Predicting Where the Tennessee Volunteers Will Finish in 2016 Recruiting Ranks

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2015

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones instructs his players in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee won 24-17. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

The Tennessee Volunteers' back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes probably won't have company in 2016.

When a program gets a complete makeover the way the Vols have in coach Butch Jones' first two classes—signing 62 players, which is more than two-thirds of a roster—the numbers game catches up eventually.

That's what is expected to happen this year.

With a monster class of in-state players and prospects the Vols coaching staff has established relationships with set for 2017, this year's haul may be slimmer than normal.

The final ranking could suffer because of that too.

Given the relatively slow start from a rankings standpoint (Tennessee is currently ranked 16th nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings and seventh in the SEC) and considering UT already has 12 commitments, the team can't make a massive jump up the charts. 

While Jones recruits well enough that a top-20 class is virtually guaranteed, sneaking into the top 15 may be a tall task unless there's considerable turnover in the current class or several prospects receive ratings bumps.

GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan sees a sunnier outlook.

"It's hard to say where Tennessee might finish in the final rankings, at least in part because we don't know for sure how many players the Vols might end up signing," Callahan told B/R. "Their preference would be to sign a class of around 18 as of right now, but it's always possible that they could squeeze in a couple more guys if they feel they need to.

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Credit: 247Sports

"If they stick with that plan and sign somewhere around 18, I would expect Tennessee to finish somewhere between 11 and 15 in the final team rankings. It's going to be tough for the Vols to sign a pretty small class that's still deep enough to finish in the top 10. That's just the reality of the situation.

"That doesn't mean they can't still sign 18 really good players and have a nice class. But it's going to be tough to crack the top 10 unless they decide to sign a class of 20-plus players."

Perhaps UT's ceiling for this class would be signing one comparable to what the UCLA Bruins did in the 2015 cycle.

Coach Jim Mora signed 19 players, but the class featured three 5-star prospects, 10 4-stars and six 3-stars and finished 12th.

Elite offensive tackle Landon Dickerson would be a huge addition to Tennessee's class.
Elite offensive tackle Landon Dickerson would be a huge addition to Tennessee's class.Credit: 247Sports

A more logical comparison based on the Vols' current commits (four 4-stars and eight 3-stars) may be what Ole Miss and Oregon did last year in 22-player classes that wound up 16th and 17th, respectively.

Also, a glimpse of the 2014 rankings shows that Stanford, Clemson, UCLA and Michigan all finished ranked in the top 20 with 20 or fewer commitments.

It can be done, but the Vols need a big finish.

Considering there are at least a couple of players on the commitment list who likely won't be there on national signing day, there's some wiggle room. But another talk-of-national-signing-day finish like the last couple of years is not expected.

That hasn't kept analysts from raving about what Jones has done with limited space thus far:

Here are a few targets Tennessee could sign who would send it surging up the rankings.

Kareem Walker

The top-ranked running back in the nation and 4-star Ohio State commitment from New Jersey is good friends with UT quarterback commit Jarrett Guarantano. He plans on visiting the Vols soon, and as OSU has two other potential running backs already committed in this class, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Jones could steal him. Still, at this point, it's wishful thinking.

Rashan Gary

Like Walker, Gary hails from New Jersey. Like Walker, he's a long shot to commit to Tennessee (nobody has picked the Vols on the Crystal Ball). But he also has ties to Guarantano, and he's expected to visit UT. If the Vols could somehow convince the nation's top-ranked player to come to Knoxville, they'd surge up the rankings.

B.J. Emmons

After the 4-star running back recently decommitted from Georgia, 100 percent of the Crystal Ball projections have him heading to Knoxville. Tennessee desperately needs a running back (or two) in this class, and the staff loves him. If he can qualify, he'd be a perfect fit for this class. He is a power back who also possesses breakaway speed and elite all-around ability. Alabama is also interested.

Derrick Brown

Brown is monstrous defensive tackle prospect from the Peach State who is big and athletic and somewhat comparable to Trent Thompson from a season ago. He had Georgia out front early, and the Bulldogs are still in the top group with usual suspects Alabama and Auburn. But after visiting Knoxville this past weekend, the 5-star told Callahan he "definitely" wants to get back up there soon, so UT is in this race.

Nigel Warrior

One of the three most realistic huge targets on this list, Warrior is a Tennessee legacy (his father, Dale Carter, is a UT legend) who once referred to the Vols as his leader. Like Brown with Georgia, the star safety has since backed off that statement, but the Vols are in his lead group with teams such as Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and others. UT should be in this battle until the end.

Joejuan Williams

Williams is another prospect many SEC teams have offered, and Jones seems to have the Vols positioned well for the defensive back's signature early in the process. The UT head coach has a strong track record of keeping coveted stars in state, and Williams fits both of those categories. He'd help Tennessee's final ranking, and he's a must-get for the staff.

Toss this cluster of targets into a group of many more, and you see that Tennessee could make a positive move between now and national signing day. And that list doesn't include the 10 or so 4-star receivers who include UT in their lists of favorites.

You have to figure the Vols will land at least a couple of them.

Credit: 247Sports

During the past couple of recruiting cycles, Tennessee heated up with the weather. The Vols are about to run a stretch of camps that was productive for them a year ago, starting with this weekend's "Orange Carpet Day."

UT has experienced a strong past couple of weeks with commitments from two JUCO targets who were high on the want list. Receiver Jeff George and defensive tackle Alexis Johnson committed to the Vols, giving Jones important targets at positions where immediate assistance will be needed in 2016.

Local tight end Austin Pope, whose stock has risen recently with offers from teams such as Missouri, Arkansas and Nebraska, pledged less than a week after receiving an offer from UT. The Christian Academy of Knoxville produced Vols Josh Smith and Brett Kendrick in recent years, and now Pope will make a third.

All three of those players are 3-star prospects, but UT didn't hesitate in taking them, regardless of the shortage of spots in the class. So, that should tell you all you need to know about how concerned coaches are with rankings.

The past two years, the Vols were the talk of college football, seemingly rising from the ashes to become a major name in recruiting again. They may go about it more quietly this year, but that doesn't mean they're struggling to promote their brand.

They're just facing the reality of having a young roster loaded with underclassmen and limited spots for players in this class.

The end result may not cause the gurus to gush, but the Vols are putting together a solid class.

All observations gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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