A half dozen random recruiting thoughts as it’s not even July, and the 2018 class is currently ranked #5 in the country with 15 commitments:
Still no Emerson
What’s even more impressive about the current ranking of the class is that it doesn’t yet include Vols lock and borderline 5-star DL Greg Emerson, who will be the crown jewel of this class as his fellow Jackson area-native Trey Smith was in 2017.
As noted over the weekend (and in the case of Chatman, presciently), the DE board is suddenly very crowded with blue chippers, another promising development as UT looks to finish this class out. With Chatman in the fold and Emerson a matter of when and not if, look for the Vols to really zero in on JUCO stud Dorian Gerald and Azeez Ojulari while continuing to slowly chip away with Jordan Davis. Other nice prospects are out there, and even over the weekend, 4-star DE Malcolm Lamer from FL named the Vols in his Top 5, just adding to the board. But IMO it’s those three that will be the main focus going forward (again, presuming Emerson is a Vol already).
One position I continue to think is really interesting is TE. While the Vols have a really good prospect already in the fold in local stud Jacob Warren, the thought is that they want to pair him up with another. The two TEs the staff has focused on have been Tommy Tremble from GA and James Mitchell from VA. And while UT is arguably in the Top 2 for both, it would be a stretch to say that they lead for either. With Tremble, the thought continues to be that his interest in academics could lead him away from a big time SEC program like Tennessee or UGA (his father’s alma mater) and instead to a place like Notre Dame (his presumed leader right now), Duke, or even an Ivy. With Mitchell, even though he’s made a couple of visits to Rocky Top many think ultimately he will be tough to pull away from home state Virginia Tech. And now schools like OSU are sniffing around, potentially complicating matters should he decide he would be willing to leave home. All the while, other top flight TEs are either falling off the board or simply moving on as they are recruited harder by other schools. So the question becomes, if you can’t land one of the remaining big 2, do you reach and take another TE in this class, or do you instead use that spot at another position? It’s not an easy question to answer, as headed into 2018 you’ll only have 5 TEs on the roster, counting Warren, and to-date only one (walk-on Eli Wolf) has actually taken snaps. Now a counter to that might be that none of the remaining class of 2018 TEs would move the needle in the 2018 season anyway as they would be just as inexperienced. My take: Don’t reach, and then make sure you’re using the 2017 season to get guys like Eli Wolf and Austin Pope some real reps and likely 2017 redshirts James Brown/Latrell Bumphus the kind of physical development needed to be ready in 2018. It’s not an ideal situation, but at this point if the Vols can’t land either Tremble or Mitchell I think I would rather see that spot used on another DL or OL.
Speaking of…do the Vols take a 4th OL if they land Carvin? Might depend on numbers at other positions, among other variables. Interestingly, Midstate product and longtime Vols fan Tanner Antonutti is dying to get the green light to commit to his dream school and seemingly was ok waiting. However, an offer from LSU over the weekend may have changed the calculus for Walt Wells and Co. Does the offer from Red Stick force UT’s hand here, or is Antonutti still willing to wait? It’s a fascinating question. He’s an intriguing prospect – more of a Marcus Tatum/Nathan Niehaus type body in the sense that he’s got a great frame and athleticism but doesn’t have the weight yet. Once again it’s a zero sum game when it comes to numbers at different positions, so if you take a 4th OL someone else is losing a spot. It’s sounding more and more like Carvin is going to pull the trigger for the Vols sooner rather than later, so we’ll know more on that 4th spot shortly.
LB recruiting continues to be confounding, and there are just so many layers to it. On the one hand, at this point the 4-2-5 is basically our Base package, so you just don’t need as many LBs as you used to. Also, I think the Vols ended up with a really nice LB class in 2017: Ignot is a blue-chipper; Reid and Page look to have been steals after Reid looked really good this spring as an early enrollee and Page put on a bunch of muscle to go with his speed and high school production; and to cap it off, I’m firmly of the opinion that Maleik Gray is a future menace as a hybrid LB/NB chess piece that Shoop moves all over the place in the box, ala Jabril Peppers at Michigan. But on the other hand, it does seem strange that we haven’t found ourselves truly battling for bonafide stud LBs for a while now. Yes, guys like Kirkland and Bituli were well-regarded and have very bright futures, but compare LB recruiting to, say DL or OL recruiting and it’s hard to say we’re signing the same caliber of prospect, at least on paper. And that appears to be the case in the 2018 class, as the board is both relatively small and also devoid of big timers. Don’t get me wrong, Cam Jones is likely to take a LB spot in this class, and I think that he has the potential to be a really, really good LB. He’s got nice size, speed, and athleticism. I don’t think we take more than one more though, and while I think guys like Matthew Flint and Cam McGrone and Fa’najae Gotay are solid prospects, the guy I would go all in on is Xavier Peters. Yes, there are academic and potentially character concerns (though that’s just hearsay and I think it has to do with his fiery disposition). But he looks like a potentially elite LB. The kind that we don’t have on the roster right now with the possible exception of Daniel Bituli. And with his home state Buckeyes being full at LB there is an opportunity for someone else to swoop in and snatch a big timer – the kind of kid who normally we’d have no shot at as he’d be an OSU lock. The team that takes advantage of that should be the Vols. Peters was here in the spring and loved it, but unfortunately didn’t come to Orange Carpet Day despite some thought that he would make it in. So they’ll need to get him back to campus to remind him how much better it is than, say, Kentucky, who appears to have a decent shot at him right now. Bottom line: Peters should be Thigpen’s focus, because he’s the kind of elite LB we don’t have on the team right now and he’s there for the taking.
A final thought on LB recruiting this cycle: Richard Jibunor is one of my favorite players in this class. He’s an athletic freak who could play LB or DE and loves the Vols. Unfortunately, he also loves Auburn, and the Tigers are telling him he can play his preferred position of LB while the Vols are recruiting him as a DE. Now, it’s a testament to how much he likes Tennessee that we are neck and neck with Auburn despite that. But, especially given the dearth of big time LB prospects not only on the 2018 board but also on campus, I don’t see why UT doesn’t simply recruit Jibunor as a LB, or at least tell him he can play both or start at LB and see what happens. That would not only eliminate Auburn’s advantage but also give UT another shot at a stud LB who, worst case, gets too big for the position and becomes a terror off the edge at Weakside DE.