Vols should look for upside with last DE spot just like they did at OL with Tanner Antonutti

With 20 commitments and a Top 5 nationally-ranked class, the Vols still have a handful of needs to address.  And even though the commitment list already includes a group of five defensive linemen with a diverse set of both sizes and skill sets, another pure rush defensive end is foremost among those remaining needs.

Guys like Adam Anderson, Azeez Ojulari, and Alabama commitment Jordan Davis are at the top of Tennessee’s wish list, but both Anderson and Ojulari are at this time thought to be Georgia leans and Davis looks to be solid in his pledge to the Tide.  Therefore, UT is looking at another group of defensive ends to fill that last spot, among them fellow Georgians Caleb Johnson, Caleb Kelly, and Andrew Johnson. The three Peach State natives are all solid prospects with nice offer lists, and all have been to Knoxville this spring/summer.  Caleb Johnson in particular seems to be very high on the Vols, and Georgia and Florida are in the mix there as well.  But it’s Floridian (by way of Nigeria…hat tip to Volquest’s Austin Price) Kayode Oladele that I think the staff should be focused on for the last spot.

Why Oladele?

Interestingly, while DE is a definite question mark headed into 2017 due to the lack of experience, in 2018 and beyond the position will have experience, talent, and a lot of bodies.  Below are the returning DEs in 2018:

  • Jonathan Kongbo
  • Darrell Taylor
  • Kyle Phillips
  • Deandre Johnson
  • Ryan Thaxton
  • Jaquan Blakely

There are of course some variables there, including the potential for any of Kongbo/Taylor/Phillips to leave early for the NFL if they have a big year in 2017.  On the flip side, the list also leaves out guys like LB/DE Austin Smith, who could be a pass-rushing specialist starting this season, as well as true freshman Matthew Butler, who is likely to be a guy who situationally shifts inside and outside as long as he doesn’t get too big.

That list also doesn’t include 2018 DE commitments Dorian Gerald (a plug and play JUCO early enrollee); Derek Barnett look-alike Jamarcus Chatman; and erstwhile DE and 5-star stud Greg Emerson.  With all of those talented players, there just isn’t going to be a need for the sixth DL in this class to get on the field and contribute immediately.

And that’s where Oladele comes in. He’s the ultimate high ceiling prospect, exactly the kind of kid the staff should be targeting for its last DL spot in the class.  Similarly to the Vols’ situation at OL, where their depth and talent allowed them to take a long-term prospect with massive upside in Tanner Antonutti, Tennessee can afford to roll the dice on a guy like Oladele who has NFL potential at DE.

He is without a doubt very raw, having only played football for one year, and he’s got a ways to go in terms of technique and just knowing how to play the game.  However, Oladele fits the prototype for edge rushers. He has elite length and burst, superior quickness, and is a physical specimen that looks like he’s been in a college weight room for a few years already.

He also impressed industry scouts at camps this spring with how far he has come. At a Rivals camp in March, industry scouts noted that Oladele had made big time strides in technique since the last time they had seen him.  He followed that up by being a top performer at a Miami Hurricanes camp in June and then earned an Auburn offer with a strong performance at their camp in July. He also worked out with Coach Hoke in Knoxville In July despite already having a Vols offer and impressed the veteran DL guru.  So while he is likely a ways away from being ready to contribute in the SEC, the fact that he’s already improving is a very good sign.  Finally, he’s an early enrollee, so not only is he by definition a strong student but he’ll be able to get a jump start on that development with 15 spring practices before his freshman season.

Where does Oladele’s recruitment stand?

Oladele just named a Top 5 of UT, FSU, Auburn, UGA, and Ole Miss.  I don’t see it with FSU, and if he ends up at Ole Miss it will be because neither of UT/UGA/AU were willing to take him, which I don’t see happening.  So to me it’s a three-team race.  Furthering that thought is that he’s already set official visits for Tennessee (September 30 for the UGA game) and Auburn.  I believe he will take one to UGA, too, though it hasn’t yet been set.

Notably, where Auburn might have a slight advantage is that they already have two Nigerian natives on the roster — offensive tackles Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. and Prince Sammons.  This is helping the Tigers out with fellow Nigerian and Vols target Richard Jibunor out of GA, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Auburn pushes that connection with Oladele as well.

Given his lack of polish, some teams may be waiting to see how he looks on the field this fall.  And UGA in particular not only lead for Anderson and Ojulari (along with DE commitment Caleb Tannor), but they also need guys who can play immediately.  So the Dawgs might not be ready to take him soon.  That may give one of Tennesse/Auburn (whose DE situation I’m not up to date on) a chance to get a leg up by pushing earlier than that.  Whether the Vols staff does that or not is to be determined.

To be clear, I think the aforementioned Johnsons (Caleb and Andrew) Kelly are all very good prospects whose respective offer lists tell you they can likely play in the SEC.  However, none of them have the ceiling to be (in my opinion) a high-round NFL draft pick like Oladele does.  That said, their respective floors might be higher than Oladele’s because they aren’t anywhere near as raw.  But given what the Vols have returning at DE in 2018 and beyond, to go with their very strong 2018 DL commitments, I would push hard for Oladele and his upside to cap off the class.

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