Re-Evaluating Tennessee's 2012 Recruiting Class
Recruiting under former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was never particularly rewarding, but there have been few clunker classes bigger than his final full haul in 2012.
Even though a few of the players still have eligibility remaining, it's already safe to label the class a failure.
The group of 22 players that was ranked 20th by 247Sports and eighth in the SEC was never met with much fanfare.
But the little impact of their careers—for those who actually had careers—is staggering.
The players from that group were supposed to be upperclassmen leaders during 2014, but just 11 remain. Only six of those have legitimate chances to be in the rotation, which means Butch Jones already has overrecruited many of them.
Defections and poor evaluations are key reasons why UT currently is devoid of dependable juniors and seniors.
Dooley signed zero offensive linemen in the '12 class. Of the defensive linemen, only a couple remain who could contribute. As a result, UT will be forced to play newcomers all through the trenches.
"All in all, if you look at all that's happened, all that's transpired, it's hard to feel better than I do today," Dooley told GoVolsXtra's Austin Ward on national signing day 2012.
The Dooley era in Knoxville was characterized by Vols fans trying to convince themselves and the rest of the SEC that things weren't as bad as they seemed.
They were, and the 2012 class is proof.
Signees: Nathan Peterman, 3-star, No. 17 pro-style QB
After many of their top targets had fallen off the board, the Vols made an offer to Peterman following a summer camp performance.
He committed soon afterward.
Unfortunately, his career hasn't gone as planned. There is still some time for the 6'2", 225-pound signal-caller to make his mark in Knoxville, but the redshirt sophomore has shown very few flashes.
His only career start was one of the most disastrous games in recent memory, as detailed by Nooga.com's Daniel Lewis. Peterman threw two interceptions, got injured and was a major factor in the Vols' mistake-laden 31-17 loss to Florida last year.
Peterman never threatened in the four-man quarterback battle this spring, and he received fewer reps than senior Justin Worley and sophomore Joshua Dobbs in the spring game.
With UT bringing in highly ranked quarterbacks Quinten Dormady and Jauan Jennings in the 2015 recruiting class and still recruiting 5-star Torrance Gibson, playing time is going to be an uphill battle.
When Derek Dooley failed in quality, he tried to make up for it in quantity.
After the Vols struck out on top targets such as Mike Davis, Mario Pender, I'Tavius Mathers and Jovon Robinson, they signed three reaches.
Though Bourque was highly rated, he was an athlete who'd committed to LSU as a wide receiver. The Louisiana native didn't make it through August practices before leaving school after what his dad told GoVolsXtra's Evan Woodbery were "broken promises" from the coaching staff to his son.
Watson earned limited action as a freshman, rushing for 66 yards in six games of action. But he left after that one season at UT to go home to Athens, Georgia, according to Athens Banner-Herald's Roger Clarkson.
Hill lasted the longest, but he transferred out of the program this past April and landed at Football Championship Subdivision power James Madison.
Dooley also parted ways with longtime commitment Imani Cross, who signed with Nebraska and has had a productive career in Lincoln.
Signees: Cordarrelle Patterson, 4-star, No. 1 JUCO wide receiver; Drae Bowles, 4-star, No. 29 WR; Jason Croom, 4-star, No. 31 WR; Alton "Pig" Howard, 4-star, No. 36 WR; Cody Blanc, 3-star, No. 85 athlete
The one position that was a roaring success for the 2012 recruiting class was wide receiver, where Dooley secured a one-year superstar and a couple of players who are on their way to productive careers.
Even in a disappointing season, Patterson was an all-around dynamo in 2012. He finished with 46 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns, added 308 rushing yards and three more scores along with 778 return yards and a couple scores.
Patterson parlayed success into a first-round selection in the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Croom is a big-bodied rising redshirt sophomore who showed flashes of being a nice weapon for UT toward the end of 2013. He will be in the mix for a lot of playing time moving forward.
Though Bowles and Blanc have struggled through their careers, the top three names on the list make the receiver haul a nice one.
Signees: Justin Meredith, 3-star, No. 43 tight end
Tennessee believed it was getting a coup when it flipped Meredith from North Carolina in December of 2011.
A 6'5", 223-pound target, Meredith had the versatility to be an excellent blocker and catch plenty of passes. He also was athletic enough to anchor the defense during the majority of his senior season at Anderson, South Carolina's T L Hanna High School.
But his college career never materialized.
He was placed on the medically exempt list in October 2013 because of chronic hamstring issues. Meredith remained with the team to help the staff, according to GoVolsXtra's Evan Woodbery.
"The coaches and staff told me that everything Justin did was with maximum effort," Meredith's father Chuck told Woodbery. "His grades were great. His attitude was great. As a father, that made me proud."
Unfortunately, Meredith was never physically able to help UT on the field.
Ideally, a football program will sign three to five offensive line prospects every year to be able to tier depth and safeguard against injuries at a vitally important position.
Inexplicably, Dooley failed to sign a single lineman in the 2012 cycle.
