Tennessee football: Top 25 players of the decade
The 2010s ended with a flurry, but it certainly was not the golden age of Tennessee football.
That doesn’t mean this program hasn’t produced some top talent.
Let’s take a closer look at the best of the best … the top 25 Vols this decade.
No. 25: RB Rajion Neal
He led the Vols in rushing in 2012 and 2013, and scored 24 touchdowns during his Tennessee career.
No. 24: OL Dallas Thomas
He started the final 37 games of his career and was a key part of an offensive line that was at the front of Tennessee’s record-setting 2012 offense.
No. 23: WR Marquez North
Unfortunately his team couldn’t always match his quality play. North had 74 catches in 2+ seasons at Tennessee.
No. 22: LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.
He started 10 games at middle linebacker as a true freshman. Kirkland had 162 tackles in 3 seasons as a Vol but was forced to give up the sport prior to his redshirt senior season due to injury.
No. 21: DB Nigel Warrior
An up and down career that finished on a positive note. He made 231 tackles in 4 years, along with 5 interceptions.
No. 20: RB John Kelly
Only had 1 year to shine as the main man in the Tennessee backfield, but still led the Vols in rushing yards and receptions in 2017.
No. 19: LB Curt Maggitt
Injuries limited him to only 29 games at Tennessee, but he still had 141 tackles and 13.5 sacks.
No. 18 DE/LB Darrell Taylor
Had 119 tackles and 19.5 sacks on his resume, he tied a program record with 4 sacks in a single game against Kentucky in 2018.
No. 17: LB Daniel Bituli
Led the Vols in tackles as a sophomore, junior and senior.
No. 16: WR Marquez Callaway
One of Tennessee’s big-play threats this decade, Callaway had 92 catches for 1,646 yards and 13 touchdowns. He added 3 more scores in the return game.
No. 15: WR Josh Malone
Malone left Tennessee after his junior season with 104 catches for 1,608 yards and 14 touchdowns, living up to his prep billing as one of the top receivers in the nation for the Class of 2016.
No. 14: DB Rashaan Gaulden
A hard hitter who excelled at nickelback, he made 140 tackles at Tennessee, with 133 of them coming in 2016 and 2017.
No. 13: DB Todd Kelly Jr.
Injuries greatly limited his senior and redshirt senior seasons, but his 174 tackles and 8 interceptions prove that he deserves inclusion on this list.
No. 12: QB Tyler Bray
One of the best quarterbacks statistically in Tennessee history, he is 4th all-time in career passing yards with 7,444 and 2nd all-time for a single season with 3,612.
No. 11: RB Alvin Kamara
Greatly underused during his 2 years at Tennessee, Kamara was still a big part of the offense, especially in 2016 when he had 1,118 all-purpose yards.
No. 10: OL Trey Smith
A 5-star recruit who lived up to the hype, Smith has become a standout on the Vols offensive line the past 3 years despite suffering through blood clots that cost him the second half of the 2018 season.
No. 9: WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson
Whether playing wide receiver or returning kicks, Patterson was quite often the best player on the field during his 1 season at Tennessee (2012), scoring 10 touchdowns and setting the school record for single season all-purpose yards with 1,858.
No. 8: RB Jalen Hurd
He scored 26 touchdowns and ran for 2,634 yards in his 2 1/2 years at Tennessee, 6th all-time in program history. He likely would have obliterated the career rushing mark had he stayed with the Vols.
No. 7: DB Cameron Sutton
Tennessee’s all-time leader in passes defended (37), he started all 45 games in his college career while making 127 tackles and picking off 7 passes. His numbers might have been more impressive had opposing offensive coordinators risked throwing in his direction more often.
No. 6: OL Ja’Wuan James
The best Vols offensive lineman of the decade and one of the best tackles in program history, he started all 49 games in his Tennessee career.
No. 5: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
A shoulder injury cost him most of his senior season, but Reeves-Maybin’s résumé was already complete by that time. He had 240 tackles at Tennessee, 27 for a loss. He was responsible for 101 tackles in 2014 and 105 tackles in 2015.
His finest hour came in the 2015 Oklahoma game. The Vols lost in double overtime, but Reeves-Maybin made 21 tackles that night, including 3 for a loss.
No. 4: WR Jauan Jennings
One of the most popular players in Tennessee history, Jennings had 146 catches for 2,153 yards and 18 touchdowns. His clutch scoring grabs against in back-to-back weeks against Florida and Georgia in 2016 made him a Vols legend. Jennings was a versatile talent, with 1 rushing and 2 passing touchdowns as well. He contributed on special teams and craved contact.
His college career was complicated. He was kicked off the team at the end of the 2017 season by interim coach Brady Hoke. But Jennings earned the trust of Jeremy Pruitt and athletics director Phillip Fulmer, and that paid off for all parties the past 2 years.
No. 3: LB A.J. Johnson
He started 44 of his 46 career games at Tennessee and was an impact player throughout his career. In 2012, he had 138 tackles, the first of 3 consecutive years in which he cracked 100 tackles. During that 2012 season he also was the Vols’ specialist near the goal line, scoring 6 rushing touchdowns as the “Wildcat” quarterback.
Johnson ranks 2nd all-time in Tennessee history with 425 tackles as a Vol — including 30.5 for a loss. He was a physical presence on that UT defense.
No. 2: DE Derek Barnett
When you’re better than one of the best to ever play the game, you are a special player indeed. Barnett is the all-time sacks leader in Tennessee history with 33, breaking the late, great Reggie White’s record that stood for 30 years.
Like White, Barnett took over games. Barnett proved to be a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators. Even while facing double teams, he createed havoc in the opponent’s backfield. He had 52 tackles for a loss.
No. 1: QB Joshua Dobbs
Where would Tennessee have been in this decade without Joshua Dobbs? He carried them to victories time and time again. Dobbs was the starter for 31 consecutive games in a Butch Jones offense in which the quarterback was always taking massive hits.
He accounted for 9,936 total yards, 2nd in Tennessee history. He’s 5th all-time in passing yards at Tennessee with 7,736. In Jones’ 5 years as head coach, the only SEC games he won were with Dobbs as the starting quarterback.