Tennessee Football: Position-by-Position Grades for 2014 Recruiting Class

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014

Tennessee Football: Position-by-Position Grades for 2014 Recruiting Class

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Tennessee Volunteers coach Butch Jones assembled one of the highest-ranked recruiting classes in the country and was one of the toasts of this year's recruiting cycle.

    But as Vols fans know from the tenures of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, signing a lauded recruiting class and meeting needs are two mutually exclusive things.

    The Vols had holes all over the field, and perhaps the most impressive thing about the 2014 class is that Jones did a good job of filling most of them. Throw in the fact that UT signed 32 recruits, and there is a buzz around Knoxville about an immediate, massive upgrade of talent.

    Jones' first full recruiting class at UT passes the eyeball test and received plenty of national buzz from Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples and Grantland's Holly Anderson.

    But how did the group—which finished seventh in the 247Sports rankings—fare when it came to addressing the inadequacies at each position?

    Let's take an in-depth look at the recruiting class and hand out letter grades for each position.

    All recruiting information via 247Sports Composite rankings unless otherwise noted.


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    Associated Press

    A myth perpetuated around Tennessee message boards throughout the year was the Vols didn't really care whether they signed a quarterback in the 2014 cycle.

    That's not exactly true.

    UT coach Butch Jones noted to VolQuest's Grant Ramey (subscription required) the thought process behind taking or not taking a quarterback this year: "We would have liked to, but when I looked at the state of our program and where we were at, I feel very comfortable with the quarterbacks that we have in our football program right now, but also we needed big bodies."

    Tennessee wanted a quarterback; UT coaches just weren't going to reach on one.

    Once players like Will Grier (Florida), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), David Cornwell (Alabama) and Drew Barker (Kentucky) fell off the board, UT was left empty-handed.

    Still, as Jones noted, Tennessee has senior Justin Worley, redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman, true sophomore Joshua Dobbs and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson on the roster, so signing a signal-caller wasn't a necessity.

    Given that UT flirted and fell short, though, there's no fudging the final grade.

    Grade: F

Running Backs

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    Jalen Hurd could make one of the biggest impacts of any freshman RB in the country.
    Jalen Hurd could make one of the biggest impacts of any freshman RB in the country.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Tennessee coaches were probably more than happy with their running back haul all the way back in March 2013 when they already had secured pledges from Jalen Hurd and Treyvon Paulk.

    But when highly coveted North Carolina product Derrell Scott chose the Vols over South Carolina and Florida mere weeks before national signing day, it gave UT an embarrassment of riches at tailback.

    The Vols desperately need the bodies and the talent.

    Tennessee has only rising senior Marlin Lane returning. He has proved to be an adequate SEC back.

    Hurd is a 6'3", 230-pound freak of nature who has the potential to be an elite back, and Scott provides the shiftiness and second-level gear that has been missing from Tennessee's backfield for years.

    Once he recovers from a knee injury, throw in Paulk's stocky, powerful frame that normally translates well in a league, and the Vols are built for the present and the future.

    Grade: A-plus

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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    Von Pearson is one of the most overlooked players in Tennessee's class.
    Von Pearson is one of the most overlooked players in Tennessee's class.Credit: 247Sports

    This is another area where it's hard to imagine the Vols faring any better.

    The December coup of in-state receiver Josh Malone—who once had ruled out Tennessee as a final destination—ensured UT would have a banner year in luring pass-catching targets.

    Tennessee also received a pledge from mid-term signee Von Pearson of Feather River College in California. He is an under-the-radar prospect who possesses excellent ball skills and speed, and he has a huge opportunity to gain immediate reps.

    Rounding out the class at receiver are Neiko Creamer and Vic Wharton. Creamer is a legacy whose father Andre played for Johnny Majors in the '80s. Though he's listed as a jumbo athlete, the 6'3", 218-pound Creamer will begin his career at receiver. He could move to tight end or defense as well.

    Wharton was Butch Jones' first commit of the 2013 class, and he is going to play slot receiver for the Vols.

    Jones also hit a home run in tight end recruiting, luring 4-star tight end Daniel Helm away from the Midwest and offers from Michigan and Ole Miss. Big Ethan Wolf—all 6'6", 247 pounds of him—also is on campus and impressing with his all-around abilities.

    That's a lot of weapons for the winner of the quarterback derby.

    Grade: A-plus

Offensive Line

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    Coleman Thomas has the opportunity to start from Day 1 at UT.
    Coleman Thomas has the opportunity to start from Day 1 at UT.Credit: 247Sports

    The Vols really needed to sign another tackle in the 2014 recruiting class, but the overall haul of offensive line commitments could benefit based on where a couple of prospects settle long term.

    Freshman Coleman Thomas looks like he could be an immediate answer at right tackle, and Dontavius Blair is a junior college player whom the Vols are depending on as their left tackle in 2014. But neither is a can't-miss talent.

    Inside, Ray Raulerson is the only true guard that UT signed.

    For a team that desperately needs to catch up in O-line recruiting after Derek Dooley failed to sign any two years ago, the Vols didn't meet all their needs. Another high school tackle would have been nice, but UT didn't gamble on signing shaky qualifier Orlando Brown Jr., who ultimately inked with Oklahoma.

