Tennessee Football: Vols' 5 Most Underrated Recruits of 2014
Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones is about to wrap up his first full recruiting class in Knoxville, and it will be one that receives plenty of praise across the nation for its star quality.
But a few less -heralded members of the 2014 recruiting haul will play above their ratings as well.
Among UT's 34 commitments in a class ranked sixth by 247Sports are several players who may not be as nationally known as Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone but who will develop into quality SEC players. Some of those guys will contribute as early as 2014.
From the depleted depth of the offensive line to all levels of the defense, the Volunteers will play many new faces in what is expected to be a young rendition of UT next year. Some of those players who will crack the rotation will have fans scrambling through their programs to match numbers to names.
Let's take a look at some of the fresh-faced, first-year Vols who aren't recruiting site darlings but will prove during their days in orange and white that they were worthy of a higher ranking.
Ethan Wolf, Tight End
At nearly 6'6" and 247 pounds, Ethan Wolf can cast an imposing shadow, and it's one that will probably shade an opposing defensive lineman sometime during the 2014 season.
The Minster, Ohio, product teams with Daniel Helm to give Tennessee and tight ends coach Mark Elder the nation's second-ranked tight ends class nationally, according to 247Sports' Barton Simmons. The best thing for UT is that both of its recruited tight ends already are signed and on campus as mid-term enrollees.
While Helm is one of the most talented pass-catchers in the country at his position, Wolf is the bruising, in-line tight end who boasts college size and surprising athleticism.
Given UT's desperate and immediate need for blockers to emerge along the offensive front, it's hard to see a freshman as developed in that category as Wolf standing on the sideline. He will see plenty of action as a freshman.
Throw in the fact that UT rising senior tight end Brendan Downs is limited with an injury and rising sophomore A.J. Branisel is still recovering from a torn ACL, and the duo has a great opportunity.
Although Wolf was rated only as a 3-star prospect, he had several BCS offers including one from Alabama, which came after he had already committed to Tennessee in April. He'll prove early that he is going to be a nice catch for the Vols.
RaShaan Gaulden, Defensive Back
There were few bigger high school defensive playmakers in the state of Tennessee this past season than Independence High defensive back RaShaan Gaulden.
The versatile 6'1", 178-pound defender amassed an eye-popping 207 tackles, picked off four passes and forced three fumbles during his senior season.
When he joined teammate Vic Wharton as a Vols commitment in early May, it was met with little fanfare outside of the state, but that didn't limit UT's excitement. Gaulden is the kind of player who can make an immediate impact in orange.
Just this past week, 247Sports properly awarded him a fourth star, but he's still a composite 3-star player across the board. That ranking is criminally low for a player with his instincts and tackling ability. Throw in his versatility—he can play either safety or cornerback—and the Vols believe they have a gem.
Gaulden likely will start his collegiate career by getting an extended look at nickelback. If that doesn't work out, he will team with fellow in-state star Todd Kelly Jr. to provide an excellent safety tandem for the future.
Coleman Thomas, Offensive Lineman
Coleman Thomas committed to Butch Jones on the first day of spring practice way back in March, becoming the Vols' second pledge in the 2014 class.
Despite receiving an offer from Florida State and interest from schools such as Georgia, he never wavered on his commitment and enrolled mid-term at Tennessee.
Though he was listed by 247Sports as a center and offensive guard, he has the size and versatility at 6'6", 297 pounds to play anywhere along the offensive front. According to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), UT coaches have told him he'll start his career at right tackle.
He'll battle with redshirt freshmen Austin Sanders and Brett Kendrick to win that starting spot, so his immediate development is vastly important to the success of the revamped offensive line.
The Fort Chiswell, Va., product never rose above his 3-star status, but he has that tough, gritty style that is necessary to play offensive line in the rugged SEC, and he has the athleticism to move around. Thomas is going to be a player for the Vols, probably as soon as his true freshman season.
Jakob Johnson, Inside Linebacker
Big, German-born linebacker Jakob Johnson has been playing football in the United States for just one season, but the athleticism was more obvious than the rawness for a UT coaching staff that offered him quickly.
He has all of the physical attributes to play middle linebacker in the SEC, and Tennessee may have gotten one of the biggest steals in the recruiting class when he signed with the Vols and lead recruiter Tommy Thigpen.
At 6'4", 240 pounds, he looks the part, and the best news for UT is that he is already enrolled at Tennessee and going through offseason workouts.
While Johnson likely won't crack the starting linebacker rotation for Tennessee this year, the Jacksonville, Fla., product is in line to learn from rising senior A.J. Johnson in hopes of taking over that spot when he leaves for the NFL.
Johnson was rated a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, but he's only a 3-star player in the composite rankings. He also wasn't very heavily recruited. Despite taking an unofficial visit to Florida, the Gators never offered, so he chose UT over teams such as Central Florida, Wisconsin and Tulane.
That doesn't matter to the Vols, who hope they've found their middle linebacker of the future.
Owen Williams, Defensive Tackle
Tennessee desperately needed to add at least a couple of junior college defensive linemen to its thin rotation. Though the Vols fell short of that thanks to DaVonte Lambert flipping to Auburn, they are happy with the one they did pull.
Owen Williams visited Tennessee in November and flipped from Texas Tech to the Vols, giving defensive line coach Steve Stripling a relentless, disruptive rusher from the interior of the line.
At 6'1", 280 pounds, he isn't as big as many of the defensive tackles you normally see in the league. But he has an excellent first step and explosiveness that coaches look for in defensive linemen. The Vols plucked him from Butler Community College in Kansas, and they didn't get him to ride the bench.
Having to replace all four starters along the front, UT needs some impact players to step up. Williams will have every opportunity to play after earning Jayhawk Conference Defensive MVP during his sophomore season, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.
Owen is very active and plays with a high motor. He has outstanding strength and uses his hands very well. His activity and play-making abilities helped Butler CC to (a) successful season, and Owen had a great performance in their bowl game.
At the very least, Williams will be firmly in the defensive tackle rotation as a junior, but look for him to win one of those spots during the preseason and begin the year with the first unit.