for this fall despite the fact that the Vols return a larger percentage of that production than any other team in the SEC.
Even the Vols’ highest ranking — No. 3 at linebacker — was recently rendered incorrect with the announcement that Darrin Kirkland Jr. is indeed retiring from football. Kirkland’s status was still up in the air at our early press time, so his contributions were included in the calculations. Removing Kirkland’s contributions (and adding those of Darrell Taylor, who the official source data incorrectly identified as a DL despite him playing OLB all season) results in the Vols dropping down to No. 5. Shame, too, because those pages could really have used some of the right shade of orange.