A couple years ago at the old site, we researched the 247 composite rankings for every Tennessee starting lineup since 2006. Last week Joel provided a 2017 depth chart with individual recruiting rankings, which inspired me to return to those historical rankings to see how Team 121 compares.
The main point: the 2017 Vols will have 81 recruiting stars in the (projected) starting lineup, which is tied for the most at Tennessee in the last 12 years. And, somewhat surprisingly, it’s more than last year’s team had in its starting lineup.
First, the numbers:
|LB||Darrin Kirkland Jr.||4|
|S||Todd Kelly Jr.||4|
There are plenty of spots here that are still up for grabs, but only a few that would actually make a difference in the overall rating. Marquez Callaway earning a start over Josh Smith would give one extra star on offense. If Jack Jones slid into the starting lineup at the expense of Coleman Thomas, that would be another. And the biggest available jump would be for Kahlil McKenzie, one of only two five-stars on the roster, to work his way into the starting lineup over Kendal Vickers.
Still, the 81 stars represented here are tied with 2008 and 2015 for the most in the last dozen years. The overall historical ratings (which count walk-ons as two-stars):
- 81: 2008, 2015, 2017
- 79: 2012, 2016
- 78: 2011, 2013
- 77: 2009
- 75: 2007
- 74: 2006, 2010, 2014
This time last year we were envisioning the 2016 Vols putting a higher-rated lineup on the field that never ultimately materialized, especially on defense. McKenzie never became a consistent starter before getting hurt, four-star options at defensive end couldn’t win the job from three-star Corey Vereen, and likewise with Emmanuel Moseley in the secondary (plus the fact that Cam Sutton was also a three-star out of high school). Last year’s squad was capable of throwing something like 83 stars in the starting lineup, but ended up with lower numbers than 2015 and 2017’s projection.
When you’re replacing Dobbs, Kamara, Malone, Barnett, plus the healthy versions of JRM and Sutton we had to bid farewell to last fall, it can seem like an instant rebuild at the end of a decade of doing just that. But Butch and company have recruited well enough that the talent level, at least in terms of recruiting stars, will remain even. The production levels, of course, remain to be seen, but just because they were playing behind six NFL draft picks doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.
Tennessee’s defense is particularly notable here. Having 42 stars in the projected starting lineup – including only two three-stars in Vickers and Gaulden – means only the 2008 defense (with three five-stars) was a higher-rated unit in the last 12 years. Again, we’re not coming into this year expecting outright greatness from this defense. But there is plenty of talent left on Tennessee’s roster, and much of it is young: Tennessee only has five four-star seniors, and four of them (Wiggins, Martin, TKJr, and Evan Berry) are in the secondary.
What will this all mean in the fall? Who knows. But if and when this team struggles, it won’t simply be because there’s not enough talent. Its success will depend on how the existing talent – much of it unproven – can rise to the occasion.