Tennessee Football: 5 Potential All-SEC Players in 2014
Inexperience and lack of depth abound the Tennessee Volunteers 2014 roster, but there are a handful of players in the mix who could earn All-SEC honors at the end of the upcoming season.
There are many reasons for Tennessee's downfall in recent years. Coaching changes. Roster attrition. Increased competition in the SEC. All of these are valid reasons, of course, but the most telling statistic comes from glancing at the lists of All-SEC teams during the past five or six years.
During the 90s and early 2000s, Tennessee players littered All-SEC and even All-American rosters, with representatives from Rocky Top filling several positions on the first and second teams.
Lately, All-SEC honors for the Volunteers have been few and far between, which is a direct reflection of the team's talent level on the field.
However, with the influx of new talent from the 2014 recruiting class, along with the return of a familiar face and the maturation of young playmakers, Tennessee has its best chance in years to see multiple players recognized as the SEC's cream of the crop after this upcoming season.
Here are the five Tennessee players who are most likely to be named to the 2014 All-SEC team.
A.J. Johnson: Linebacker
Middle linebacker A.J. Johnson's decision to return to Tennessee for his senior year was a big offseason victory for head coach Butch Jones, as reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press's Patrick Brown.
Not only is Johnson the leader and quarterback of Tennessee's defense, but he's also one of the few players on the roster who has received recognition for being one of the best in the league at his position.
Now, as a senior, Johnson has the experience and the knowledge of opposing SEC offenses to establish himself once again among the top linebackers in the conference.
Cameron Sutton: Cornerback
Few people expected Cameron Sutton to make an immediate impact when he arrived in Knoxville as a freshman in 2013.
The composite 3-star recruit on 247Sports began workouts without much fanfare, but he soon established himself during practice as one of the best cornerbacks on the team.
By the season opener against Austin Peay, Sutton had securely locked down a starting position at defensive back opposite junior Justin Coleman.
Sutton's reputation as one of the best young corners in the league grew game by game. In addition to his solid coverage skills, he also proved that he has tremendous athletic ability when he made a leaping interception of Connor Shaw's pass versus South Carolina.
That pick helped the Vols neutralize Shaw's passing threat, and it was a big factor in their upset victory over the 11th-ranked Gamecocks.
Sutton's solid play as a freshman earned him 2013 SEC All-Freshman honors. Now, with a full year of experience under his belt, Sutton is poised to compete for recognition as an All-SEC cornerback.
Marquez North: Wide Receiver
In a position with few playmakers in 2013, Marquez North proved that Tennessee is still Wide Receiver U.
Whether it was showing off his juggling skills to maintain possession of an underthrown ball from Justin Worley against Western Kentucky or his one-handed catch to setup the game-winning field goal against South Carolina, North's raw abilities at wide receiver were evident throughout the 2013 season.
His talents didn't go unrecognized, and he was named to the 2013 SEC All-Freshman team at wide receiver alongside Ole Miss phenom Laquon Treadwell.
Although North only caught one touchdown pass last season, it's a safe bet to project that number—along with his total yardage—will increase substantially in 2014.
In a position that is suddenly stocked with young talent, North will be the Vols' leading receiver and the No. 1 target for quarterback Justin Worley
Curt Maggitt: Linebacker/Defensive End
It's hard to overstate the impact Curt Maggitt's return to the field will have on Tennessee's defense in 2014.
After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Missouri in 2012, Maggitt sat out the entire 2013 season while undergoing physical rehabilitation.
Now, as a redshirt junior, Maggitt is like an upgraded version of himself. His extra time in the weight room has him bigger, stronger and faster. In fact, his explosive pass rushing skills have earned him playing time at defensive end.
In addition to his aggressive playmaking abilities, Maggitt is also a vocal leader of the defense.
Butch Jones told Tennessee Sports Radio's Dave Hooker that Maggitt is the team's "leader" and that he "has everyone's respect." Senior cornerback Justin Coleman said Maggit is also an energetic and "vocal" leader of the defense.
With a full 21 months to heal from the ACL tear by the time the Vols kickoff against Utah State, Maggitt should have no problem playing to his full potential throughout Tennessee's 2014 campaign.
Von Pearson: Wide Receiver
No Tennessee player has as much mystery and hype surrounding him in 2014 as Von Pearson. In fact, his recruitment and journey to Tennessee is one of the great stories in college football this season.
After an impressive high school career, Pearson's football days appeared to be over.
At the recommendation of a friend, Pearson enrolled at Feather River College in Quincy, California, where he quickly established himself as an elite wide receiver in the JUCO ranks.
Shortly after, Tennessee's staff found his highlight tape and managed to land his commitment just as the rest of the country was beginning to discover his raw talent, as reported by Nooga.com's Daniel Lewis.
As evidenced by his highlight tape, Pearson's catching and playmaking abilities are second to none on the team. He was able to show off his talent during Tennessee's spring practice, with his one-handed grab making it to ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10 list.
Despite a relatively quiet Orange and White game, Pearson may already be one of the most talented wide receivers on the roster. Enrolling in January will certainly help him once the season starts, as he will have had plenty of time to absorb the playbook and get into a rhythm with quarterback Justin Worley.