Tennessee Football Recruiting: What You Need to Know for National Signing Day
The Tennessee Volunteers are cruising into the home stretch before national signing day, managing current commitments and swinging for the fences on top-tier targets who could turn a great class into a historic one.
Coach Butch Jones already has a strong core of 14 early enrollees, and now he's monitoring the prospect fallout from coaching changes during the "silly season." Though the craziness has yet to touch the Vols, there almost certainly will be some flips before national signing day on Feb. 5.
There always are.
Currently, Tennessee sits at 33 commitments, firmly seated at a surprising No. 5 in the 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings—stellar for a program that hasn't experienced a winning season since 2009.
With signing day a little more than three weeks away, there isn't currently much drama surrounding UT. But there still could be plenty of ulcer-inducing moments.
Let's take a look at all you need to know to prepare yourselves for an orange national signing day.
Note: All recruit information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
Top Remaining Targets
Without question, Adoree' Jackson would be the jewel of an already strong class if Tennessee could pull the dark-horse surprise in his recruitment.
The 5'9.5", 182-pound corner is one of the most college-ready prospects in the nation, and he capped an All-American senior season with a strong showing in the Under Armour game. He has elite coverage skills, is one of the nation's fastest players and has the athletic ability to play on either side of the ball.
Jackson is the kind of player UT needs to close the gap in the SEC quickly, and the Vols will have to beat out conference foes LSU and Florida, along with teams like Oklahoma and USC for his services. He'd almost assuredly start immediately in orange and white.
After re-affirming his commitment to Wisconsin, the 6'3", 305-pound defensive tackle seemed like he was a lock to stay at home in Big Ten country.
But the Mississippi native went to the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl and hit it off with UT commitment Charles Mosley, who started recruiting him heavily to UT. Now, Craig Evans is expected to visit Knoxville on Jan. 24 and has surged to the top of the Vols' defensive tackle board.
There is legitimate mutual interest.
UT definitely wants another DT in this class with DaVonte Lambert flipping to Auburn at the last moment. Evans heads a group of targets that includes Michael Sawyers, Courtney Garnett and Jashon Robertson.
One of the thinnest positions where Tennessee lacks SEC-caliber players is at running back, and that's why the Vols already have secured two commitments for the 2014 cycle.
Derrell Scott would make a third runner in this class, but he is still more of a need than a luxury. At 5'11" and 180 pounds, Scott provides the change-of-pace runner lacking in Butch Jones' offense. UT is at or near the top of Scott's list, and getting him to commit would serve two major purposes:
It would mark a huge late-class grab at a major position of need, and it would keep two division rivals from securing his pledge. South Carolina and Florida are the other two front-runners for Scott's signature.
Tennessee's vaunted 2014 recruiting class currently has 33 commitments, including 14 enrollees and 19 verbal commitments.
