Tennessee Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games
The two biggest high school All-America games will have decidedly less of an orange-and-white feel to them this year as they aren't quite as peppered with future Tennessee Volunteers.
Only two current Volunteers commits will play in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2 in Orlando, Florida, in quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and cornerback Marquill Osborne. There are no committed future Vols slated to play in Jan. 9's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
But that doesn't mean Tennessee will wind up with only two high school all-stars.
Coach Butch Jones is taking a much smaller class in the 2016 recruiting cycle, and while things haven't gone exactly how UT hoped with a No. 21 current ranking in the 247Sports composite rankings, there's still time for a fast finish.
There are far too many targets to go in-depth on, but the two big games are loaded with players for which Tennessee is pushing. The Vols also have another pair of commitments (linebacker Tim Hart and running back Carlin Fils-aime) in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl.
So, while Tennessee's recruiting haul isn't as star-studded as in years' past, the Vols can still close strong, especially if they beat Northwestern in the Outback Bowl and impress a lot of their remaining top targets on their official visits.
Let's take a look at some commits and targets to watch in the upcoming all-star games.
Jarrett Guarantano, 4-Star Quarterback
If Tennessee fans like the way current dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs plays and are looking for an heir apparent to the junior from Alpharetta, Georgia, they may have their answer in Guarantano.
The 6'4", 194-pound signal-caller from Oradell, New Jersey, was Ohio State's top target when he chose Tennessee back in the summer. Despite his father being a former Rutgers standout, Jones beat out the Buckeyes and the Scarlet Knights for Guarantano.
Jones had a previous relationship with the elder Guarantano from his early days as an assistant, and the prospect loved what he heard about Tennessee's offense during discussions with offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and wound up committing.
That pledge stayed firm, and now he'll get a chance to show out in Jan. 2's Under Armour game.
Guarantano has elite ability, even if he isn't yet a polished player. He is blazing fast and possesses superior arm strength, though his accuracy isn't where it needs to be.
Still, he battled through an injury during his senior season at Bergen Catholic and impressed analysts. That's why Volquest's Paul Fortenberry said Guarantano may have a chance to earn 5-star status with a strong performance.
As of now there are only 23 high school five-stars so Guarantano would have to take another big step to receive that much of a bump. But, he's showed better accuracy and decision making, along with the big arm and athleticism, so there's a chance with a strong week in Orlando an additional star could be added to Guarantano's profile.
With Dobbs being in Knoxville another year and Quinten Dormady and Sheriron Jones on the depth chart in front of him, Guarantano will have time to develop. But the Vols should get a glimpse of the future in Orlando.
Marquill Osborne, 4-Star Cornerback
For a while, it appeared that the Vols would have to fight off teams such as Ohio State and Clemson to sign Marquill Osborne. But now it appears the long-time Tennessee commitment is solid.
The 5'10", 175-pound cornerback already has been announced by Jones as a Vol via Twitter, meaning the mid-term enrollee signed his financial aid agreement. Osborne also tweeted that his pledge to Tennessee was "official," according to GoVols247 reporter Ryan Callahan.
That's huge news for the Vols, who could lose junior cornerback Cameron Sutton as an early entry to the NFL. Regardless of whether Sutton starts playing on Sundays next year or not, the Vols need elite cornerbacks.
Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley were the only two corners besides Sutton to get heavy reps on the boundary in 2015. While Micah Abernathy and Darrell Miller could work themselves into the rotation, Osborne has the size and speed combo to play right away.
The Cornelius, North Carolina, product represented a major recruiting victory for the Vols from the Tar Heel State, and he will have the opportunity to compete against some of the best in the nation in the Under Armour game before heading to Knoxville.
Since he'll get to go through spring drills, it isn't out of the question to see Osborne get serious reps in 2016.
Landon Dickerson, 4-Star Offensive Lineman
Tennessee's best remaining chance to land an elite offensive lineman during this recruiting cycle is likely 4-star Landon Dickerson, but the Vols are going to have to battle for his signature.
The 6'5", 293-pound Hudson, North Carolina, lineman is extremely versatile and could project as either a guard or a tackle on the next level. But many of the South's top programs are chasing him because of his massive talent.
Alabama, Auburn and Florida State are some of the main competition for Dickerson, but the Vols are right in there, too. He visited Knoxville on back-to-back weeks unofficially in early November, and that put Tennessee firmly in the mix.
UT is also trying to lure 3-star tackle prospect Nathan Niehaus to Knoxville, and if the Vols could get him and Dickerson, that would ensure the future of the line is on firm footing.
Dickerson showed out at the Shrine Bowl recently, and he mentioned Florida State, Tennessee and Auburn as currently sticking out, according to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow. When it came to naming a leader, however, Dickerson was noncommittal.
"It's hard to tell right now," Dickerson said. "They are all kind of even."
He remains one of Tennessee's best chances to close this class strongly, and getting Dickerson would be another major coup. The Vols desperately need him and can point to the turnaround on the offensive line this year as a major selling point.