Of all his recruiting inefficiencies, this was his biggest. It was puzzling then, and more so now, especially since Antonio "Tiny" Richardson left school early and the Vols are facing a 2014 season where they'll break in five new offensive linemen.
GoVolsXtra's Andrew Gribble knew it was odd and wrote a story about it. According to Gribble, the average number of OL commits among SEC programs in 2012 was 3.6, slightly below the 3.97 average since 2002. From 247Sports' JC Shurburtt in Gribble's story:
It's one of those things where different schools have different philosophies in regard to their roster. Ideally, you bring in four or five per year, get those guys in the pipeline and then you won't have a season where you're depending on guys that are inexperienced or aren't very good.
In a league like the SEC, which is so defensive line heavy, you obviously need great offensive linemen to combat that... Certainly that's not a criticism of what Tennessee has done. It's just kind of a different way you normally see it happen.
UT missed on D.J. Humphries (Florida), Matt Cochran (California), Kyle Long (Oregon) and Jordan Diamond (Auburn).
Perhaps the biggest surprise was lifetime UT fan and season-ticket holder Andrew Jelks choosing James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores over the Vols.
Following those misses, Dooley didn't take a single lineman, and the effects will be felt this year and next.
Signees: Omari Phillips, 4-star, No. 15 DT; Danny O'Brien, 4-star, No. 19 DT; Trent Taylor, 3-star, No. 24 strong-side DE; LaTroy Lewis, 3-star, No. 26 weak-side DE; Daniel McCullers, 3-star, No. 3 JUCO DT; Darrington Sentimore, 3-star, No. 4 JUCO DT
At the time, Dooley's defensive line recruiting class was viewed as one that would resurrect Tennessee's struggling unit.
To call it a failure wouldn't be accurate, thanks to a career by jumbo JUCO defensive tackle Daniel McCullers that saw him get drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in this year's draft.
But the group of defensive linemen was certainly a disappointment, and it remains to be seen if any of the players left will contribute in the near future of UT's rebuilding project.
While at UT, 6'8", 351-pound McCullers wound up with 72 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Two coaching staffs failed to keep McCullers motivated, but he flashed immense potential to go along with his hulking size.
Sentimore made a puzzling decision to turn pro after one season in Knoxville, wasn't drafted and fell off the map. Phillips and Taylor were heavily recruited Floridians who were one-and-done at UT and haven't resurfaced since.
O'Brien and Lewis had major opportunities to seize expanded roles this spring, but neither took advantage. With all the freshman talent coming in, both will have to elevate their play to stick in the two-deep. O'Brien has the best opportunity as a redshirt sophomore.
Linebacker was another position where Dooley failed to hit the mark in 2012, but that really wasn't his fault.
The Vols had two stellar prospects committed for months in Dalton Santos and Otha Peters, but they flipped to Texas and Arkansas, respectively, in the final weeks leading up to national signing day to put UT in a predicament.
Dooley was able to flip Bynum from Butch Jones' Cincinnati Bearcats extremely late in the process, and Bynum looked in this year's Orange and White Game like he could battle to replace A.J. Johnson at middle linebacker in 2015.
King has been moved all around, from H-back to tight end to linebacker. He has yet to find a home, and it appears he may be lost in the shuffle.
Santos and Peters hurt this positional grade for '12 in a major way.
McNeil was a massive steal from Big 12 country who was expected to come in and contribute immediately. Sure enough, the 6'1", 204-pound safety started each of his first two seasons in Knoxville.
But struggles with a lack of top-end speed and poor angles have put McNeil's job in jeopardy with elite prospects like Todd Kelly Jr., Rashaan Gaulden and Cortez McDowell on campus.
McNeil will try to put a disappointing sophomore season behind him and realize his 4-star potential. He failed to do that this spring with Brian Randolph injured, and therefore needs a big offseason.
Butch Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown:
[McNeil] still has a lot of room for growth and development… Come June, we welcome three more safeties at that position, so it's going to be a lot of competition as we continue to go. LaDarrell's played a role for us in the past. His role is going to continue to increase in terms of the special teams game, but the competition, especially on the defensive side of the ball, will pick up once June occurs.
Both Bonner and Gray were forced into action out of necessity on the worst defense in school history in 2012.
Gray transferred to Utah State after the season, and Bonner didn't make it long at UT, living up to the massive character red flags he brought with him to Knoxville, as detailed by NBC Sports' John Taylor.
Signees: George Bullock, 3-star, No. 13 kicker
With Michael Palardy holding down kicking duties for the Vols over the past four years, Bullock has been relegated to sideline spectator.
This spring, he won the kicking battle among all players currently on campus.
With the nation's No. 6-rated kicker Aaron Medley now on campus, Bullock will have plenty of competition. The most consistent kicker will probably win.
It's hard to grade Bullock's career so far because he hasn't had any opportunities. He made his only field-goal attempt in the spring game, and whether or not he wins the battle with Medley likely will determine the remainder of his career on the Hill.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: