Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers brought in what was considered a strong recruiting class in 2010. Rivals recognized it as the 12th-best in the country, and most fans were pleased to salvage such a group of commitments after the departure of Lane Kiffin so close to National Signing Day.
But as the years have passed since that class, it has become clear that Dooley and his coaching staff should be praised for bringing in not only one of the best recruiting classes in recent school history but also in recent college football history.
There are as many as four future first-round picks and three second-round picks in the class. That kind of NFL-ready talent ranks Tennessee's 2010 class with Alabama's 2003, USC's 2002 and Florida's 2006 cohorts as the best in the last 10 years.
This fact provides even more weight to the argument that you can only rate a particular recruiting class at least two years after it signs. Let's take a deeper look into the players that make up the 2010 class.
Of course, there's Tyler Bray, Ja'Wuan James, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers that lead the class with the most talent and highest NFL hopes. Hunter and Rogers were both brought in by Dooley after Kiffin's departure in less than a month.
Vol fans are well acquainted with Bray, Hunter and Rogers who have the chance to be the best passing combinations in the country this year.
James' recruitment was highlighted by the tale of Kiffin claiming in the locker room before the Georgia game that as long as he was at Tennessee (one year), the Vols would never lose to Georgia. I guess that was the only truthful thing he said in Knoxville. James committed, and the rest is history.
Jacques Smith was the first player of the entire class to commit, doing so the day after the 2009 National Signing Day. The Tennessee native was a Vol from the get-go. The switch to the 3-4 defense will only serve to boost Smith's future value at the next level. He's clearly a born standing pass rusher.
Between these five players, the Volunteers have over 100 games of college football experience already, with James, Rogers and Smith playing in each of the Vols' 25 games since 2010. Not only are these guys talented—they're significant contributors.
Go see what the third-ranked 2007 class had to offer in terms of significant contribution outside of Eric Berry. Nothing. It's not as sexy to say that a class has a lot of "contributors," but it means the world.
The Role Players
While the five players listed above highlight the 2010 class, it takes even more "meat-and-potatoes" players to fill up a roster and win games in the SEC. Luckily, the great class of two years ago had plenty of these guys.
Zach Fulton has started 17 of the 24 games he has played in, including all of the games last year. Fulton is a classic offensive guard that is big, nasty and does his job quietly and efficiently. He'll be battling fellow 2010-signee James Stone to keep his starting spot at right guard this fall.
Stone's claims to fame are his unwillingness to sign with Tennessee until Kiffin was gone and his unorthodox snapping grip at center. A bad start to the 2011 season cost him his starting job, but he has continued to fight hard for playing time.
Mychal Rivera has great physical tools at tight end and might become Bray's go-to target in the red zone with all the attention going to the three stud wide receivers. A strong season of pass-catching and run-blocking could see him heading out in the second round of next year's draft.
Corey Miller and Channing Fugate are the two other role players in the 2010 recruiting class. Miller has had a slow start to his Tennessee career, but his defensive tackle/end size will be useful in 3-4 sets. Fugate has pulled an Austin Johnson and switched from fullback to linebacker. Maybe he'll have a similar impact. If so, this class grows even more.
2010 Class Reigns Supreme
While the 2010 class is loaded with the most talent, each of Dooley's classes have been filled with skilled players that have made their mark on the team. Recruiting a bunch of five-stars that never play does no good.
Remember Chris Donald, Kenny O'Neil and Brent Vinson? You may have liked them more than Jacques Smith and Zach Fulton on signing day, but two years later, it's clear that the 2010 class is the best in recent memory. Those superstars from 2007 peaked in high school.
The 2010 class will peak this fall.