Recruits Tennessee Volunteers Must Land to Complete 2015 Class
With Tennessee coach Butch Jones' orange-hot three weeks on the recruiting trail, the Volunteers don't have many open spots remaining in their 2015 class.
Quarterback Quinten Dormady's June 9 pledge started a surge that led to seven total commits in the month. UT's "Orange Carpet Day" event kept the Vols hot, and they now have 18 commitments and rank seventh nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite.
UT secured a star running back prospect in Alvin Kamara, landed a couple of key defenders in Austin Smith and Quay Picou and lured in-state tight end commit Kyle Oliver at Orange Carpet Day festivities.
If UT signs a complete class of 25 players, that means seven spots remain.
Considering there is always attrition—come on, this is SEC recruiting!—and Jones is known for creativity with numbers (he signed 32 players last year), there could be another spot available.
So, here are eight players the Vols need to get to commit to close out the recruiting class.
Kahlil McKenzie, 5-Star Defensive Tackle
Concord, California 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie is the kind of player who can be a recruiting class centerpiece.
And right now, Tennessee is the overwhelming favorite to land his services when he announces his decision July 10 at The Opening. The Crystal Ball gives UT a 98 percent chance, while the other finalist, Arizona, has no votes.
The 6'4", 330-pound stopgap has enjoyed a dominant summer, surging all the way up to 5-star status and the No. 31 player nationally, according to the composite rankings. He is the 10th-rated player in the country, per 247Sports.
Barton Simmons, director of football scouting for 247Sports, provided the reasoning (subscription required) for McKenzie's rankings leap following his performance at the Nike Football Training Camp in Oakland.
There hasn’t been more a no-doubt five-star performance this offseason than the one that Kahlil McKenzie put together last weekend in Oakland at the Nike Football Training Camp. That performance along with film that backs it up, elite size and the best pedigree all made McKenzie an obvious choice to move into the five-star range.
McKenzie is the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who played at UT. His uncle Raleigh was a Vol as well, and McKenzie still has family in Knoxville. It would be a major upset if he chose any other team.
His commitment would be a huge start on the homestretch to completing this class.
Drew Richmond, 4-Star Offensive Tackle
Tennessee is hurting for depth and game-changing talent on the exterior of its offensive line. In-state tackle Drew Richmond would go a long way toward changing that.
He'd also ease any worries about the Vols' offensive tackle recruiting in this cycle.
UT already has commitments from Jack Jones (who could play guard or tackle) and in-state guard Zach Stewart, but the Vols still need some true tackles. They've got one right there in the Volunteer State and need to close the deal.
Richmond has several friends on UT's current roster, including close buddy Charles Mosley. But the Vols are anything but a guarantee to earn his services. Alabama, Ole Miss and Ohio State, among others, are also on the 6'5", 320-pound tackle's mind.
The Memphis University School product told Bucknuts.com's Bill Kurelic (subscription required) he was coming to Columbus for Friday Night Lights and confirmed that he was still planning on following through with his Sept. 9 commitment date.
A recent Alabama visit made things even more confusing for Richmond who told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that he has "a lot of thinking to do" and, in discussing his top group, "I feel like I fit in well at all of those places, just in my head."
The Vols have emphasized to Richmond how much he's needed, and they'll nervously await his decision. A pledge from him and McKenzie would make the class.
Kyle Phillips, 4-Star Defensive End
Another star in-state player UT is battling Alabama and Ole Miss for is Hillsboro, Tennessee, defensive end Kyle Phillips.
As poor as Tennessee's pass rush has been in recent years—and it has been atrocious, as evidenced by the fact that UT hasn't cracked the league's top five in sacks since 2007, according to ESPN—it desperately needs a boost. Phillips would do it.
The past three years, Tennessee has finished last, last and next-to-last in bringing down the opposing quarterback.
Phillips is an elite, 6'4", 260-pound edge-rusher who has the size to hold his own in the run game and the speed to get after the quarterback. In other words, he'd fill a major void on UT's roster.
Though he doesn't talk a lot about his recruitment, Phillips spoke with GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) a couple of weeks ago.
"I have a pretty good relationship with the coaching staff, and that's good," Phillips said. "I like all their personalities and things like that. I'm pretty cool with all of them, so that's mainly the good thing about them. The more I go up there, the more comfortable I get with them and stuff like that."
With LSU and others in the running for the nation's 116th-ranked player, it's going to be difficult to land him. The Vols probably need to show some signs of on-field success to keep his interest perked.
Phillips isn't in a hurry, telling Callahan he'd commit maybe "sometime during the season." The Vols will be in it until the end, but they need to get him signed and delivered.
Van Jefferson, 4-Star Wide Receiver
One position Tennessee hasn't had any difficulty recruiting since Butch Jones arrived in Knoxville is wide receiver.
He kept Marquez North in the fold after replacing Derek Dooley on Rocky Top. Then, in last year's cycle, the Vols signed Josh Malone, Von Pearson and Vic Wharton.
Already in this class, UT has a commitment from the nation's top-ranked receiver Preston Williams.
Now, receivers coach Zach Azzanni will try to close the deal and complete the class at the position with Brentwood, Tennessee, receiver Van Jefferson, son of Tennessee Titans coach Shawn Jefferson.
The 6'2", 176-pound pass-catcher has a complete game and is being coveted by some of the nation's top programs, and UT appears right at the top of that list along with Ohio State and Georgia.
Though UT currently trails the Buckeyes on the Crystal Ball, 63 percent to 27 percent, seven of the last eight predictions lean in the Vols' direction.
