With the news that former 5-star QB JT Daniels has entered the transfer portal, followed by the report from 247 Sports analyst that “Tennessee is among the teams to watch,” all of a sudden there is some real intrigue with a QB position the battle for which seemed to lose a little steam with incoming 5-star freshman Harrison Bailey not getting to participate in spring practice due to COVID-19.
The possibility does not come without its concerns. Among them, would it cause any of the existing QBs on the roster to leave? Well, even without the possibility of Daniels joining the program, Tennessee seems likely to lose at least one of JT Shrout and Brian Maurer either before or during the 2020 season. That would leave the 2020 team with only Jarrett Guarantano, Harrison Bailey, Jimmy Holiday, and whoever of Shrout/Maurer is still around – a talented but very inexperienced bunch behind the much-maligned and tough-but-injury prone Guarantano. And after 2020 Guarantano will be gone, leaving the position potentially even thinner. So unless Daniels would cause Bailey, a five-star himself and the jewel of the 2020 class, to leave, any potential loss of personnel would likely be more than negated by Daniels himself.
As for the 2020 team itself, adding Daniels to the mix would be the ultimate “cream rises to the top” moment for Tennessee’s QB room and ultimately vastly raise the ceiling of the 2020 team. There are three likely scenarios that could play out: 1) Daniels, a Top 20 overall player in the 2018 class despite effectively playing up a year, who started at USC as a true freshman before missing all but the first half of the first game of 2019, wins the job. That means he’s beaten out the 5th year senior in Guarantano, a ballyhooed freshman in Bailey, and the rest of the QBs on the roster, showing the kind of talent that made him that sort of superstar prospect, 2) Guarantano wins the job. That means that he – a 5th year senior in his first season with the same offensive coordinator as the season before – has beaten out Daniels, Bailey, and the rest, or 3) Bailey wins the job, which means his talent is just so damn good, and his grasp of the offensive system so damn advanced, that he’s beaten out Daniels, Guarantano, and the rest. In either scenario, iron has sharpened iron and the Vols will have the best QB they can possibly have leading what should easily be Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s best team in his three-year tenure. As an aside, any of those would still leave the option of redshirting Maurer, a QB with a lot of potential who would be great to keep in the program.
The next concern is the possibility that Daniels’ presence on the roster turns off high school QBs in the 2021 and 2022 classes. As far as 2021 is concerned, the Vols are realistically in on only one QB at the moment in Top 100 prospect Kaidon Salter. And while Salter is potentially a very, very good QB, not only is he not yet committed to Tennessee in the first place but he’s also simply not the prospect Daniels is. 2022 is another issue when it comes to the potential for Tennessee to add an elite QB in the class. Between instate stud Ty Simpson and legacies Braden Davis and Kaden Martin – all three of whom are high level prospects with elite offers – as well as 4-star MJ Morris who has been to Knoxville multiple times – the Vols are frankly in the best position to land an elite QB in the class in recent and maybe even not so recent memory. That said, are guys who would at most overlap with Daniels for one season going to be scared off by his presence? And to be honest, is Daniels likely to still be on the roster in 2022? One would think that his goal is to spend at most two seasons somewhere – throwing for a ton of yards and winning a ton of games – before bouncing for the NFL. And if that hasn’t happened maybe he’s simply not the prospect he’s cracked up to be.
Finally, there is the fact that right now Tennessee is a few scholarships over the 85-limit. To that I say…so.freaking.what. That’s what Pruitt gets paid upwards of $5-6 million dollars a year to figure out. As good of a job as he’s done creating a roster that is an SEC East dark horse even without Daniels in 2020, there are still players who just don’t belong on an SEC roster. And like the great Brent Hubbs of Volquest always says (usually about a recruiting class, but still), the numbers always work themselves out.
The bottom line is that Quarterback is the most important position in football, and if you have the opportunity to add a truly elite talent to your roster you do it and figure the rest out later. Should all of the above concerns be given consideration? Sure. But other than Bailey transferring – which is hard to see happening but certainly not impossible – none of them supersede what adding Daniels could do for the 2020 team and for the program overall.