Jalen Hurd 6'3", 230lb RB, Beech High, TN
Josh Malone 6'2", 191lb WR, Station Camp High, TN
Von Pearson 6'1", 180lb WR, Feather River College, CA
Daniel Helm 6'4", 225lb TE, Glenwood High, IL
D'Andre Payne 5'9.5", 175lb CB, Woodson H.D. (Washington DC)
Ethan Wolf 6'5.5", 247lb TE, Minster High, OH
Dimarya Mixon 6'3.5", 265lb DE/DT, West Mesquite High, TX
Coleman Thomas 6'6", 297lb OL, Fort Chiswell High, VA
Jakob Johnson 6'3.5", 236lb MLB, Jean Ribault High, FL
Ray Raulerson 6'4", 278lb OL, Plant High, FL
Emmanuel Moseley 6'0", 160lb CB, Dudley High, NC
Owen Williams 6'1", 280lb DT, Butler CC, KS
Dontavius Blair 6'8", 303lb OT, Garden City CC, KS
Neiko Creamer 6'3", 218lb ATH, Eastern Christian High, MD
Todd Kelly Jr. 6'0", 188lb S, Webb School of Knoxville, TN
Dillon Bates 6'3", 220lb OLB, Ponte Vedra High, FL
Dewayne Hendrix 6'5", 254lb SDE, O'Fallon High, IL
Cortez McDowell 6'1", 200lb S, Locus Grove High, GA
Derek Barnett 6'3.5", 265lb SDE Brentwood Academy, TN
Gavin Bryant 6'2", 230lb MLB Jackson High, AL
Chris Weatherd 6'3.5", 220lb OLB Trinity Valley CC, TX
Evan Berry 5'11", 195lb ATH Creekside High, GA
Charles Mosley 6'5", 350lb DT/OG Brighton High, TN
Kevin Mouhon 6'0", 223lb MLB Norcross High, GA
Joe Henderson 6'3", 223lb WDE Shaker Heights High, OH
RaShaan Gaulden 6'1", 178lb DB Independence High, TN
Treyvon Paulk 5'9", 195lb RB Milton High, GA
Orlando Brown 6'8", 338lb OT Peachtree Ridge High, GA
Vic Wharton 6'0", 188lb ATH Independence High, TN
Cory Thomas 6'6", 270lb SDE McAdory High, AL
Elliott Berry 5'11", 191lb OLB Creekside High, GA
Jerome Dews 6'3", 200lb ATH Potomac High, MD
Aaron Medley 6'2", 170lb K Marshall County High, TN
Players Who Could Contribute in Their First Year
The star of Butch Jones' first full recruiting class at Tennessee is already enrolled and making an early impression on people around the program with his swagger and physical presence.
His size and speed combination will make it difficult to keep him off the field, and, if he's healthy, Hurd will be firmly in the mix for plenty of carries—even if he doesn't beat out rising senior Marlin Lane for the starting spot.
Hurd is recovering from shoulder surgery and is expected to be ready for spring practice where he'll be able to showcase the talent that made him one of the most sought-after athletes in the nation.
With UT needing difference-makers all over the field, it's difficult to see any scenario in which Hurd doesn't get a ton of touches immediately.
You can't keep an athlete of Malone's caliber off the field.
The major upgrade of talent at receiver will allow the Vols to get creative this spring at moving around some of their best players. Malone stands to benefit from that as he battles Von Pearson and others for the spot opposite Marquez North.
Malone is one of the most college-ready receivers in the nation, possessing excellent hands, speed, route running and athleticism. Having him on the field will open up things for North a bit more, and he can provide some big-play ability immediately.
He should win that starting job as a true freshman after going through spring drills as an early entry.
The Vols desperately needed a big-time offensive tackle commitment who could step right in and start, with all five linemen from this year moving on to the NFL.
Blair appears to have that ability, and now he just needs to live up to his high ranking as one of the nation's top-rated junior college offensive linemen.
The Vols beat out teams like Auburn and Texas A&M for Blair's commitment, and they're praying that he can slide in and fill the massive shoes of Tiny Richardson at left tackle.
Though Williams doesn't have ideal size for a defensive tackle at 6'1" and 280 pounds, he is extremely quick and disruptive, and he should give the Vols a pass-rushing presence on the interior that they've lacked since Malik Jackson was drafted by Denver.
Williams' flip from Texas Tech to Tennessee flew under the national radar, but Butch Jones and defensive line coach Steve Stripling were much higher on him than analysts who rated him a 3-star prospect. With UT losing its entire starting defensive line, Williams will have every opportunity to win a starting job.
Other Potential Contributors
The Vols are going to be young and much more talented all over the field in 2014, but there are so many names who have legitimate chances of getting serious reps that it's difficult to list them all.
Pearson should have a legit shot to battle Malone for that other wide receiver spot. Todd Kelly Jr. has an excellent opportunity to win the starting free safety job from LaDarrell McNeil.
