Tennessee Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A few months after making a program-changing recruiting class official, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is off to yet another strong start to the 2015 cycle.
The Volunteers' 11 commitments currently sit ninth nationally, according to the 247Sports rankings. The class boasts a healthy balance of players at positions of necessity and a couple of elite playmakers at spots where talent in this class is a luxury.
Jones told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview that the Vols were going to "be in the mid-20s" as far as numbers in this class, even after signing a hefty 32 players in 2014.
As far as biggest needs?
"It gets back to the realities of where we’re at—needs everywhere," Jones said. "We're still down an entire recruiting class in the offensive line position. Being in a line-of-scrimmage league, it starts with the offensive and defensive lines. That's critical.
"Our needs are across the board. We're not to a point yet where one need is bigger than any other."
Tennessee must sign another quarterback (or two), plus a slew of exterior offensive linemen and interior defensive linemen as well as a few more defensive backs. With the class nearing the halfway mark, UT is fishing for the big boys.
Let's take a look at the summer report card for UT's haul thus far.
Perhaps the more accurate grade here would be an "incomplete," considering many recruiting analysts believe Tennessee's only current quarterback commit, Jauan Jennings, is an athlete whose future could be at another position.
The Vols are actively pursuing other options, but they've been adamant with the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, product that he'll get a legit shot to compete at signal-caller.
Though he has NFL potential at safety, wide receiver or even outside linebacker, he has impressed some with his growth at quarterback. Barton Simmons, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, is impressed with his growth (subscription required): "While Jennings still has enormous upside at other positions, it is increasingly hard to ignore his steady improvement as a passer. His spring film shows improved footwork, a quick release and a strong arm from the pocket."
Running back is a bit of a luxury in this year's class for coach Butch Jones after the Vols signed three in 2014—Jalen Hurd, Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk.
But with Marlin Lane set to graduate, UT is beating the bushes for another runner.
Already, the Vols have secured a pledge from bruising, 6'0", 220-pound North Carolina running back Rocky Reid. With a name like that, where else was he going to go?
He gives Tennessee the short-yardage, between-the-tackles runner that currently doesn't exist on the roster. He fills a major need, and UT identified him early in the process and secured the commitment. But he probably isn't going to be an SEC star.
The nation's top-ranked wide receiver Preston Williams committed to UT way back in September 2013 and has stuck with the Vols ever since.
The Lovejoy, Georgia, native is the complete package. He is 6'4", 190 pounds, fast and physical. He runs polished routes. Basically, everybody in the nation has offered him, and he has flirted with other programs, but he recently told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required): "Tennessee is where I want to be, and I always wanted to be there at the end of the day. That's my school, my family."
That's massive news for the Vols, who will add Williams to their embarrassment of riches at the position. UT also has a commitment from local athlete Jaylond Woods, who is projected to play receiver if he signs.
Tennessee signed a couple of tight ends in the 2014 class in Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm, who are expected to contribute immediately for the Vols.
That's going to make it difficult for UT to convince a tight end to come to Knoxville.
The Vols are actively recruiting several of the nation's top players at the position, including Connecticut product Chris Clark, who is slated to visit Knoxville on June 2, according to Bucknuts.com's Alex Gleitman (subscription required).
Michigan and Michigan State are going to be tough to beat in the race for Clark, and many of the other current targets on Tennessee's board are longer shots than him.
Given the Vols' myriad needs along the offensive front, however, it's essential that offensive line coach Don Mahoney adds to his '15 class.
A couple of huge hits came within minutes of each other on April 21 when the nation's third-ranked offensive tackle Chuma Edoga (Southern Cal) and offensive guard Marquel Harrell (Auburn) committed elsewhere. Both had named UT as leaders at some point in their recruitment.
Now, UT desperately needs at least three more line commits, including at least two offensive tackles. The biggest target on the board is Memphis University School tackle Drew Richmond, who holds the Vols in high regard.
Closing the deal on him would arguably be the biggest jewel of the entire class. The Vols are also scouring everywhere for linemen. Players like Tyree St. Louis, Alex Givens and Michael Howard have firm offers and are considering UT.
