You can't develop mediocre players into great SEC talents in just four years. Recruiting is more important in this conference than in any other for that very reason, and the Tennessee Volunteers know that for sure. Dating back to 2007, it's fairly easy to power rank Tennessee's last five recruiting classes.
This is a "looking back" power ranking. After all, why not take advantage of the old adage that "hindsight is 20/20"?
The loaded 2007 class that featured five Rivals 5-star recruits didn't develop as we had hoped, while many recent classes have been huge contributors for the Vols.
Here are my rankings for the recruiting classes from 2007 to 2011.
At the time, fans of the Tennessee Volunteers were ecstatic with Lane Kiffin's top 10 recruiting class in 2009.
The class included 5-stars Bryce Brown and Janzen Jackson and tons of other highly-sought-after players including David Oku, Nu'Keese Richardson and Darren Myles.
Besides being extremely talented high school players, the other thing these five players have in common is that none of them still play for Tennessee. What's worse, it's not as if they left early for the NFL like Eric Berry.
The 2009 recruiting class is the worst class in the last five years because, as a whole, they made no lasting contributions to the program. Only Jackson was a consistent starter.
The fact that this class was stocked with such great potential only makes this fact more depressing. Thanks, Lane.
Barely better than the 2009 recruiting class is Phillip Fulmer's nationally third-ranked 2007 class.
(Isn't that sad? It seems the higher Rivals ranks Tennessee's recruits, the worse they turn out.)
The class was led by five 5-stars, highlighted by Eric Berry. Berry is, of course, the lone redeeming feature of the 2007 class.
Chris Donald and Kenny O'Neil were complete and utter busts, while Ben Martin and Brent Vinson, who were decent starters, didn't live up to their 5-star status.
Quarterback B.J. Coleman and running back Lennon Creer were two 4-stars who transferred.
There were, however, a couple hidden gems among the 2007 recruits. Denarius Moore and Chris Walker ended up becoming high-quality starters, while Gerald Jones was a bright star that burned out too fast.
All in all, the 2007 class was the beginning of the end for Fulmer. He could recruit, but the fire to develop and coach-up the guys when they got there was gone.
What do Tauren Poole, Willie Bohannon, Austin Johnson and Prentiss Waggner share in common? They were all 3-star recruits from the 2008 class that turned into very good starters for the Vols.
Poole and Johnson were brought in to play running back, but we all know that Johnson ended his career in 2011 at middle linebacker (and an excellent one at that). Bohannon may not turn heads as an electric SEC defensive end, but he's consistent and durable.
Waggner has the potential to play on Sundays if his final year goes well this fall.
This was Fulmer's last class as head coach, and he was once again unable to convert highly-recruited players into stars. E.J. Abrams-Ward, Gerald Williams and the late Aaron Douglas either had no career at Tennessee or an extremely short one.
They only have one year under their belts as Tennessee Volunteers, but last year's 2011 recruiting class is the second best of the last five years.
The class was stacked with 12 (tied with 2010 for the most in the last five years) 4-star recruits, 10 of which saw significant playing last year. That fact alone gives this class a huge headstart on the others.
Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson started 18 of a total 23 games between them last year and will be the cornerstones for the linebacker corps for the future.
They both joined safety Brian Randolph as All-SEC Freshmen. Randolph had to fight his way through upperclassmen and higher-touted players, but he was able to crack the starting lineup and now has his place solidified.
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is simply waiting his turn to man the offensive tackle position when Dallas Thomas leaves after 2012. He saw time in blowouts and on the field goal unit.
This class has already started contributing and is one filled with high-character guys.
The best recruiting class of the last five years has to be the 2010 class that was started by Lane Kiffin and wrapped up by Derek Dooley. Maybe that's the combination Tennessee should use more often.
This class only is responsible for seven of 11 offensive starters for the Vols as well as Jacques Smith, Michael Palardy and Matt Darr (though the last two may not be a real plus for the 2010 gang).
Tennessee will likely have a minimum of three NFL first-round draft picks from this recruiting class alone in Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Offensive tackle JaWuan James has a chance of sneaking in there, too, if he has good 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Three of the Vols' five offensive linemen come from the 2010 class. I think this unit is going to have a huge bounceback season and be one of the better complete units in the SEC this fall.
The 2010 recruiting class is the best of the last five years, not only because of their great talent but also because of the significant impact they have had on the team.