Butch Jones

Tennessee’s recruiting is at a 12-year high, but there’s still work to do.

The good news:  the five-year recruiting streak Butch Jones has been on since 2014 is the program’s best since 2001-05.

Tennessee just missed the top 15 in February with a #17 finish in the 247 Composite, but they shouldn’t have that problem with the 2018 class. The Vols are currently third nationally and first in the SEC in this cycle, which if it holds would give Jones his third top seven class in five years. That would be more than enough to make this the best five-year run since Phillip Fulmer landed three top five classes and five in the top 11 from 2001-05. With the Vols currently holding at number three, Jones’ five classes (not counting the one finished in the few weeks after he took the job in December 2012) have an average rank of ninth in the 247 composite. Fulmer’s during that 01-05 run finished with an average national rank of 6.4.

Some of Tennessee’s positive momentum in recruiting came from signing huge numbers:  counting 17 current commitments for the 2018 class, the Vols have landed 130 recruits since 2014, the most in the SEC. This is one reason why blue chip ratio – the percentage of four-and-five-star players in a class – is the better measurement and predictor of success.

Here too, Butch Jones is doing it better than anyone at UT since 2001-05. His five post-2013 classes have a blue chip ratio of 42.3%; Fulmer’s last great run carried a 51.5% ratio.

The work still ahead:  despite the best recruiting stretch in 12 years, the Vols are still behind Georgia over the same span.

These numbers only account for who signs, not who stays. But in the last five years, the Fulmer Era arguments about Tennessee having more talent than Georgia and Florida having more talent than Tennessee are both false:  since 2014 the Vols have a 42.3% blue chip ratio, the Dawgs a stunning 59.4%, and the Gators merely 35%. This obviously hasn’t stopped Florida from getting to Atlanta twice in a row, where the Dawgs haven’t been since 2012 and the Vols since 2007. But if you’re looking at accumulating talent, Butch Jones is out-recruiting Florida. These recruiting numbers also make the back-to-back wins over Georgia seem more impressive.

I compiled the blue chip ratios for the last five years (again, including current 2018 commits) from 247 Sports. Here’s how the SEC stands over that span (again, the number is the percentage of four-and-five-stars signed since 2014 plus current 2018 commitments):

Alabama 79.3
Georgia 59.4
LSU 59.2
Auburn 54
Texas A&M 44.1
Tennessee 42.3
Florida 35
Ole Miss 28.7
South Carolina 26.1
Arkansas 22.6
Mississippi State 17.3
Kentucky 16.6
Missouri 8.7
Vanderbilt 7.3

Butch Jones is recruiting better than anyone at Tennessee in 12 years. But there is still work to do to match Georgia’s pace in talent, and get the Vols to a championship level. In February there was concern the 2017 class with only five blue chip players would become a new normal; that clearly has not been the case. I’m not sure if what we’re seeing with the current class of 2018 can become a new normal, but I’m also not sure it has to be. Butch and company have done all of this without winning more than nine games. If they can sustain a healthy level in recruiting and turn it into more wins in the fall in the next couple of years, even more talent will find its way to Knoxville.

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