Director of Football Scouting for 247Sports Barton Simmons said upon flipping his pick to UT (subscription required):
Two different sources with knowledge of Jefferson's recruitment have indicated that Tennessee is in very good shape in this one. One source thinks that Tennessee would get Jefferson if his recruitment ended today, another source tells me that he thinks Tennessee and Georgia are the favorites right now and it is a toss-up.
If Jefferson commits this summer, Tennessee has to like its chances.
D.J. Jones, 4-Star JUCO Defensive Tackle
Tennessee's major need for defensive tackles in this recruiting season could get a big boost from a Kahlil McKenzie pledge.
But that won't mean the Vols are through recruiting at the position.
The Vols are on the minds of several high-profile lane-cloggers, such as Shy Tuttle and Tim Settle. But perhaps the most college-ready player, who actually says UT leads right now, is JUCO DT D.J. Jones.
Jones is the nation's top-ranked JUCO defensive tackle, according the 247Sports Composite, and he currently plays at East Mississippi Community College, where he was placed by Tennessee out of high school.
Originally from Piedmont, South Carolina, Jones is desperately coveted by South Carolina as well as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and others. But he has said on multiple occasions that UT leads.
Jones told BamaOnline's Charles Power (subscription required) of UT coming off his Alabama visit:
"The relationship we have—December of 2012 is when we started our relationship. It's lasted until now and they haven't changed. I feel like they should be number one."
Despite UT's perch atop his list, Bama should be considered a major threat. Two former East Mississippi defensive linemates, Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, committed to UA last year. Among those three, it was basically a race to the quarterback in 2013.
If UT can secure Jones' commitment, he'll almost certainly step into the rotation immediately in '15. The Vols need a player like him badly.
Cameron Ordway, 4-Star Cornerback
Cornerback is another huge need for Butch Jones, as he closes out this class, but who winds up signing with UT and how many players he takes at the position are still uncertain.
The Vols are trying to recruit a handful of prospects such as Cameron Ordway, Micah Abernathy, Justin Martin, Mook Reynolds and others. It's very possible UT winds up taking two of those guys if it can get them to commit.
Ordway probably represents the player on the list with the best offer sheet whom the Vols have the best shot to land. The 6'0", 174-pound Pulaski, Tennessee product has offers from Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others.
UT holds 88 percent of the vote for his signature on 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections.
Getting Ordway to commit would be another big in-state coup for Jones. He has the size and athleticism to grow into a shutdown corner, but he is also physical enough to bottle up receivers at the line of scrimmage.
He is the nation's 25th-ranked corner, but he has the offer sheet of a top-tier prospect.
Abernathy and Martin are also being hotly pursued by UT, so it may be a matter of which one pulls the trigger first, but it would be difficult to turn down a player with as much upside as Ordway.
Quarte Sapp, 4-Star Outside Linebacker
Tennessee's recent decision to move Curt Maggitt and Jakob Johnson down to defensive end will permanently have a direct effect on this year's Vols. But it will impact future recruiting classes as well.
Currently, the Vols really only have Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Dillon Bates, Neiko Creamer, Colton Jumper and Justin King on the roster who are true outside linebackers.
Already in this recruiting cycle, the Vols have secured a commitment from Austin Smith to play the position, but they really need another elite athlete to round out the class.
They are zeroing in on another Atlanta-area prospect to be the man. Alpharetta, Georgia, OLB Quarte Sapp fits the bill perfectly. At 6'2", 203 pounds, he'll need to add a little weight to his frame, but Sapp has all the tools UT is looking for at the position.
Getting his signature would be another major win in an area of need for Butch Jones. According to GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required), Jones talked at the Big Orange Caravan's Atlanta stop about how huge that area is to UT in recruiting:
"This is a great place for us to kick off the caravan. Atlanta's so important for us, and it's always gonna be important to us. There are just so many great players and great coaches and great programs in this area"
Sapp is definitely one of those players.
He is the nation's 22nd-ranked outside linebacker, and he will try to move up that list after being invited to The Opening, following an MVP award at his position during the Atlanta NFTC camp, according to StudentSports.com.
The Vols have 90 percent of the vote on the 247Sports Crystal Ball.
Tyree St. Louis, 4-Star Offensive Tackle
This last spot in UT's class can go to a number of positions, and there are several prospects out there UT simply can't turn down.
If any of those players wanted to commit, even if the Vols were out of spots, they'd likely have to make some unpopular decisions and cut ties with commits.
But the Vols desperately need another offensive tackle, so the final spot on this list goes to Florida lineman Tyree St. Louis.
The Vols were once believed to be among St. Louis' favorites, though they haven't been mentioned much lately. All of the Crystal Ball picks currently point toward the home-state Gators as the favorites to land him.
GatorBait.net's Luke Stampini (subscription required) said in June, "It appears that if Florida wants to push for St. Louis, they could eventually land his pledge." So, Tennessee is fighting that battle.
UT would be happy with in-state lineman Alex Givens and have recently started recruiting other targets such as Chance Hall, Josh Wariboko and Sage Hardin heavily. Wariboko is committed to Oklahoma, and Hardin recently committed to Georgia, according to Dawgs247's Rusty Mansell (subscription required).
But St. Louis has a ton of potential, so he gets the nod on this list.
Regardless, Jones continuing to recruit tackles is a clear indication that UT wants to take another couple of linemen in this class.
Given the circumstances, numbers are going to be extremely tight. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vols' commitment list change considerably between now and national signing day.
There are too many big needs and too many good players who are strongly considering Tennessee for there not to be movement. Then, there's always the possibility that some prospects will be turned off (or extremely interested) based off the results of the season.
But that's recruiting, and that's why it's exciting.
Buckle up because it's going to be an interesting few months.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: