When it became clear that 4-star athlete Bryce Thompson wasn’t going to be a part of Will Muschamp’s class, Tennessee swept in and tried to get him to come to Knoxville. Even after national signing day, things weren’t clear about his potential future with the Gamecocks, to whom he was pledged.
Louisville, Marshall and others stayed hard after him. In the end, he enrolled at UT this week and will be a part of the Vols’ class. South Carolina filled its last possible spot when Texas A&M defensive back Nick Harvey chose the Cocks over the Vols.
That wound up being huge news for Tennessee.
I said way back during the recruiting cycle before the Vols were in the picture that I thought Thompson was the best player in Muschamp’s class. I still think he has elite potential.
He is ranked the No. 301 overall player and the 12th-rated athlete in the class according to the 247Sports composite. Thompson told reporters on Wednesday that he wants to start out on offense for the Vols where he’s expected to play in the slot. But he isn’t opposed to moving to defense if the need arises.
The guess here is that the need will, indeed, arise. UT hasn’t had a ton of success yet recruiting defensive backs in the short tenure of Jeremy Pruitt, though that’s expected to change with a lot of top targets liking the Vols in ’19. But we’re talking about a major need right away — as in 2018. That’s why Pruitt moved freshman wide receiver Alontae Taylor to defense, and he thrived at cornerback over the last couple of weeks of spring, though he’s raw.
Thompson has that potential, too. He’s 6’0″, 180 pounds, so he has the size to play the position and be a force in press-man coverage under Pruitt as a cornerback. But he also could be dynamic with the ball in his hands, too. He wants to play the slot, and the Vols really don’t have anybody with his skill set on that side of the ball unless it’s Latrell Williams. UT has receivers, though, and the Vols simply don’t have a lot of depth or quality at corner.
It’s not hard to see Thompson being one of the key pieces of the present and the future on defense. But he also can do a lot of things on offense, and that’s where he thrived for Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, South Carolina, right outside of Columbia.
The best thing about this pledge is Thompson can make an impact a lot of places with his versatility. The Vols have a lot of needs — really all over the field — and to be able to get an instant-impact player at this point of the cycle (really, the cycle is long over) is a major coup. It’s unclear why Thompson wasn’t part of Carolina’s class, but it had nothing to do with his ability. If he has some off-the-field issues, he’s the type of player you take a chance on and try to rehabilitate him and hope he matures. Yes, he’s that good, and every single team has players who needed a second chance. I’m not suggesting that, and I also don’t know about his academic status, but he’s at UT enrolled now, so whatever the case, the Vols, Phillip Fulmer and Pruitt got him there.
That’s a major recruiting win for Tennessee, who has added 3-star JUCO cornerback Kenneth George, former 4-star graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst, former 3-star graduate transfer running back Madre London and hopes to add former 4-star offensive lineman graduate transfer Brandon Kennedy if they can get over the SEC transfer hurdles. That’s a lot of instant-impact ability to go along with players like JUCO OT Jahmir Johnson, JUCO TE Dominick Wood-Anderson and JUCO DT Emmit Gooden. It’s evident Pruitt isn’t worried about “rebuilding,” even though a lot of that can’t be helped. He wants to do everything he can to win now.
Pruitt knows recruiting, and he knows prospects want to see improvement on the field. If the Vols can impress this season, it’ll bode well for the next few recruiting classes. Thompson is a major win right now. It’s not every day you get a kid who could be an impact player on both sides of the ball. With him and Taylor now, and safety Trevon Flowers, cornerback Brandon Davis coming soon, UT could patch together a good corps of young defensive backs. That is Pruitt’s forte, if you recall.
Or, Thompson could step right in and be a difference-maker with the ball in his hands on offense.
Options are fun and nice to have. That’s what Thompson provides the Vols.