Also, with Kyler Kerbyson and Mack Crowder out of eligibility, there is room for Dickerson in the two-deep. Tennessee fans will want to watch this top target in the Under Armour game.
Donnie Corley, 4-Star Wide Receiver
Getting a playmaker at receiver such as Detroit King's Donnie Corley would ensure a stellar finish for Coach Jones and passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni.
But the Vols may be on the outside looking in to earn the signature of the 6'2.5", 182-pound pass-catcher out of Michigan. Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all want him and cornerback teammate and buddy Lavert Hill, so that's what the Vols are up against.
Still, UT remains in the picture for the duo, and a package deal would be a thrill.
With his ties in his home state, Jones always seems to pull a prospect or two from Michigan, just like plucking running back pledge John Kelly out of Big Ten country last season.
Corley visited Knoxville multiple times and always seemed to enjoy it, which is a reason Tennessee remains in the picture. Hill visited officially recently, too, and GoVols247's Ryan Callahan said the duo hasn't ruled out announcing their college choices during the game.
Hill is a recent Penn State decommitment and has visited Tennessee since, but sources indicated to Callahan that Hill was still likely to end up in the Big Ten.
The same probably goes for Corley, too, but with the Vols being a wild card in the race, it isn't out of the question that both could wind up in orange.
Derrick Brown, 5-Star Defensive Tackle
A massive fish still swimming around within striking distance of Tennessee's recruiting pool is Buford, Georgia, 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
Though pulling a hotly recruited defensive lineman out of the Peach State is always extremely difficult to do, the Vols seem to be in the mix for his commitment.
The 6'4", 318-pound lineman has an official visit scheduled to Knoxville on the week before national signing day along with several other Georgia prospects, and the Vols have to love the way that sets up to steal Brown from under the Bulldogs' nose.
But with Kirby Smart now calling the shots in Athens, his recruiting prowess shouldn't be denied in any race, including Brown's. The Dawgs, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State are all viable options for the athletic interior lineman and any could land him.
While MSU may seem a bit out of the ordinary on that list, his parents are alumni, so Brown will give coach Dan Mullen's team a long look.
Before he makes his college decision, however, Brown will play in Jan. 9's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio with some of the top players in the country.
The Vols really need depth on the interior to go along with Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle, Danny O'Brien, Quay Picou and Kendal Vickers. Yes, UT signed JUCO tackle Alexis Johnson, but with D'Andre Christmas-Giles decommitting, there is a huge need for one more DT.
Brown is atop that list, and as the nation's third-ranked tackle, he's on everybody's big board. If the Vols could convince him to play his college days in Knoxville, that would be a major recruiting victory.
Marquez Callaway, 4-Star Wide Receiver
Notre Dame and Mississippi State are often discussed as being Tennessee's biggest competition for electric Georgia two-way athlete Marquez Callaway, but the instate Bulldogs currently lead in his Crystal Ball predictions.
Still, the Vols have 46 percent of his predictions, and Tennessee is a major threat to land the Warner Robins product.
That would be important for Tennessee. Even though Callaway has remained quiet throughout the recruiting process, he is an explosive playmaker on the field. The Vols really need some dynamic athletes with the ball in their hands, especially considering running back Alvin Kamara is flirting with the NFL.
UT wants Callaway on offense, and he seems to be the perfect fit to take over the slot position vacated by seniors Von Pearson and Johnathon Johnson. Getting another receiver is an absolute must for the Vols, as detailed by GoVols247's Ryan Callahan:
The Vols are hoping to sign at least four receivers in what otherwise is expected to be a relatively small class across the board. Tennessee currently is a bit short on depth at wide receiver after dealing with some attrition leading up to this season, and the Vols still could use a few more playmakers at the position. With [Corey] Henderson, [Jeff] George and [Brandon] Johnson on board, UT will have to be a bit more selective in filling its final spot or two for receivers in the 2016 class.
Callaway is a 6'2", 175-pound dynamo that excels with the ball in his hand. He is a very instinctual player too who can play on the defensive side of the ball, and some teams are recruiting him that way.
Tennessee is casting a wide net for wide receivers, but Corley, Callaway, Velus Jones and Mecole Hardman Jr. are the ones who appear most likely. Getting at least one of them is a necessity.
Nigel Warrior, 4-Star Safety
There's little question who the biggest remaining target on Tennessee's board is, and Peachtree Ridge High School safety Nigel Warrior is far from a Vols lock.
The 5'11", 188-pound defensive back is a high priority for teams such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State, and he could wind up at any of those places. According to his 247Sports linked profile, he has an official visit set up to Knoxville the final weekend before national signing day.
That's when Jones and crew will try to sell Warrior on why he had Tennessee as his early leader in the first place. They'll also try to no doubt sell the legacy angle considering Warrior's father, Dale Carter, is a UT legend.
But they may not push it too hard. If Warrior has proven nothing else during his recruitment, it's that he's not in this for the hype keeping quiet. He's also not in it to follow in anybody's footsteps. He is his own person, and he wants to be recruited that way.
