Vols Need Playmakers. Period.

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When looking at Tennessee’s current commitment list as well as the realistic targets on the board as of early October, what stands out is how heavily tilted towards the defensive side of the ball those lists in total are. Four of the top five commitments (of 14 in total) as ranked by 247Sports are defensive players, and, importantly, it is isn’t so difficult to find upwards of 8-10 realistic and high quality targets that the Vols could close with on defense, each of whom would upgrade their respective positions. 

On the flip side, as deficient at Tennessee’s roster is when compared to top flight SEC teams overall, what always stands out to the naked eye is the lack of dynamic playmaker the Vols have on offense.  Yes, Tennessee has a nice corps of WRs, but not only are a large portion of them seniors but also none of them are true gamebreakers.  Similarly, Tennessee’s RB room includes some good talent, but only Eric Gray is a) young, and b) realistically has gamebreaking potential.  One could argue Ty Chandler does too, but in the end he’s just not the kind of RB who is going to take over a game, and he’s also set to enter his final season in 2020.  When it comes to Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class, there is some good news and some bad news when it comes to addressing this dearth of playmakers.  The good news starts with UT’s commitment from one of the top QBs in the country in Harrison Bailey, who projects  as the kind of triggerman that just makes an entire offense run and look better.  Further, the Vols also have commitments from three really good looking WR/ATH prospects.  Jalin Hyatt is a track star whose senior film is so strong that Alabama has started sniffing around.  Similarly, Jimmy Calloway’s performance has drawn an offer from Oklahoma.  And while Darion Williamson – the most likely of the trio to be cataloged as an “Athlete” due to his large size at 6’3 and over 200 lbs – hasn’t received that kind of recruiting attention, he’s nevertheless clearly a top-shelf athlete with outstanding potential as a big WR with good-to-great speed.  At the same time, Tennessee is firmly in the mix for two 5-star WRs in Rakim Jarrett (an LSU commitment who is taking an Alabama OV this month) and Arik Gilbert (for whom the Vols could be fading but won’t give up on until someone else sees a fax come through).  dpriority4

However, it must be said that the Vols will definitely have to fight to hold onto Hyatt and perhaps to a larger extent Calloway – noted as such because Hyatt’s parents have been public about him being a firm commitment while Calloway has made public comments that he’s less than 100% committed and is interested in taking other visits, to OU and even UK, although his presence at the UGA was a good sign.  At the same time, not only are the Vols potentially fighting an uphill battle for the aforementioned Jarrett and Gilbert, who are elite talents for sure, but both of them are on the bigger side and could potentially end up a more similar than not to a guy like Josh Palmer that’s already on the roster – big and physical with some real speed but maybe not a true threat to turn a 5-yard out and make it into an 80-yard TD.  Hyatt and Calloway do look like those kinds of players, but put simply the Vols need more of them, both at the WR spot as well as at RB, where their one commitment Tee Hodge is much more of a bruiser (and a potentially very good one, at that, which is why Wisconsin still isn’t giving up on him).  Unfortunately Tennessee’s board just doesn’t have a ton of that kind of player on there right now. 

That said, there are some players who the Vols have been recruiting throughout the process but as of yet haven’t pressed for that they could and perhaps should circle back on.  Each of them are the kind of player described above, and although some of them are committed elsewhere the Vols could potentially reinsert themselves into the respective recruitments should they turn up the heat: 0

ATH Jimmy Holiday, from Madison Central HS in Mississippi, is a TCU commitment who the Tennessee staff circled back on during its bye week.  Holiday, who the Horn Frogs are recruiting as a QB, is ~6’0, 180 pounds who put up the 7th best overall SPARQ score at a Nike Regional event over the summer that included over 300 other prospects, running a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.  What do you think of when you think about a TCU offense?  Smaller, shifty WRs who are borderline unguardable and very difficult to get down when they have the ball in space – Holiday fits that bill.  With the Vols theoretically in the market for a 2nd QB in this class anyway, a multi-purpose player who could have a package as a freshman QB and also help as a WR could be what Tennessee is looking for.  Expect the Vols to try and get Holiday, who has expressed a willingness to take some trips, to Knoxville for an official visit before the December signing period

WR Khi Mathieu is a Memphis commitment from New Orleans who received a relatively early Vol offer but ultimately chose the Tigers over fellow AAC schools like local Tulane, etc, who were truly pushing at the time.  Matheiu, the cousin of the famous Honey Badger, is a very good athlete who’s less known for elite speed and more known for his leaping ability and balls skills both in the air and after the catch.  While Memphis may be a Group of Five program just a few years removed from being alternatively a complete afterthought and also a laughingstock, under Coach Mike Norvell they have produced some explosive offenses built around this kind of playmaker.  Notably, he hails from St Augustine HS, where current Vols RB Coach David Johnson was the head coach in the not-too-distant past – this connection is what drew the two parties together initially and what could, should the Vols choose, get them back in it. 

RB Michael Drennen II is a 4-star All-Purpose Back from Ohio who right now has Kentucky and Ohio State as his top two choices.  The 5’11, 200 pound prospect has played multiple positions during his high school career and is an explosive playmaker all over the field.  The Vols were in a smallish top group he named not too long ago but so far haven’t gotten much traction.  From this vantage point Tennessee’s best bet is to have the Buckeyes be unwilling to take him due to space constraints and then turn up the heat in order to beat out a perennial doormat in Kentucky. 

Other dynamic offensive prospects the Vols could still get (more) involved with include WR Dazalin Worsham, a former Alabama commitment; WR Kris Abrams-Draine, an Ole Miss commitment who at one time had the Vols as his leader before they slowed things down a bit; and RB Jahmry Gibbs from Dalton, GA who’s in the middle of a ridiculous senior season that has drawn attention from college football’s biggest players but who to-date hasn’t seen much interest from Tennessee.  Tennessee could also look to the JUCO ranks later in the cycle, and of course could also dip into the grad transfer market later on.  However they go about it, the Tennessee staff simply must upgrade its roster from a playmaker perspective, and enlarging its board of prospects is the first step towards making that happen. lsdpriority50

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9 months ago

Great points… hope Pruitt can build a team that will have explosive power and some key players on both sides of the ball with ice water in their veins. Go Vols!