Tennessee Football: 5 Recruits Volunteers Must Land on NSD 2014
With 33 verbal commitments and 14 early enrollees in the fold, the Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 recruiting class is very close to wrapping up.
But that doesn't mean UT head coach Butch Jones and his staff are lounging on a beach somewhere, sipping Mai Tais and waiting on national signing day to pass. The Vols are still very much in maintenance mode with a couple of coveted recruits, and they're still trying to land some big fish to the Big Orange.
By all accounts, Tennessee's recruiting class is highly regarded, sitting at fifth on 247Sports' current team rankings. It's deep, it's talented and it fills plenty of needs. But there are a few guys out there who could really strengthen the team immediately.
Let's take a look at three major targets and two potentially shaky pledges the Vols need to close with in order to really make this a memorable haul on the trail.
Here are five recruits UT needs to land between now and Feb. 5.
Adoree' Jackson, Cornerback
If there's any player left on the board who would hold an inside track to an immediate starting position, it would be uber-talented 5-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson.
The California prep product is blessed with blazing speed, shutdown coverage abilities and the dynamic play-making skills that could make him a major asset on offense, special teams and especially, at corner.
Most importantly for the Vols, he is an elite player at a major position of need.
If UT could somehow snag Jackson, it would give Butch Jones and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez two of the most talented young corners in the country to go along with rising sophomore Cameron Sutton.
With Florida, LSU, Southern Cal and Oklahoma believed to be major players, securing a commitment from Jackson seems a long shot. But the Vols (and Sooners) have distance in their favors, as they are closer to Jackson's childhood home of St. Louis than the others.
Still, with his desire to run track being a major factor, the Vols could be on the outside looking in. If Jackson were to announce for Tennessee, it would make the class one of the best on paper in school history.
Derrell Scott, Running Back
When passers-by glimpse at Tennessee's recruiting class, they take one look at a heavily recruited bell cow like Jalen Hurd and think that the Vols are set at the position.
When you throw in Treyvon Paulk, UT has two good runners already committed.
The truth, however, is UT is woefully thin when it comes to players who have proven to be SEC-caliber running backs.
There is exactly one—rising senior Marlin Lane. And even Lane couldn't make it through last year's offseason without running into issues.
Both Hurd and Paulk suffered season-ending injuries during their high school senior seasons, and there are no guarantees they'll fully recover.
That's why rounding out the class with Derrell Scott is more important than it appears on the surface.
The Havelock, N.C., native has dynamic ability and can be a game-changer with his shiftiness and football speed. He is the perfect all-purpose back for UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's offense.
The Vols are right in the thick of the race alongside South Carolina and Florida.
According to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow (subscription), UT leads for Scott's services. Closing the deal would be huge for Tennessee.
Craig Evans, Defensive Tackle
On the surface, a Wisconsin resident committed to play football for the Badgers seems like a slam-dunk, solid verbal pledge.
But in Craig Evans' case, the big, 6'3", 305-pound defensive tackle is originally from Mississippi, and while he hasn't been seriously looking around, it isn't a stretch that he'd like to come back down South.
When he played in last week's Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, he was heavily recruited by UT commitment Charles Mosley, and Evans is at least giving the Vols an extended look.
Mosley jokingly tweeted this week that if he could close the deal on Evans, UT coach Butch Jones would let him marry his wife:
"Butch told me if I get @craigevans18 he'll let me marry Barb," Mosley tweeted.
Evans remains committed to the Badgers, but he is likely at the head of a list of defensive tackle targets remaining for UT. The Vols will probably turn up the heat moving forward.
They desperately need him, too.
On top of losing all their starting defensive tackles from 2013, the only true DTs Tennessee has in this recruiting class thus far are Owen Williams and Mosley. Derek Barnett, Dimarya Mixon and Cory Thomas all could grow into DTs, but Mosley may fit long-term on offense.
Regardless, UT needs tackles, and Evans would be a major late-class coup.
Gavin Bryant, Middle Linebacker
One of the biggest sleepers in Tennessee's recruiting class is Alabama 4-star inside linebacker Gavin Bryant.
There hasn't been a lot of drama surrounding his recruitment thus far, and after committing to the Vols months ago, things have been quiet. There also wasn't as much buzz about him among UT fans because there are still some grade issues (subscription) he's working through to be eligible.
The Vols really need him to get those in order and to stay firm in his pledge. In recent months, interest has ramped up on the star linebacker. Miami has turned up the heat on Bryant, trying to flip him according to 247Sports' Miami writer Nate Adelson (subscription).
Bryant also told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription) that Auburn has expressed some interest.
With less than a month until national signing day, the ride to keep Bryant could get bumpy, but UT will fight to hold onto him. He is an excellent tackler who also possesses the speed to be a very athletic middle linebacker in a 4-3 system.
UT's other two inside linebacker commits—Jakob Johnson and Kevin Mouhon—are bigger, more run-stuffing players. Bryant provides a valuable commodity that the Vols desperately need moving forward.
Cory Thomas, Defensive Lineman
Much like Gavin Bryant, the Vols swept down into Alabama and nabbed Cory Thomas—an underrated, athletic defensive lineman who has a very big upside.
At 6'6", 270 pounds and being able to run a 4.8 40-yard dash, Thomas is an exceptional athlete for his size, and is listed as a strong-side defensive end by 247Sports. While he has the athleticism to stay outside, he also has the frame to add weight and be a defensive tackle.
That is the kind of versatility UT has been lacking since Malik Jackson.
The only problem with Thomas is that Mississippi State and Clemson remain in hot pursuit of his signature. He has an official visit set up to Clemson on Jan. 17.
Bulldogs commit Braxton Hoyett told 247Sports' Paul Jones (subscription) in regards to Thomas' scheduled visit to MSU for Jan. 24:
I think we get Cory. Tennessee has so many Dline commits and we only have two right now. He would have a great opportunity to see the field quicker at Mississippi State. So I will be working hard on him that weekend.
The "too many D-linemen" narrative is worrisome for Vols, especially after Thomas mentioned the same thing to 247Sports' Barton Simmons (subscription) at the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.
The Vols have lost recent battles late to the Bulldogs for defensive linemen (see Autry and Denico), and without very many linemen committed who have the ability to play tackle, Thomas is a major need.