Tennessee Football: Volunteers' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2016
With a handful of highly ranked targets remaining on the board, a huge weekend worth of official visitors on tap and still three or four open spots, it's shaping up to be a potential sterling finish to the 2016 recruiting for the Tennessee football team.
The Volunteers have a couple of needs to fill, and they appear to be major players for several of the prospects who've been top targets for months. UT also looks like it's trending with another blue-chip star who hasn't been on the radar for long.
This cycle hasn't been as full of twists and turns or commits in clusters like the previous two classes under coach Butch Jones, but that's to be expected with such a small class.
But with the Vols expected to sign 20-21 players, the remaining few spots could be filled with the biggest prospects on the board.
A major Georgia duo is slated to be in Knoxville this weekend with Buford defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Peachtree Ridge defensive back Nigel Warrior. Both have been primary targets for nearly a year or more. Stud offensive lineman Landon Dickerson and defensive back Tyler Byrd also are on the docket.
Tennesee has courted Byrd, the friend of longtime UT running back commitment Carlin Fils-aime, for a while. However, with his long-standing pledge to Miami, his reciprocated interest in the Vols is a bit of a recent development.
All those guys could wind up giving Tennessee fans a national signing day to remember. So, with an emphasis on those top targets, let's take an in-depth look at the biggest remaining players on UT's board with one week to go until the big day on February 3.
Derrick Brown, 5-Star Defensive Tackle
The nation's ninth-ranked player is still on the market, and at this point, it appears 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown's recruitment is wide-open.
Thus far, nobody on 247Sports has pulled the trigger in predicting Brown to play his college days in Knoxville, as his Crystal Ball projections read Georgia with 90 percent and Auburn with 10 percent. However, Rivals.com writer Woody Wommack predicted Brown would be a Vol.
Regardless of the outcome, Tennessee is sitting in a good position to slip under the radar and steal the star defensive tackle. His commitment would fill perhaps the biggest need left on UT's board.
After finishing with Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle and Quay Picou last year, the Vols have just one defensive tackle in this year's class: midterm enrollee JUCO Alexis Johnson. Tennessee desperately needs another lineman, and getting an athletic player like Brown would shore up the spot.
Brown tweeted this week he "can't wait" to get to Knoxville. That can't be seen as anything other than a positive for the Vols, who could wow him and ultimately woo him to Rocky Top.
Brown is explosive and is as good at the point of attack as anybody in the nation. He's the kind of player who can come in and immediately find himself in the two-deep rotation, especially as thin as UT is on the interior.
Getting him would solidify Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling's reputation as being able to relate to some of the nation's best prospects, and considering Brown once was thought to be a heavy Georgia lean, it also would take him away from one of the Vols' biggest rivals.
Heading into the homestretch, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State all feel they have a shot. Considering Brown is so quiet, this recruitment has been one of the hardest to read during the whole cycle.
If the Vols can convince him to sign with them, he'll be a staple in the center of the defense for years to come.
Tyler Byrd, 4-Star Cornerback
If you want to see an electrifying player, go queue up Tyler Byrd's HUDL film. It's possible that the 5'11 ½", 194-pound athlete would be the best player in Tennessee's class, even if they get Nigel Warrior and Derrick Brown.
Byrd is that talented. He can fly, has fluid hips and is versatile enough to play on either side of the ball. He's a can't-miss player who is perhaps the best player committed to Miami, and the Vols are a real threat to pluck him away from South Florida.
The Naples High School talent is close friends with UT running back commitment Carlin Fils-aime. The two have lived in the same house since they were in the eighth grade, and it only seems right that they could wind up playing college ball together.
It seems like a real possibility with the Vols getting a visit from Byrd this weekend. The past two 247Sports Crystal Ball projections have gone to UT, and Coach Jones could have the momentum to steal him. If he does, it'll be something many around Naples thought would happen long ago with Fils-aime and Byrd playing together.
Byrd told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan this week:
It was kind of like, who was going to give in first? Was Carlin going to go to my school, or was I (going to Tennessee)? Everyone was like, 'Who's going to break?' Of course, I would love to (attend the same school as Fils-aime). Being around him, we've grown to really love each other, and playing next to him and knowing he’s on my team is reassuring. It gives you a sense of security because…I know, at the end of the day, I can depend on him, and I know I can trust him.
Nothing is a done deal yet, but those words sound positive for UT, who'd love to flip him and get a dynamic athlete from South Florida. Former Hurricanes coach and new Vols assistant Larry Scott is turning up the pressure on Byrd, and the prospect is listening.
UT loves Byrd as a cornerback, but the great thing about a player of his ilk is if you bring him in and he looks like he can help you on offense, he's versatile and athletic enough to play there.
The Hurricanes aren't giving up on him just yet, but the Vols should have a chance to convince Byrd to fly north.
Landon Dickerson, 4-Star Offensive Lineman
At times throughout Landon Dickerson's recruitment, he has seemed high on Tennessee. At other times, he has fallen out of love with the Vols, with his wandering eye looking elsewhere.
One thing is for certain: UT was on his mind at the beginning of his recruitment, and with the Vols getting the 6'5", 300-pound Hudson, North Carolina, offensive lineman's final visit, they'll be on it in the end.
Another certainty is Tennessee would love to add a versatile lineman such as Dickerson to the class. He'd solidify a group that already includes tackles Ryan Johnson, Nathan Niehaus and Marcus Tatum.
The only problem is Dickerson also is high on Florida State and Alabama, and both of those programs have the chance to land him on national signing day as well. Still, with the Vols having the final chance to convince him that Knoxville is where he needs to be one final time, they'll swing for the fences this weekend.
Last week, Dickerson visited Alabama for the first time and was on hand to watch the national championship parade in what was a crazy-loaded, star-studded gaggle of recruits who descended on Tuscaloosa.
Dickerson seemed blinded by crimson following the trip, telling BamaOnline's Hank South that the Crimson Tide "absolutely" were at the top of his list, along with the Seminoles and Vols.
FSU seems to be Dickerson's favorite, but there is still time for Tennessee to change his mind. Once he sits down with his family to make a choice, he could decide to head to Alabama and play for Mario Cristobal, too.
Yet again, here's another player whose recruitment could take a turn before the final choice, and with the Vols having him in town this weekend, it's a chance for O-line coach Don Mahoney, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and the rest of the Vols to get in his ear.
The Vols have several young, talented guards who are ready to play, but Dickerson flashes the type of footwork, strength and athleticism that could make him special at the position. You can't turn away a player of his caliber. So, UT will try to get him to be a Vol.
Jonathan Kongbo, 4-Star Defensive End
Tennessee looked all set to add a huge piece to its puzzle when 4-star defensive end Jonathan Kongbo—the nation's top-ranked JUCO prospect—pledged to the Vols back in late November.
But after other suitors came calling, Kongbo backed off his commitment to open things back up. When that happens, normally the original selection doesn't wind up the final one.
Yet, here the Vols still are, right in the thick of the race with a week to go before national signing day. The 6'5 ½", 264-pound sophomore who'll have three years to play three seasons at his ultimate destination still could end up in Knoxville.
He also could choose to stay closer to his British Columbia home and play for USC or Washington. Florida State and Ole Miss are in the picture as well.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones still has an in-home visit to use with Kongbo this week, and that's where the Vols can make a big final impression. The talented pass-rusher is expected to be in Tallahassee, Florida, this week, and that's a visit all Vols will watch closely.
As well as UT has done recruiting the past three years, defensive line scouting has been a battle this year. Though the Vols already have Alexis Johnson in the fold, they seemed set with Kongbo and D'Andre Christmas-Giles until both decommitted.
Now, Kongbo appears to be the best hope to land a stud lineman down the stretch. Getting him to replace Curt Maggitt and to complement Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor and LaTroy Lewis would be huge for Tennessee.
He can line up on the edge and come after opposing passers, and he also is big enough to put a hand on the ground inside and wreak havoc from a tackle position with his athleticism. He could resemble a player like Alabama's Jarran Reed down the road. He's raw, but his ceiling is high.
The Vols need to convince Kongbo to recommit. If they do, it may be one of the biggest coups of the class.
Nigel Warrior, 4-Star Safety
As deep and talented as Tennessee's secondary is going to be in 2016, you'd have to be a special player to step right in as a true freshman and crack the rotation.
Nigel Warrior is that kind of player.
Forget that his dad (Dale Carter) was a two-time All-American safety at Tennessee after transferring from junior college back in the early 1990s under Johnny Majors. On his own merits, Warrior is a star.
Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Ohio State and virtually everybody else in the nation covet him. The Vols have had to battle for his attention throughout the recruiting process, and they seem to be right in the heat of the race for his signature.
This weekend is hugely important for Tennessee as Warrior comes to town. While there will be a vitally important group of potential future Vols on campus, Warrior is the one who should get as much attention as anybody else.
Tennessee lost two starting safeties from last year's team in Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil, and though the Vols have plenty of talent to step in, Warrior could walk onto campus and compete for a starting spot from day one.
He's also good enough to play nickelback and versatile enough to play cornerback on the boundary. At the very least, he'll be a special teams demon right away and should carve out a role on defense as a dimeback or something as the year progresses.
Because of his name, his bloodlines and his ability, Warrior has been at or near the top of UT's recruiting board ever since Jones set his sights on the '16 class. While his decision won't make or break this class, perception certainly will suffer a critical blow if he goes elsewhere.
Warrior is a legacy, and Jones hasn't missed on any of those guys he's coveted since coming to Knoxville.
Warrior is a difference-maker at a position of need, and after UT missed on Vonn Bell and Jalen Ramsey a few years back, this is as close as they've come of being in the thick of the battle for an elite safety (besides Todd Kelly Jr.).
This weekend, UT has the chance to close the deal and sway Warrior to Knoxville. He'd make a good class a great one, and he'd roam the secondary on Rocky Top for years to come.
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.