Tennessee Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Vols
In an attempt to overhaul the roster as quickly as possible, second-year Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones started an inordinate number of freshmen in 2014.
With so many youngsters forced into action, very few new arrivals were able to use their first year on campus lifting in the weight room and studying film.
Instead, players like Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and Todd Kelly Jr. not only played early and often against top competition—they thrived.
Out of Tennessee's 30-plus-strong 2014 class, only a handful of players didn't see action on the field this year.
While these redshirt freshmen may not have received the valuable in-game reps that their peers benefited from, they had the luxury of adding weight and adjusting to the speed of college football.
Here are five of Tennessee's best redshirt freshmen who will have the biggest impacts on the team in 2015.
5. Ray Raulerson
It's no secret that Tennessee's offensive line was by far the worst in the conference in 2014.
That makes redshirt freshman Ray Raulerson even more valuable heading into 2015.
A 3-star recruit on 247Sports and the No. 80 offensive tackle in the class of 2014, Raulerson's year in the weight room and on the practice field will give Tennessee something it desperately needs next season: depth on the offensive line.
Whether Raulerson becomes a star is almost besides the point, as the Vols will still trot out a relatively inexperienced and thin offensive line in 2015.
That means Raulerson will have an excellent chance at not only seeing significant playing time next year, but he could be in the mix to land a starting position as well.
4. Charles Mosley
Raulerson wasn't the only big man to sit out in 2014.
Mosley was originally recruited as a defensive tackle but may move to the offensive line to help the Vols add even more depth to a position that can use as many big bodies as possible.
Landing Mosley just before national signing day was a big coup for Tennessee, as he also had offers from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
3. Neiko Creamer
The loss of recent transfer tight end Daniel Helm makes Neiko Creamer's offseason development and debut in 2015 even more important.
A 3-star athlete according to 247Sports, Creamer's 6'3", 230-pound frame makes him the ideal size to fill Helm's shoes at tight end next season.
Creamer is a legacy recruit whose father, Andre, was a standout defensive back from 1984-87.
With a full season of development and adjustment to college life, Creamer has the potential to live up to his father's career on Rocky Top and become one of Tennessee's top weapons on offense.
2. Gavin Bryant
One of Tennessee's most highly coveted defensive recruits in 2014 never even stepped on the field.
Gavin Bryant, a 4-star recruit on 247Sports and the No. 10 linebacker in the class, held offers from Alabama, Miami, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Auburn and was heavily recruited by the Crimson Tide before spurning his home-state school and committing to Tennessee.
The loss of A.J. Johnson at the middle linebacker position means the Vols will have an open competition not only to fill his absence but also add depth throughout the unit.
Look for Bryant to make his on-field debut in 2015 and prove to his peers why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school.
1. Dillon Bates
With four games under his belt, Dillon Bates may be Tennessee's most valuable redshirt freshman heading into 2015.
Bates suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder during the Vols' matchup with Georgia on Sept. 27. Tennessee's coaches are expected to apply for and receive a medical redshirt for Bates because of his season-ending injury, according to Dustin Dopirak at KnoxNews.com.
Although he saw limited action in 2014, Bates played well through four games, recording six tackles as Jalen Reeves-Maybin's backup at the weak-side linebacker position.
Bates is expected to be fully recovered in time for spring practice and should pick up right where he left off. A composite 4-star recruit and top-100 player on 247Sports, Bates has the talent and speed to make Tennessee's linebacker position a strength next season.