Tennessee Football: Analyzing Volunteers' Top Five 2015 Recruiting Targets
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones landed one of the nation's top recruiting classes in 2014, and if he's going to repeat the feat, he'll have to close the deal on some of UT's top remaining targets.
The Volunteers are off to a solid start, as their class of 11 commitments is currently ranked ninth nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
That haul includes one 5-star and four 4-star prospects.
Though there are some early concerns (see: quarterback recruiting), it's difficult to complain about what appears to be another fast start on the trail.
UT has positioned itself quite nicely to restock the pantry on the offensive and defensive lines—a major necessity for this year's class. The Vols have already landed the nation's top-rated wide receiver in Preston Williams as well as the state's top player in Jauan Jennings.
A class that finished with 32 commits last year should be followed up by one that reaches "the mid-20s" in number, as Jones told Bleacher Report a couple of weeks ago. To reach that number, Jones still has more than half the class to fill.
Some of the nation's top players have Tennessee on the tips of their tongues, and it'll be interesting to see how many believe in Jones' pitch and ink their scholarship papers for the Vols.
The basis for ranking these players combines their caliber as prospects, Tennessee's desperate-need positions and the mutual interest between them and UT.
Let's break down the Vols' top five targets on the cusp of camp season and summer evaluations.
No. 5: Tim Settle
Few defensive tackles have the combination of size and explosiveness that Tim Settle has.
His Hudl film leaves little room to doubt why the 247Sports composite rankings list the Manassas, Virginia, standout as a 5-star talent and the nation's fifth-ranked interior lineman.
Back in early May, he shocked some by announcing Tennessee as his leader when he tweeted out his top 15 schools in order:
Settle's pledge would be ideal news for Tennessee, who hopes to pair him with fellow 5-star Kahlil McKenzie in the middle of that defensive line for years to come. When McKenzie heard the news of Settle selecting UT as his summer leader, he took to Twitter as well.
Me and @tim_settle in the middle #deadly
— Kahlil McKenzie (@KM1_Era)
After shedding some weight from his junior season, Settle looks like he could become the strong, dominant 4-technique defensive lineman that his film suggests. He possesses the size, speed and explosiveness necessary to make an immediate impact.
Expect him to be a huge priority for UT moving forward as Butch Jones battles some of the nation's top teams for Settle.
No. 4: Kyle Phillips
Kyle Phillips is one of the quieter recruitments recently when it comes to top Vols targets.
The Hillsboro High (Tennessee) defensive end hasn't said much lately about where he is leaning, but he reportedly is high on Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss.
The Vols currently hold an overwhelming 87 percent edge for Phillips on 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections. But this race is nowhere near over yet.
UT would desperately love to keep the elite lineman in-state to play his college ball.
He has yet to mention any leaders, and while he is handling his recruiting process exceptionally well, he's hard to read. Phillips' mother is Tennessee State's athletic director Teresa Phillips, so he understands how to approach recruiting with a business attitude.
The 4-star prospect has the ideal size of a prototypical SEC lineman at 6'4", 255 pounds, and he would fit one of Tennessee's biggest needs in this year's class—a game-changing pass-rusher who can wreak havoc and get after the quarterback.
He has a top-notch first step that helps him beat offensive tackles at the point of attack, and his ability is apparent. Getting him in orange and white would be a major coup, and it would ensure that UT kept yet another one of the state's top prospects at home.
No. 3: Torrance Gibson
The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind in the race to sign the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson.
The 6'4", 200-pound speedster first updated his recruitment by saying that Auburn and Tennessee were tied at the top of his list of favorites. Then, he visited AU for "Big Cat Weekend," and his eye-opening trip was followed up by this tweet:
Considering Gibson seems the perfect fit to take over Nick Marshall's spot as Gus Malzahn's run-pass quarterback weapon, many Tennessee fans already have written him off.
But his recruitment is far from over. According to his personal blog on USA Today, he will wait until after his senior season to commit anywhere. He also seemed to back off the belief that AU held a slight lead by saying, "Right now, I'd have to say that Tennessee and the Auburn are the leaders."
While UT will look other directions for a quarterback this summer, Butch Jones will not slow down the recruitment of the 5-star talent. He's an ideal fit for the offense, possessing the wheels to scurry away from defenders and a cannon arm.
Though he still needs to polish his technique, all of that is fixable. You can't teach 6'4" size with the speed and athleticism that Gibson boasts, and it's why the nation's top teams will continue to recruit him and wait, even if he plans to commit late for a quarterback.
No. 2: Drew Richmond
Tennessee has a lot of positives working in its favor to try to land one of the nation's top-ranked offensive tackles, Drew Richmond.
The Vols already have one of his close friends—jumbo two-way lineman Charles Mosley—in the fold and ready to go through summer workouts. They've also convinced Richmond of their massive need for an impact offensive tackle, and he would have every opportunity to come in and start immediately.
Still, there's a long way to go before Richmond's scheduled announcement of Sept. 9.
The 247Sports Crystal Ball gives Tennessee an edge to land Richmond with 48 percent of the predictions. Ohio State follows closely behind at 40 percent. Ole Miss holds 8 percent of the vote, and Alabama holds 4 percent.
But Richmond raved about his recent UA visit to BamaOnline's Charles Power (subscription required). Then, he told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) on Wednesday that he has "just got a lot of thinking to do" and is torn.
He acknowledged to Callahan when asked about Tennessee that "they want me to come in and play early and get it done. I know they want me. That’s what stands out. I know they want and need me."
The Vols desperately do. In-state commit Jack Jones probably projects as an OT in college, but with Dontavius Blair struggling at left tackle, UT only has Coleman Thomas as a future stalwart at the position.
Getting a run-blocking mauler like Richmond who has the frame and strength to play right away is a necessity.
No. 1: Kahlil McKenzie
If you want to see an elite first couple of steps, check the embedded footage of Kahlil McKenzie from SBNation's Wescott Eberts.
That's some pretty amazing footwork.
It's also one of the reasons why after the NFTC Camp in Oakland, 247Sports elevated McKenzie to a 5-star prospect and the nation's second-ranked defensive tackle.
The 6'4", 309-pound mauler has a final two of Tennessee and Arizona, and he announced that he'd make his decision on July 10 live at The Opening, via the event's Twitter account Tuesday night.
Considering McKenzie's father Reggie (the Oakland Raiders' general manager), his uncle Raleigh and his godfather the great Reggie White all played for the Vols, it would be a shocker if he went anywhere else.
An overwhelming 97 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections have him heading to Knoxville. If that comes to fruition, UT will have nabbed one of its biggest needs in the entire 2015 recruiting cycle.
He has the ability to immediately step into the two-deep depth chart and complete to start in the rugged SEC.
It has been awhile since UT was winning recruiting battles, even with bloodlines or in-state ties. If coach Butch Jones can wrap up the majority of these guys, it'll be another successful season on the trail as the Vols try to rebuild.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports.
Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: @Brad_Shepard
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