    While Charles Mosley and Jashon Robertson will start their careers at defensive tackle, several analysts believe they have a higher ceiling on the offensive line, as noted in the recruits' 247Sports profiles. If one or both of those guys wind up on the O-line, this grade could be better.

    Grade: B

Defensive Line

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    The national signing day commitment of Michael Sawyers helped boost UT's DL class.
    The national signing day commitment of Michael Sawyers helped boost UT's DL class.Credit: 247Sports

    For years, Tennessee struck out in defensive line recruiting.

    Not this year.

    The Vols signed a slew of linemen with major upsides. Much like the offensive line, though, the final grade is pending based on where several players fall.

    On the surface, it looks like UT came up one true defensive tackle and one dynamic pass-rushing defensive end short, but given the talent the Vols did land, that's nitpicking.

    Dewayne Hendrix is a potential game-changing strong-side defensive end, and Derek Barnett is a versatile, 4-star in-state lineman who was coveted by several top teams and could grow into a tackle. When Michael Sawyers committed to UT on national signing day, it gave a boost to the interior of the line as well.

    Players like Dimarya Mixon and Joe Henderson have high upsides, and Owen Williams is a lightly recruited JUCO DT whom Tennessee was thrilled to get.

    The Vols desperately wanted another immediate-impact JUCO player, but that fell by the wayside when DaVonte Lambert spurned his longtime commitment to UT and signed with Auburn.

    If Charles Mosley or Jashon Robertson winds up as legitimate defensive tackles, this class becomes even better.

    Grade: B-plus


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    Dillon Bates has the potential to be a three- or four-year starter for the Vols.
    Dillon Bates has the potential to be a three- or four-year starter for the Vols.Credit: 247Sports

    Tommy Thigpen was recently anointed Rivals.com's national recruiter of the year, and according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown, he could be in line for a raise and extension.

    We're about to see how good a linebackers coach he is.

    He helped bring in an impressive haul of five linebackers to Knoxville, including Dillon Bates, Jakob Johnson, Gavin Bryant, Chris Weatherd and Elliott Berry.

    Berry—one of the twin younger brothers of Eric Berry—is the wild card of the bunch who could play nickelback or safety. Consequently, safety Cortez McDowell also could grow into an outside linebacker.

    Other than those those unsure spots, UT is thrilled about its haul of second-tier defenders.

    Bates is the son of former UT and Dallas Cowboys great Bill Bates and has the potential to be a three- or four-year starter in Knoxville. Johnson—a hulking, 6'3", 236-pound middle linebacker—has generated considerable buzz since arriving in Knoxville in January.

    Bryant, meanwhile, is a head-hunting Alabama product that the Vols somehow took from under Alabama and Auburn's noses, and Weatherd is a lanky outside 'backer whose speed is a major asset.

    The Vols recruited plenty of help at all three spots, and they're set for the future at the position.

    Grade: A

Defensive Backs

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    D'Andre Payne will try to seize a golden opportunity for playing time as a true freshman cornerback.
    D'Andre Payne will try to seize a golden opportunity for playing time as a true freshman cornerback.Credit: 247Sports

    Starting spots in the defensive backfield has ripe for the picking, and the work that Tennessee did on the recruiting trail will lead to some serious competition.

    At cornerback, the Vols brought in a trio of players with high upsides but some question marks to go along with them.

    D'Andre Payne is the most polished true corner, but he also is tiny at 5'9", 175 pounds.

    Emmanuel Moseley has the speed and frame necessary to be an elite corner, but he was lightly recruited because he was raw. Since arriving in Knoxville mid-term, he's added weight, and that will greatly benefit his chances of getting on the field early.

    Evan Berry—the other twin brother of Eric—wants to start his career on offense, but he is a better fit for the defensive backfield and could be an X-factor in this class.

    RaShaan Gaulden could fit multiple places for the Vols. They will start his career at nickelback, but the hard-hitting ball hawk also could shift to safety if needed.

    The safety duo of Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell is one of the nation's best in this recruiting cycle, and it would not be surprising in the least to see one of those guys push LaDarrell McNeil for a starting spot.

    There is a ton of promise in this group. but a star like Adoree' Jackson would have put UT over the top.

    Grade: B-plus


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    Tennessee didn't have to go far to find its future kicker in Lewisburg's Aaron Medley.
    Tennessee didn't have to go far to find its future kicker in Lewisburg's Aaron Medley.Credit: 247Sports

    Tennessee got the kicker it coveted with in-state star Aaron Medley, who is a camp freak with a big leg.

    He has a huge upside despite the fact that he needs to become more consistent in his field-goal kicking. At Marshall County High in Lewisburg, Tenn., he didn't kick many of them, so he's a bit rusty, as evidenced by his 0-of-2 performance in the Under Armour All-America Game.

    Once he gets into a college program, he's going to be fine. He has the power and trajectory needed to boom long field goals.

    The only reason for docking Medley a letter grade is his unproven consistency, and given UT's immediate need for a quality kicker after Michael Palardy graduated, there's some uncertainty whether Medley could help right away.

    Still, the future is bright for the lifelong Vols fan who chose UT over Texas A&M, Notre Dame and others.

    Grade: B-plus