Will Tiyon Evans be the real deal for Tennessee football? Should 6-foot-5 Dee Beckwith stay at RB?
Goodbye, Eric Gray and Ty Chandler.
Hello, Tiyon Evans.
Gray and Chandler combined for 86.8% of the Tennessee's rushing yards last season. They transferred to Oklahoma and North Carolina, respectively, as part of the Vols’ mass exodus amid the ongoing investigation into potential major recruiting infractions and a coaching change.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound early enrollee from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas is a four-star recruit who was the top-ranked junior college running back in the 2021 class.
If the Vols’ running back production is going to be at a solid level this season, they need Evans to deliver on his ranking.
Returning starters (0)
Other returners (4)
Dee Beckwith, Tee Hodge, Jabari Small, Len’Neth Whitehead
Tiyon Evans*, Jaylen Wright*
* Enrolled in January
It’s easy to look at the big numbers quarterbacks have posted in new coach Josh Heupel’s system and be fooled into thinking he prefers a pass-frenzied attack. Not true. Heupel deploys an up-tempo system, but a balanced one.
The system’s tempo tends to help offensive linemen. Central Florida ranked in the top three of the American Athletic Conference in rushing yards per carry in each of Heupel’s three seasons as coach. Missouri also ranked third in yards-per-carry average in 2017, when Heupel was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.
Tennessee has ranked no better than 11th in yards-per-carry average in each of the past four seasons.
“The tempo that we play at and the speed that we play at, it’s going to have opportunities to get those one-on-ones in space with certain defenders,” running backs coach Jerry Mack said, “and I need guys that can make those safeties miss. I need guys that can be elusive and make those linebackers miss.”
While the coaching change and new scheme offer hope for improvement, Tennessee’s running backs are thin on returning production. Small gained 117 yards last season. That makes him the program’s active career leader for rushing yards at the FBS level.
The lack of returning production provides an opening for Evans and Wright, a speedy and versatile three-star signee.
UT's running backs will emerge as a team strength.
Tennessee’s roster is depleted in several areas thanks to exits for the NCAA transfer portal, and running back is among the positions most affected by that wave of departures.
But as long as Evans delivers, the Vols should withstand the loss of Gray and Chandler and perhaps even improve their running back production. Evans showcases size, speed, vision and agility on his highlight reel. Small was productive in limited playing time last season. They should form a good duo.
One to watch
When Tennessee signed Beckwith, it expected to play him at wide receiver. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he had the frame to become a tight end. He spent some time at quarterback in high school.
But running back became his home during his freshman season. He battled injuries for much of the year and totaled just three carries.
Beckwith has impressive physical tools, and this coaching staff must decide where to use him. He could complement the running back position as a power back, but incorporating him in the passing game as a slot receiver or tight end also might be appealing.
Is Evans the real deal?
Junior college rankings don’t always portend stellar FBS careers. Tennessee can point to plenty of highly ranked junior college prospects it signed who didn’t play to their ranking.
But everything about Evans’ film suggests he’s a legitimate talent.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.