He'll begin carving out his own niche in front of a national audience at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Even so, the family history and current direction of Tennessee's program should help the Vols sell themselves to Warrior. But he knows he can go somewhere like Alabama and compete for a championship right away. UT hasn't shown that yet though the Vols appear on the cusp of competing for them.
Getting Warrior to step in and compete to replace departing seniors Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil would go a long way in doing that. He's an elite talent, and UT desperately needs play-making defensive backs on the back end of coordinator John Jancek's unit.
The Vols were in the race at the beginning, and they'll be in it at the end. But can they win his signature? That's something that remains to be seen.
Jaleel Laguins, 4-Star Linebacker
Arguably Tennessee's top outside linebacker target in the 2016 recruiting class seemingly fell through its hands and into the grasp of home-state Georgia when Jaleel Laguins committed to the Bulldogs during the Mark Richt era.
But the 6'2", 216-pound athlete from Watkinsville, Georgia, may not be as much of a schematic fit in the new 3-4 set that Smart wants to employ. If Georgia goes after bigger linebackers, Laguins doesn't really seem to fit that mold.
That doesn't mean Laguins is seriously considering other options. He's still committed to the Bulldogs, and it would be difficult for anybody to pull him from their commitment list since he's been pledged since August.
Still, GoVols247's Ryan Callahan listed Laguins as one of the players who could flip to Tennessee.
Laguins has been committed to Georgia since August, but he’s again exploring other options after the Bulldogs’ recent staff changes. He took an official visit to LSU the weekend of Dec. 12, and he’s currently planning to visit Tennessee the weekend of Jan. 29. Florida and Alabama also are hoping to get visits from him. It might be tough for any team to beat out Georgia in the end, particularly with Laguins living approximately 10 miles from Georgia’s campus. But Laguins was high on Tennessee even before he committed to the Bulldogs, and the Vols are one of a few teams that seem to have his attention while he waits for Georgia to fill out its defensive staff.
Laguins would be a perfect match for Tennessee's speed-based defense, as a linebacker in the mold of Quart'e Sapp, who the Vols signed last year. They'd absolutely love getting him in orange.
He'll visit on Jan. 29 if he keeps that date, and he'll be there with a ton of other Peach State talent. If the Vols are going to close strongly, that's a massive weekend for Jones and his coaching staff to flip momentum down the stretch.
Mecole Hardman Jr., 5-Star Athlete
Staying with the Georgia theme, the Vols want Elbert County, Georgia, athlete Hardman as much as anybody else on the board, and they've proven that by constant contact throughout the process.
Can that pay off with a commitment? Tennessee is right there near the top, but signing Hardman away from in-state Georgia or Alabama, where one of his favorite recruiters, Jeremy Pruitt, now coaches, will be extremely difficult.
For a long time during his junior season and in the summer before his senior year, Hardman referred to Tennessee as his leader and Georgia a close second. But the Bulldogs surged into the lead, and they've stayed at or near the top ever since.
With Alabama getting Pruitt to coach defense from Georgia, that makes the Crimson Tide a major factor, too. Hardman likely would play on the defensive side of the ball in Athens or Tuscaloosa.
Tennessee wants him with the ball in his hands on offense, and wide receivers coach Azzanni has served as his primary recruiter and wants to coach him on the next level. Hardman is the kind of player the Vols desperately need to get separation in space after he catches passes.
It seems that the Vols need to get him back on campus to have a legitimate chance of sneaking in and plucking him away once the year flips to 2016. Right now, that doesn't seem likely, but expect the Vols to keep trying.
Until then, Tennessee fans can tune in to watch Hardman do some serious damage in San Antonio.
Other Notable Commits, Targets
There are more high school All-America games than the Under Armour and U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and there are also plenty of other targets participating in those games as well as others.
Let's take a look at some other names who will be playing for UT next year and some other potential long-shot targets participating in postseason games following their high school careers.
Offense-Defense All-American Bowl
Tennessee's running back commitment is the ninth-ranked overall runner in the 2016 class and had a dynamite senior season for Naples High School in Florida. The Vols are thrilled to have him, and he will have the opportunity to get carries soon with the careers of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara nearing an end.
The 3-star linebacker from Memphis gave Tennessee a big commitment when he chose the Vols over LSU and Ole Miss, and the Vols have been able to hold onto the 6'1", 215-pound prospect so far. He'll play in the Offense-Defense game, too.
Jordan Woods, 6'4", 255-pound 4-star strong-side defensive end
Tyler Clark, 6'3", 290-pound 4-star defensive tackle (Georgia commit)
Under Armour All-America Game
Carlos Becker, 6'2", 185-pound 3-star cornerback
Cavin Ridley, 6'1.5", 198-pound 4-star wide receiver
Terrell Hall, 6'5", 250-pound 4-star weak-side defensive end
U.S. Army All-American Bowl
Lavert Hill, 5'11", 175-pound 4-star cornerback
Ahmmon Richards, 6'2", 180-pound 4-star wide receiver
Jeffery Simmons, 6'4", 262-pound 4-star strong side defensive end
Binjimen Victor, 6'4", 170-pound 4-star wide receiver
All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.