Over the next two weeks, we're unveiling the 10 best players on every SEC roster this spring.
Our lists are sure to change as junior college and freshmen signees arrive on campus, but this is our best assessment for the moment.
Tennessee is next on our list:
1. Cameron Sutton, CB, Sr.: The All-SEC cornerback had the opportunity to head to the NFL early and possibly be a first-round draft pick. However, he decided to stay and improve his draft stock this year. Sutton likes new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's aggressive style, which should help him improve on his six career interceptions. Sutton will enter 2016 as one of the SEC's top cover corners.
2. Derek Barnett, DE, Jr.: Barnett missed spring while recovering from a shoulder injury, but he should be fine for the fall. Sorry, SEC quarterbacks. In two seasons, Barnett has 20 sacks, 33 tackles for loss and 141 total tackles. Barnett had a sluggish start to the 2015 season, but picked things up mightily in the second half, which has him eager to get back and show he's an All-American talent.
3. Jalen Hurd, RB, Jr.: He's the best SEC running back you aren't talking about. Hurd has 2,187 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in only two seasons in Knoxville. Hurd hit the 1,200-yard mark last year and is one of the SEC's most powerful runners. He had an excellent spring and will compete with the likes of Leonard Fournette for the title of the SEC's top running back this fall.
4. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Sr.: Another Vol who missed most of the spring because of an injury, Reeves-Maybin also decided to turn down the NFL for another shot with Tennessee. Reeves-Maybin is sneaky good because he can play all over the field for the Vols. He can rush, play the run and drop back in coverage, while playing sideline-to-sideline. The Will linebacker has 129 solo tackles over the past two seasons, led the Vols with 105 total tackles last year and was the team leader in tackles for loss with 14.
5. Alvin Kamara, RB, RJr.: He's probably the best backup running back out there and complements Hurd so well because of his nasty athleticism and elusiveness. Kamara registered 698 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last year, but he also caught 34 passes for 291 yards and three scores. Oh, and he also returned a punt for a touchdown. Kamara is Tennessee's ultimate utility player and can get the ball in so many different ways.
6. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Sr.: The SEC's top rushing quarterback last year (671, 11 touchdowns), Dobbs wants to prove he's more of a passing threat. His consistency throwing the ball down field has been called into question, but he was determined to throw the mess out of the ball this spring. Still, what makes Dobbs so deadly is his immense athleticism and strength to go along with his speed when he takes off. Defenders just seem to bounce off him. Now, if Dobbs becomes an even more polished passer, watch out.
7. Evan Berry, S,/RS, Jr.: While he also missed spring, Berry should have every opportunity to battle for a starting safety spot in the fall. But what has really made Berry such a special player to watch is his return ability. The All-American kick returner had a nation-leading 38.3 yards per return on kickoffs. He also tied for second nationally with three touchdowns. Berry can flip the field for the Vols in a matter of seconds when he touches the ball.
8. Preston Williams, So.: Tennessee needed someone to step up at wide receiver and the uber-athletic Willliams ended up being the Vols' offensive MVP this spring. A big-time recruit last year, Williams needed time to really get his collegiate legs. Those legs showed up this spring. He made play after play during practice and concluded the spring by catching three passes for 77 yards in the spring game. Williams has the speed to be a deep threat, but his 6-foot-4, 204-pound frame will make him a handful to corral for most defensive backs.
9. Coleman Thomas, C, Jr.: Yes, a center is making Tennessee's list. Look funny? Well, consider how important Thomas is to Tennessee's line. While he started five games at right tackle in 2014, the consistency of the line completely changed when he moved to center and started 12 games there last year. As one person more familiar with the team told me this week, Thomas "looks like a deer out there pulling." Thomas could be one of the most important pieces to this offense, even if he isn't at one of those glamour positions.
10. Todd Kelly Jr., S, Jr.: After starting two games last year, Kelly returns in 2016 entrenched at one of the safety spots for the Vols. Even in more of a reserve role, Kelly has six interceptions in two seasons and is looking to bring what he calls a more wolf mentality to Tennessee's secondary. Kelly had a very good spring and has fully embraced more responsibility in what will be a much more aggressive defense.