After putting up some of the best receiving numbers in Georgia’s high school record book as a part of an elite high school offense, wide receiver Ramel Keyton remains buried in Tennessee’s offense. However, the junior wideout may be on the verge of a breakout after snagging a career-high five balls for 48 yards in Tennessee’s (5-5, 3-4 SEC) 41-17 home loss to No. 1 Georgia (10-0, 8-0 SEC) on Saturday, Nov. 13.
At Marietta High School, Keyton benefitted from playing in a vertical offense alongside skill players like Taji Johnson (Boston College), Christian Ford (Mississippi State), Kobe Stewart (Florida Atlantic), Jordan Ford (Tulsa) and 2019-2020 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year Arik Gilbert (Georgia). All these prospects developed into talented players with the help of four-star quarterback Harrison Bailey, but only Keyton (3,353) and the tight end Gilbert (3,640) are top-ten all-time in receiving yards in Georgia high school history.
“Tests as a good athlete, particularly with change of direction and short range explosion. Excellent ball tracker with soft hands. Catches the ball away from his body. Is particularly dangerous working downfield out of the slot,” 247Sports National Writer Charles Power wrote on Keyton in 2018. “Projects as a Power 5 starter, probably for multiple years. Should be a mid-round selection in the NFL draft.”
Offers from Clemson, Alabama and Georgia presented Keyton with the opportunity to play alongside the best offensive talents in college football, but he chose to attend the University of Tennessee. Bailey followed Keyton to Tennessee one year later, but the former Elite 11 quarterback failed to win quarterback competitions under two different coaching regimes. Bailey entered the transfer portal at the end of October.
Keyton never seemed to develop strong chemistry with any of Tennessee’s starting quarterbacks. The receiver who once racked up 11 receptions for 215 yards and three touchdowns in a single high school playoff game made three starts for 14 receptions, 190 yards and no touchdowns through his first 26 games at Tennessee. Then, Keyton had the best game of his career when a Georgia squad boasting the top scoring defense in the FBS came to Neyland Stadium.
Keyton, who had just one reception for ten yards in 2021, saw his usage dramatically increase when deep threat JaVonta Payton was forced out early in the game with an injury. Keyton caught four of seven targets from Hendon Hooker and one of two from Joe Milton III. He lined up all over the field to fill a variety of roles, including receiver, blocker and decoy.
“(Keyton) did a good job of understanding coverages, (understanding) what he saw in the backend of the snap, got in the right spot with the quarterback. I thought he did a good job in run-after-catch and perimeter screens,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said after the game.
Keyton finished the game with nine targets, but he was the third receiver behind Cedric Tillman and Velus Jones Jr., who had 12 and 14 respectively. On Monday, Keyton said Tillman’s breakout 2021 season is inspirational to receivers who are waiting for the opportunity to play a major role in their offense.
“Even if I’m not in I just try to learn from the people in front of me. We’ve got JaVonta, Cedric, and they do make great plays. I just learn from it, learn from what they do, and when my time comes I just go in and do what we always do.”
Even if Payton can play against South Alabama, Keyton could see a sizeable role with Tennessee entering as the heavy favorite. Heupel said there are still some areas in which Keyton needs to improve.
“There are some things that he’ll learn from and get better at, particularly against press coverage, but I thought he stepped in and did a lot of really good things,” Heupel said Monday.
Edited by Ryan Sylvia