JUCO OLB Chris Weatherd and freshman Dillon Bates will battle Jalen Reeves-Maybin for the other outside linebacker spot opposite Curt Maggitt. RaShaan Gaulden and D'Andre Payne could earn the starting nickel back spot.
With Brendan Downs injured this spring, the freshman tight end tandem of Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf will have every opportunity to unseat him as starter.
Physical specimen Jakob Johnson should slot himself firmly behind AJ Johnson at middle linebacker and position himself to inherit that spot when AJ leaves for the NFL. Several defensive linemen like Derek Barnett and Dewayne Hendrix are talented enough to win immediate reps.
Aaron Medley will be the favorite to win the place-kicking duties vacated by senior Michael Palardy.
Storylines to Watch
Anchors Up in Nashville
With James Franklin bolting Vanderbilt for Penn State, it's a free-for-all in Nashville with essentially the Commodores' entire recruiting class falling apart.
Vanderbilt's 247Sports site writer Chris Smith told USA Today's Jeff Lockridge:
Basically, they're left with three guys that I would consider really firm commitments…All the recruits, they all love Franklin, they all seemed to want to come to Vanderbilt because of Franklin. In the end, depending on how the new coaching staff is, they may be able to pull some of these guys back into the class. But it's going to be open season for Vanderbilt recruiting the next three weeks.
The Vols already have begun trying to capitalize on the fallout, offering a spot to defensive tackle Jashon Robertson. Two other commitments who already had UT offers—Emmanuel Smith and Michael Sawyers—have mutual interest.
Tennessee will be sweating a handful of commitments as they take visits down the stretch.
Cory Thomas is scheduled to visit Clemson on Jan. 24 and Mississippi State the week after, and the Bulldogs are seen as a legitimate threat. Gavin Bryant is still being coveted by Miami, and Dewayne Hendrix told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that he was at least considering another visit.
Hendrix is one of UT's most prized recruits.
The Vols aren't the only ones having their commits targeted, of course, and they're even doing some targeting of their own. Wisconsin pledge Craig Evans and LSU running back Darrel Williams are just a couple of players the Vols are still trying to convince to come to Knoxville.
UT currently has 33 verbal commitments, and with all the backcounting rules, it appears on the surface like the Vols should only be able to fit 30 new players into the fold for the 2014 class.
Butch Jones said, however, that UT would "sign more than 30" in an interview with Knoxville radio station WNML, according to a report by the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.
So, how many can the Vols sign?
Nobody at UT seems to be willing to publicly state a number, and given the new targets emerging daily for the Vols, the coaches don't seem too concerned about it.
It's going to be interesting in the final month to see how the Vols play the numbers game and if it affects who they sign, turn down or ask to look elsewhere.
The Legacy Class: A bizarre fact about Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class is six of UT's 33 commitments had family members play for the Vols.
Todd Kelly Jr.'s father was a standout defender for UT during Johnny Majors' heyday. Dillon Bates' father, Bill, was an All-SEC performer for UT and All-Pro safety for the Dallas Cowboys.
Evan and Elliott Berry's father James was a captain for Majors in the early '80s, and their brother Eric was a UT legend who is now an All-Pro safety with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Vic Wharton's uncle Brandon was an All-SEC basketball player for the Vols, and Neiko Creamer's father Andre was a kick returner and defensive back for Majors in the '80s.
Orlando Brown: The massive offensive lineman from suburban Atlanta is the son of the late former NFL offensive lineman of the same name. Brown was nicknamed "Zeus", and he is perhaps best remembered for an errant penalty flag that nearly blinded him. He died in September 2011 at the age of 40.
Jakob Johnson: The hulking linebacker commit and early enrollee was born and raised in Stuttgart, Germany, and he chased his dream of playing American football to the states, arriving in the Jacksonville, Fla., area in July 2013. This past year was his first season of American high school football after playing on club teams in Germany. The Florida Times-Union's Justin Barney wrote a great story on Johnson's journey.