What a difference a year makes. Last season, Tennessee had an inexperienced wide receiving corps that was short on depth. This year, the Vols may have one of the deepest slate of wide receivers in the SEC.

Tennessee returns last year’s freshman All-SEC standout Marquez North and versatile junior Alton “Pig” Howard to the top of its week one depth chart against Utah State. The Vols are expecting big things from two-time JUCO All-American and 2013 Mid-Empire Conference MVP Von Pearson, who is currently listed as the starting No. 3 receiver in the pro-set offense. Tennessee is also has high expectations for five-star freshman Josh Malone, the top in-state prospect and No. 36 overall player by the 2014 247 Sports Composite Rankings. Sophomores Jason Croom and Josh Smith round out the depth chart after gaining experience as starters last season. Both players have impressed Tennessee coaches this offseason as Croom plans to play “more physical” while Smith looks to improve on dropped passes, a flaw that plagued his injury-filled first season.

Tennessee makes a strong case to have the deepest receiving corps in the SEC in 2014. If North continues to flourish, Howard brings elusive speed and the combination of Pearson and Malone display why they were both top ranked commitments, the Vols could have the scariest arsenal of pass catchers in the conference. As it stands, the best one-two punch is expected to come out of the state of Alabama. Auburn boasts returning starters Sammie Coates and Duke Williams from its reigning SEC champion offense while Alabama has Amani Cooper– regarded by many as the best wide receiver in the conference– and Christion Jones, who is expected to see more catches in the absence of Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell. However, the Vols have the potential to have one of the most talent groups from top to bottom, with four returning starters among the six players listed.

The expectations for North, Pearson and Malone are high. North is expected to be among the top-tier of SEC wideouts and make strong improvements year two. Pearson is drawing comparisons to former Vol and current Minnesota Viking Cordarrelle Patterson as the next JUCO wide receiver to make an immediate impact in the SEC. For Malone, freshman All-SEC honors and a starting role are an extremely realistic goal in his first season on Rocky Top. Howard has proven he is capable to make big plays from the line of scrimmage or the backfield. And, if improved, Croom and Smith will provide a veteran presence that will benefit the depth of the group greatly.

The Tennessee wideouts have the potential to be the strongest receiving group in the SEC if given the opportunity. Justin Worley will need to excel in the read option offense and stay healthy behind a completely new offensive line. Should he find time, the senior will have a plethora of options to throw to this season and will benefit greatly.