As for the commits, Stewart projects as a guard on the next level, and Jones can play either guard or tackle. They should be stalwarts along the offensive front for years to come.
But recruiting the defensive end position is one of UT's biggest needs in this year's class.
Both of the current commitments are potentially disruptive forces, but the Vols need a next-level athlete or two at the position, which is why they've turned up the heat on difference-makers such as Kyle Phillips, Darian Roseboro and Josh Sweat.
With the Vols' needs for athletic DEs, it's going to be a position to keep a close eye on moving forward.
Phillips has Tennessee among his top choices, and keeping the Nashville native close to home would be one of the biggest wins in this year's class.
There are many other targets at the position with plenty of time to go before national signing day, but UT is going to aim for some of the top players in the nation. It'll be interesting to see how many the program can get firmly in the mix to land.
Two of the top defensive tackle prospects in the nation have named Tennessee their current leaders.
Even though the Vols don't presently have a commitment at the position, it's hard not to like where Butch Jones and defensive line coach Steve Stripling are positioning this class.
Defensive tackle Tim Settle (the nation's fifth-ranked DT, according to 247Sports) and fellow 5-star tackle Kahlil McKenzie favor the Vols, with McKenzie announcing his top 12 via Twitter on Thursday.
McKenzie is a Tennessee legacy times two. His father, current Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, was a Vol, as well as his uncle Raleigh.
Settle has offers from virtually everybody in the country, and the North Carolina native has UT on top, followed by Alabama and Clemson.
Junior college tackle D.J. Jones is also high on UT's board in what is shaping up to be a potentially exciting recruiting year at the position for the Vols.
If UT can swing a couple of those marquee names, it will go a long way in its return to the SEC race.
Cecil Cherry decided to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, former Tennessee running back Tony Thompson, and wear orange and white in college.
That's huge news for the Vols, who welcome the 6'1", 220-pound middle linebacker into the fold as one of the centerpieces of the class. He is one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the country, and he will have the opportunity to get on the field early for the Vols.
As for what's left at the position, UT doesn't have a lot of needs after signing Chris Weatherd, Dillon Bates, Jakob Johnson and Gavin Bryant in the 2014 class.
The Vols likely will take at least a couple of more linebackers, though, and among the top targets remaining are Roquan Smith, Ricky DeBerry, Quarte Sapp and Keaton Anderson. It will be interesting to see how many linebackers Tommy Thigpen takes in this year's cycle.
Abernathy is familiar with Butch Jones, who recruited his brother Ralph David to be an all-around athlete and offensive centerpiece for the Cincinnati Bearcats. UT is battling Alabama and Georgia, among others, for the tall, rangy corner who is near the top of its wish list.
Ordway was a bit of a late-bloomer who blew up earlier this spring when Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, LSU, Ohio State, Tennessee and others extended an offer to the 6'0", 174-pound corner from Pulaski, Tennessee.
The majority of 247Sports' crystal ball projections for Ordway favor the Vols, and he would be a nice pull to get the defensive back class going.
With UT taking a pair of corners (at least), the program has been selective thus far as it zeroes in on a few difference-makers.
With Tennessee stocking up on safeties in the '14 class, with Todd Kelly Jr., Cortez McDowell, Rashaan Gaulden and potentially Evan Berry all being able to play the position, it isn't a major need this year.
Still, the Vols already have one pledge in Stephen Griffin who projects to the position, and desperately wants another elite player to round out the class.
UT is still hotly pursuing Georgia commit and Nashville resident Rico McGraw, who is childhood friends with Cameron Ordway and could elect to play his college ball with him. McGraw is the state's third-ranked player on 247Sports, and he has an extremely high ceiling as a safety.
Michigan athlete Brian Cole is another heavy target for UT, though pulling him out of Big Ten country is going to be a tall task.
The Vols are going to sign at least one more safety in 2015, and if McGraw elects to stick with Georgia, that spot is going to be wide open.
Recruiting information and star rankings 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: