With the December 2018 Early Signing Period in the books, the recruiting world will get cranked back up this weekend after the dead period ends. And after watching last night’s National Championship Game one can be sure that Coach Jeremy Pruitt is chomping at the bit to do everything he can to get the Vols back to that kind of meaningful game. There is no doubt that the class he’s assembled thus far is a step in the right direction, having the kind of top-end talent as well as depth that immediately and significantly improves the roster. However, Tennessee has anywhere from 3-5 spots to fill in the class depending on how they can/want to work the numbers, so they have a chance to further improve the program by adding more elite players.
He’ll Flip Ya For Real?
After putting together an incredibly strong core of his second class, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt set his sights on an exceptionally large number of high level prospects that were committed elsewhere, trying to flip some longstanding commitments to elite or least very strong and stable programs. However, none of them signed with the Vols after each sticking with their respective schools:
DL Justin Eboigbe (Alabama)
LB Owen Pappoe (Auburn)
WR Jaylen Ellis (Baylor)
Akeem Dent (FSU)
DL Bill Norton (UGA)
DL Zion Logue (UGA)
LB Trezeman Marshall (UGA)
OL EJ Ndoma-Ogar (Oklahoma)
DL Joe Anderson (South Carolina)
DB Kenyatta Watson (Texas)
That list, along with RB Noah Cain who Tennessee got involved with very late before he ended up signing with longtime leader PSU, obviously represents a very large investment in time and resources that came up with nothing to show for it.
Conversely, in the 2017 class, Pruitt and Co. signed multiple bigtime uncommitted prospects, in a very short time after being hired, for whom they had to beat out the nation’s elite:
Dominick Wood-Anderson (beat Alabama)
Jerome Carvin (beat Alabama)
JJ Peterson (beat Alabama)
Alontae Taylor (beat UGA)
S Treveon Flowers (Clemson)
And following that up, Pruitt’s 2nd class is ranked in the Top 15 nationally after the 2018 ESP despite missing on so many potential flips. That’s because of the sheer number of blue chip recruits Tennessee signed and beat out top-tier programs for, with more than 50% of the 19 signees ranked as 4 or 5-stars – not even including former 5-star Michigan DL transfer DL Aubrey Solomon.
So as the Vols look to finish out their class with a few more elite players, there is no doubt that Pruitt and his staff can go head to head with the top programs in the country. However, what is still to be proven is whether Pruitt can flip that elite kind of player who is committed to another power program. Because while the Vols are undoubtedly going to go hard after uncommitted studs, such as OL Darnell Wright and LBs Henry To’oto’to (again, head to head with Alabama) and Chris Russell, they are also spending quite a bit of time trying to get in the door with FSU Defensive Back commitment (and Tallahassee native) Travis Jay, along with Auburn WR commitment George Pickens and even DB Maurice Hampton (LSU) who can’t seem to tell Pruitt know strongly enough. One could also equate Tennessee’s attempt to get in with DB Kair Elam, who not only is the nephew of former Florida Gator Matt Elam star but also has never been to Knoxville while visiting both UF and UGA campuses multiple times, with that of the aforementioned Noah Cain. The Vols might end up getting him to campus for an OV, and you can never count Tennessee out when a kid visits Knoxville, but that one in particular looks to be a massive longshot.
To be clear, none of this is to say that recruiting the likes of DBs Jay/Elam/Hampton is mutually exclusive to recruiting the likes of DBs Robinson or Jamal Hill (mentioned in this space as one to watch and now having set up an OV for 1/25). It’s also not to say that the recruitments of all committed prospects are the same. For example, Pickens is seemingly much more open to Tennessee than Jay, Elam, and Hampton, and Pickens has already been to Knoxville while neither of those DBs have. Further, Pruitt’s ties to Pickens’ Hoover HS in Alabama give Tennessee another in with that recruitment that distinguishes it from others.
The question is, especially given the above track record of this staff in terms of signing elite prospects who are committed elsewhere vs. top uncommitted players, which prospects remaining on the board should Tennessee focus on. Because outside of Wright and maybe LB Chris Russell, Tennessee isn’t the odds on favorite for anyone left on its board.
Below is Tennessee’s likely final board of players headed into the final few weeks, although the Vols could certainly also get a couple of prospects not listed to campus. Tennessee will hope to add as many from the “Elite Tier” as possible, but could dip into that “Tier II” and still feel good about the kind of prospect it’s getting. What I don’t think Pruitt will do this cycle, unlike at the end of the 2018 cycle, is settle for clearly lesser prospects if he misses on the large majority of his preferred prospects. Both because they have fewer spots to fill than they did last year when they did ”reach” for a few guys at the end and because they appear to be in good enough shape with enough of the targets below to avoid needing to do so
No doubt players who would instantly upgrade the talent on Tennessee’s roster at their respective positions and also could play at programs currently competing for championships
OL Darnell Wright – As close to a Vol lock as there can be, even if he takes OVs elsewhere (UGA, UNC, WVU) in January. Wright, along with Wanya Morris, could find himself pushing for immediate playing time in 2019 and will instantly upgrade the size and talent on the all-important OL
WR George Pickens (AU commit) – Pickens was in an earlier iteration of Tennessee’s “Tier II” targets mostly due to their lack of traction with him. But while LSU is considered by many to be in the strongest position for a flip, and UGA is also heavily in the mix (and will receive an OV this weekend), the Vols do appear to have a real chance here for this bigtime WR. Tennessee has strong ties to his Hoover HS and he took a secret visit to Knoxville for the Missouri game. Tennessee should get him back for an OV and, especially with the right OC hire, could find themselves in strong position. Stealing Jim Chaney from UGA especially could at the same time hurt the Dawgs in this one and also help the Vols. The fact that he’s already OV’d to AU and LSU is also a good thing for Tennessee. I might be more sanguine about Tennessee’s chances than most, but this one just has the feel of a Pruitt pull, and Pickens is the kind of WR who would have felt right at home in the Clemson-Alabama game
DL Charles Moore (MSU commit) – Perhaps strange to have him in this tier given that the Vols backed off Moore due to a subpar senior season. However, he was one of the best DL on the Mississippi side all week leading up to the AL/MS All-Star game, looking more like the prospect he was his junior year. He then followed that up with a great week at the UA Game. Auburn is a very strong contender, as his good friend Jared Handy signed with the Tigers already, but the Vols absolutely can get him to campus and make a big push should they choose to. Everyone needs as many talented DL as it can get, so expect Tennessee to do just that
OLB Khris Bogle (Alabama commit) – News came out on Monday that Bogle had actually decided on Tennessee as little as an hour before committing to Alabama on national TV. Given that he’s not signing anything until February it will certainly be interesting to see how hard the Vols push. Pruitt has already used his inhome, so that’s not available, but Bogle is a bigtime passrusher so expect Tennessee to do all it can to get him back on campus unofficially and land his signature
ILB Henry To’oto’to – Elite LB who is basically down to Tennessee and Alabama with some West Coast schools fighting to keep him in the region. He’s currently scheduled to be in Knoxville this weekend and then at the Poly Bowl (with Tennessee signee Jackson Lampley and some Bama commits as well) and then will visit Bama the weekend of 1/25 before announcing on Signing Day
ILB Chris Russell – Instate LB with tremendous measurables and senior film to match, the Dyersburg native is a huge need given the lack of bigtime LBs on the roster as well as his being from the Volunteer State. The Vols are scheduled to get his final OV, so they’ll be sweating out trips to College Station, Auburn, and Fayetteville between now and then but right now it feels like Tennessee is in good shape
DB Anthony Harris (Vols commit) – Incredibly talented player who didn’t sign in December for unknown reasons. Harris is a great athlete who starred at QB for his high school team, taking them to the state title game in NC, and could project to either side of the ball in college. The instate Tar Heels are trying to make a push but right now it’s an incredibly quiet recruitment. More clarity should come in the next couple of weeks as he takes visits, but it does appear the Vols will push to keep him in the fold
CB Travis Jay (FSU commit) – Showed out at the UA Game practices and proved himself to be a bigtime CB with great size. Jay is scheduled to visit Knoxville the 1/19 weekend; however, he’s going to be a very tough pull away from the Seminoles, so while he and Elam (below) are Elite Tier talents they are the least likely of this bunch
DB Kair Elam – Although he’s uncommitted Elam is a longshot for the Vols unless and until something changes with his frontrunners UF and UGA AND the Vols blow his visit out of the water should he actually make it to Knoxville
Solid prospects who project to be good college players and would likely help the Vols sooner rather than later. Will end up at very good programs should they not sign with the Vols
WR Arjei Henderson (UF commit) – Sitting on his 3rd commitment, he says he’s going to take an OV to Tennessee in January. Florida will certainly try and shut that down when he’s in Gainesville this weekend, so that’s TBD. He’s a very good WR but I’m not sure if he’s a no-doubt take for the Vols given other positional needs
DL Ledarrius Cox (Vols commit) – How hard they Vols want to keep him will be determined this weekend when he OVs, but Cox, like Moore, had a strong week of practices at the AL/MS Game. The major determining factor could be how Tennessee feels about where they sit with Moore as well as what’s going on at other positions
DL Kristian Williams (Minnesota commit) – Williams is a very solid DL who looks like he could help an SEC team in a couple of years and would also be another nice pickup from Memphis. The Vols can probably land him should they choose to push. They question is, do they like him more than both Cox and Moore and players at other positions?
ILB Eugene Asante – A new offer for the Vols (and a bunch of other schools) since December, Asante has already taken an OV to instate Virginia Tech and will be deciding between the likes of the Hokies, UCLA, Nebraska, and a few others along with the Vols. It’s unlikely the Vols take two LBs if To’oto’to isn’t one of them, so Asante is likely is a backup to Russell for now
DB Jamal Hill – Hill tore up the 2018 camp scene, picking up offers from the likes of Alabama and Michigan among many others and then earned a spot on the Georgia All-Region 4-AAAAAA team after his senior season. Although he likely projects as a physical, hard-hitting safety in college, he has underrated coverage ability and 10.96 100-meter dash speed. At that length and with that speed, he fits the mold of a Pruitt CB, and the Vols are in his Final 4 with USC, Oregon, and Colorado. Colorado is in there due to Mel Tucker having recruited him while at UGA, but obviously USC and Oregon are very good programs which reflects Hill’s ability. He’ll OV to Knoxville the 1/25 weekend, at which point both sides will have a better feel for which way they want to go
DB Jammie Robinson – Robinson has been on the board since midseason, with his tie being his former high school head coach Shelton Felton who was a QC coach for the Vols. However, Volquest.com reported that Felton is leaving for a fulltime position elsewhere, which might close the door between the two parties. Robinson is a dynamic player but is much shorter and perhaps not as fast as Hill, so his ultimate ceiling isn’t as high. He’s likely going to end up at South Carolina or Kentucky
Visits to Watch this Weekend
As the dead period ends and OVs get started back, the Vols will be hosting a handful of prospects (TBD) while watching a good number of its top targets who are visiting elsewhere.
LB Chris Russell (Texas A&M), WR George Pickens (UGA), and DL Charles Moore and DB Travis Jay (UF) are the main ones to keep an eye on, while LB Eugene Asante (UCLA) and DB Jamal Hill (Colorado) are Tier II targets taking OVs as well.