While the Vols signed a very promising group of defensive ends in the 2017 class, including early-enrollee Deandre Johnson, Matthew Butler, Ryan Thaxton, and Marcus Bembry, the DE position is arguably UT’s thinnest in terms of proven depth and talent. Therefore, it is a position of immense focus for the Class of 2018. Yet as the calendar turned to June and the Vols sat with a Top 10 2018 recruiting class, there were still justifiable concerns when it came to the position, as the Vols had zero commitments, and it seemed like top talent with which UT was in a strong position was nowhere to be found.
Over the course of the last month, however, the script has been flipped and the Vols have established an extremely strong DE board with several defined tiers. As of now, UT finds itself as the leader for three blue chip DEs, in the Top 2-3 for another three big timers, building relationships with two FL studs who have expressed reciprocal interest, and in good position for several players who at this point are lower on the board. See below for the current DE board by tier and my current take on each prospect.
Top Tier – Outright Leader
Jamarcus Chatman – A former LSU commit who decommitted from the Tigers after surprising some by showing up to Orange Carpet Day, Chatman is likely the Vols next and first DE commitment. He’s All Vol on Twitter right now, as is his entire family. A funny thing is that it seems to have been unknown until this past weekend that Chatman’s family is full of UT fans, and his sister is even an alumna. This one truly seems a matter of when and not if, with the only potential complication being the status of his best friend and current LSU DE commitment Jaquon Griffin. Many think Griffin only received his LSU offer so that the Bayou Bengals could land not only Chatman but also their talented LB teammate Adam Anderson. I don’t think the Vols are willing to take Griffin, and I think Chatman is going to be ok with that. Possibly very soon…
Greg Emerson – All Vols fans who follow recruiting know who Emerson is, and he remains UT’s top overall target regardless of position. He’s second on this list only because despite my 100% confidence that he will be a Vol when he enrolls in December he seems determined (at least for now) to wait on announcing his decision. The kid is an absolute stud, and while some had him pegged initially as a DT he has expressed a strong desire to be a DE. With athleticism like this, there is little reason to doubt him, and given that he’s an early enrollee he looks like an instant impact player in 2018
Dorian Gerald – A Florence, SC native who left high school with zero offers, Gerald has become a national recruit as a JUCO DE out in California. While some assumed that South Carolina was the favorite due to proximity to his hometown, a June visit to Knoxville placed UT firmly in the leadership spot, blowing away his visit to Columbia that had taken place days earlier. As an early enrollee with a frame that appears SEC-ready, Gerald is a guy who looks like he could be in the 2018 DE rotation immediately. That makes him one of the most important players left on the board. Despite offers from Bama and the like, this one looks like it will come down to UT and the ‘Cocks, and as it stands now the Vols are at the top of his list
Top Tier – Top 2/3
Jordan Davis – A Florida native and current Memphian who committed to Alabama months ago, Davis has proven himself to be one of the best DEs in the entire class in several camp performances this summer. Davis had talked about making it to Knoxville on more than one occasion this past spring but would no-show. Many observers were convinced he was going to be impossible to flip, and there was even some talk that it would actually be UF and not UT who would have the best chance to do so despite how hard UT had been trying. However, after finally making the trip for Orange Carpet Day, Davis was blown away and he appears to be very open to what UT is pitching. He is good friends with two fellow Memphis-based prospects, Cam Jones and Jerome Carvin, and it sounds like despite neither of them being committed to the Vols (yet) both of them are selling the Vols to Davis. Saban won’t go down without a fight, and the Vols will need to get Davis and his family back on campus as much as possible. But he is the kind of prospect you go all-in for, especially when you have the chance to take an in-state player at an impact position away from Alabama
Richard Jibunor – A freak athlete who has worked out as a DE, a LB, a TE, and even a S at camps this spring, Jibunor has the look of a player who Bob Shoop could use in a variety of ways. He likes the LB spot, but Tennessee sees him as a rush DE who can add weight and keep his elite athleticism and be a terror off the edge. Right now, the Vols are tied with Auburn at the top for Jibunor, who says he’s still going to visit schools like UF and others before making a decision by the end of the summer. UT hasn’t had a ton of luck going head to head with Auburn, but here’s hoping that trend doesn’t continue here. He’s one of my favorite players in this class, and I’d be ecstatic if the Vols landed him
Azeez Olujari – Olujari has been to Knoxville at least twice, with the latest visit coming last weekend for Orange Carpet Day. By all accounts he had another tremendous trip, and the Vols are firmly in the mix here along with UGA, Bama, and UF. So, once again, UT is fighting it out with fellow SEC powers. Unlike fellow Peach State prospect Jibunor, UGA is recruiting Olujari very hard. It will be a fight to the end for Olujari, but the Vols have positioned themselves firmly in the mix, and I expect will at least get an official visit.
Top Tier – In the Mix but Building Relationships
Gregory Rousseau – A Miami commit and another Vols prospect from South Florida, Rousseau got a Vols offer this week after attending a UT camp last week. A long, lean, and uber-athletic player, Rousseau actually plays a variety of positions for his high school team. He’ll need to add weight to be able to play DE in the SEC, but based on his athleticism, he appears to have an incredibly high ceiling. What I like about Rousseau is that he landed his offer after working out in front of the coaches, so they have a very good feel for his talent level. His level of interest, especially since he’s committed to Miami, is unknown at this point. But for him to come to camp to try and earn an offer tells me he’s likely to at least listen. Definitely one to watch moving forward.
Kayode Oledale – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Oledale is (say it with me) an athletic freak. He decommitted from FSU a few weeks ago and immediately listed UT as a school of strong interest. There was even some talk in Indianapolis at the Rivals 5-Star Challenge that the Vols are one of the top contenders. He’s very raw but, again, his ceiling is off the charts. UT will need to get him to campus, and soon, to be an actual contender, so that will be something to watch this summer. If they can, he’s a guy you take all day.
- Caleb Johnson
- Caleb Kelly
- Nick Fulwider
- Leonard Taylor
- Malik Langham
- Jaquon Griffin
These guys have been on campus, have offers, and like the Vols a lot. Johnson, Kelly, Fulwider and Taylor were all in attendance for Orange Carpet Day and are all relatively new to the Vols DE board. Langham has been on campus more than once, and Griffin is the aforementioned teammate of Chatman and as of now is still committed to LSU.
All of them appear to be solid prospects (some likely better than solid), but as of now likely wouldn’t be able to commit to UT. However, the Vols will probably continue to recruit them throughout the summer and fall, and they are definitely guys to watch moving forward.