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Another great season from Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin could pay massive dividends

Not only is good fortune on the horizon for the Vols if their star linebacker plays well, but a greater chance to play on Sundays could await him too.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Jalen Reeves-Maybin made the 200-plus mile journey east from Clarksville to Knoxville, Tennessee, his expectations were perhaps lofty but not held high in the stratosphere. The Northeast High School alum may have been a four-star recruit but he still found himself outside of the Top 250 across the nation. That loaded 2013 class, which included the likes of Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Hargreaves, Laremy Tunsil, Reuben Foster, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry among many others has made a significant impact on both college football and the NFL Draft, as a majority of the four- and five-star recruits in that class have either already been plucked by NFL teams this past spring or are slated to be taken next year.

When all is done and dusted in 2016, Reeves-Maybin hopes to join this all-star list of recruits in not only tremendously succeeding at the college football level but to also hear his name called early in the 2017 NFL draft.

Reeves-Maybin is coming off his best season at Tennessee. He set career highs in total tackles, sacks, forced fumbles and passes defended as well, displaying an ability to make plays just about everywhere. His sack numbers may not have been gaudy - just six were recorded in 2015 - but it still represented a leap in his play after amassing merely two sacks as a sophomore in 2014. He will likely have to make a bigger impact in 2016 if he is to help his personal stock as well as his team’s successes, and with a talented defense that includes projected first rounders Derek Barnett and Cameron Sutton, Reeves-Maybin will have plenty of opportunity to do so.

JRM will play a pivotal role on the 2016 defense under new coordinator Bob Shoop. Shoop runs 4-3 defense and when Reeves-Maybin decided to return to Knoxville this past offseason and not forgo his eligibility to head to the pros, much was made about the type of impact he could make under his tutelage. Shoop’s defenses have been successful just about everywhere he’s been, recently so at Vanderbilt and at Penn State and having a player of JRM’s caliber should call for even more success in 2016. Under Shoop, it’s entirely possible that Reeves-Maybin sets more career-high marks in statistical categories especially if his presence is felt from day one.

One of the few things that puts Jalen behind the eight ball, so to speak, when talking about his pro prospects is his size. He’s listed at merely 6’0, 230 pounds, which is pretty undersized for an NFL-grade linebacker. With that said however, it might not completely crush his hopes. Lance Zierlein indicated as much earlier this offseason while discussing Reeves-Maybin and other linebackers that could and should be on NFL scouts’ radars this coming year:

He's on the smaller side and that could hurt his stock, but he'll likely extend his streak of seasons with 100-plus tackles to three in 2016 and it's impossible not to love his combination of athleticism and instincts. He has an innate feel for where running backs are headed and how to get to them. With outstanding coverage traits and an ability to get home as a blitzer, Reeves-Maybin should be a shining star for the Vols' defense this season.

That reads like pretty high praise, eh?

In the here and now much of the focus will be supplanted on Reeves-Maybin’s abilities and impact on the college game, and how he assists his squad in a big year. It’s no secret to anyone in the realm of college football that Tennessee saunters into the 2016 season toting lots of hype on its shoulders. The Volunteers’ expectations are quite simple: Win the SEC East and make it back to Atlanta for the first time since 2007. Anything short of that could cause a resounding amount of disappointment to resonate within the hopefuls in Knoxville and trigger an unhealthy amount of restlessness.

The defense is one of the reasons why expectations are where they are in Knoxville, and Reeves-Maybin is one of the major pieces who will tell the story of the 2016 Vols one way or another. Should he make progressions in the right direction in his senior year, the payoff could be massive for both team and individual success. Reeves-Maybin may already be a star, and he could burn brighter if that path is forged.