When you play upwards of six DBs at one time, by definition your roster always needs a lot of them. Which means that Tennessee and Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt and Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley – Defensive Back gurus by trade – are constantly on the lookout for both quality and quantity in the defensive backfield in each recruiting class. That makes the 2020 class in which the Vols signed only two DBs in Keshwan Lawrence and Doneiko Slaughter (although fellow signee Jabari Small could find himself getting a look at some point) – not just an anomaly but also a major reason why Tennessee will likely overindex heavily towards the position in the 2021 class. The Vols are currently set to lose four seniors from the defensive backfield after the 2020 season in CB Kenneth George, NBs Shawn Shamburger and Baylen Buchanan, and Safety Theo Jackson. In addition, it’s entirely possible that one or both of Junior CBs Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson have the kind of season that leads them to jump to the NFL early. Another reason to expect the Vols to add a bunch of DBs in this class.
That said, with two recent decommitments from defensive back prospects Nate Evans and Kamar Wilcoxson, now only three of the Vols current twenty-three commitments are DBs, although that doesn’t count ATH Elijah Howard who currently stars as a RB for Baylor School in Chattanooga but evidently has been told by both Pruitt and Nick Saban that he has NFL Cornerback traits. Therefore the Vols have work to do to fill what is an essential need in this class. The good news is that the Vols have set themselves up with an really nice looking DB board as we sit towards the tail end of the COVID-19 imposed dead period. While Tennessee is in the mix with an impressive amount of highly recruited talent despite already having 23 commitments, at perhaps no position is Tennessee true contenders for as much elite talent as it is at DB, and the Vols staff will 100% be swinging for the fences and willing to only take truly elite players.
4-star CB Damarius McGhee from Pensacola released a Top 5 last week that featured Tennessee along with UGA, Miami, Louisville, and Ole Miss. McGhee has been a fast riser in the rankings this spring, jumping into 2347’s Top 100 after their evaluators dug into his film and saw outstanding athleticism and ball skills to go with his verified track speed and plus height/length. He’s mentioned making a decision before his season starts, and Tennessee appears to be in outstanding position for him. Tennessee has already struck in the North Florida/Panhandle area with De’Shawn Rucker and Coach Pruitt has a tremendous reputation among high school coaches in the area. McGhee is the kind of pure CB prospect who would be a tremendous add to the class and likely represents the Vols best chance at adding another elite DB to the class
De’Jahn Warren – the #1 JUCO DB and #3 overall JUCO in the country per 247 Sports, received his first offer from Tennessee back in December 2019 and since then has had the Vols near the top of his list. Warren, who plans to sign in December and enroll for 2021 spring practice, will visit PSU 9/26, OU 11/20, and then take trips the last two weekends before the Early Signing Period to Tennessee 12/4 and then UGA 12/11. As can easily be seen he’s one of the most elite players in the country, and his recruitment will be a dog fight. But the Maryland native has a great relationship with Coach Joe Osovet and the Vols having given him his first offer seems to mean a lot to him so expect Tennessee to be in this one to the end. From this vantage point Warren is probably right behind McGhee when it comes to Tennessee’s best chances to land, but the Vols are going to have to play the long game here
Borderline 5-star Nyland Green was on Tennessee’s campus for a late January Junior Day and has had the Vols among his top schools since then. He has a who’s-who list of offers and top schools, including homestate UGA as well as Clemson, Auburn, LSU and Oklahoma. The Vols are certainly battling for Green, but will have to overcome proximity to Athens as well as a strong push from Auburn and Clemson in particular. That said, he has taken three visits to Knoxville and has a particularly strong bond with Tennessee’s DC Derrick Ansley, giving the Vols a puncher’s chance. It remains to be seen when he’s going to make a decision, but the Vols have gone from being an afterthought here to being deep in the mix
4-star Terrion Arnold is a Top 100 prospect who like Rucker is from Tallahassee. He’s a major target for programs like Alabama, the homestate Gators, and the hometown Seminoles. And while he hadn’t been mentioned all that much with Tennessee prior to the last month or so, the momentum from the nation’s #2 recruiting class has gotten his attention. Arnold seems intent on taking visits and deciding closer to Signing Day, which is probably a good thing for the Vols as they seek to catch up in terms of relationships, etc. And he’s certainly a prospect worth the wait, as his otherworldly athleticism gives him tremendous versatility in the defensive backfield. He’s also a relatively high level basketball prospect, and last week he received an official offer from Coach Rick Barnes and Tennessee’s championship contender basketball program. One would assume that Vol coaches are touting both 2020 signees Dee Beckwith’s and Arnold’s fellow Floridian Malachi Wideman’s experiences pursuing being a dual-sport athlete at Tennessee – as well as DB Kenny Solomon in Track and Field – as it seeks to land one of the most athletic and dynamic prospects in the country
Top 100 prospect Isaiah Johnson visited campus last summer and said in January that Tennessee was among the three teams recruiting him the hardest, along with UGA and Penn State. In early June he named a Top 8 of those three plus LSU, Texas A&M, USC, Texas, and homestate WVU. He continues to talk about Tennessee, and the Vols are real players here should they choose to push
Damond Harmon recently included Tennessee in his Top 5 along with Georgia, Oklahoma, PSU and South Carolina. A native of Highland Springs, VA, Harmon is intent on taking visits before making a decision. As Tennessee seeks to figure out its priorities in the secondary that’s probably good news for the Vols
The Vols have also offered a good number of other very high-level DB prospects, including newly offered Sirad Bryant (who hails from the Crisp County High School where Shelton Felton used to be the head coach), Dink Jackson (who has the Vols in his Top 10), Javon Bullard (who has the Vols in his Top 7 but is seeing instate UGA start to push more), Christian Charles, Daquan Gonzalez and Kolby Phillips. All of them have incredibly strong offer lists and high interest in Tennessee and the Vols will continue to monitor them during the upcoming season. One could easily make the case that each of them has as much potential as the individually listed prospects above. A final interesting name that as of yet hasn’t gotten any buzz with Tennessee is current Florida DB commitment Clinton Burton Jr. There are some rumblings that his commitment to the Gators is soft, and he hails from the same St Frances Academy in Baltimore that is home to 2020 Vol signee Dominic Bailey as well as 2021 Tennessee commitments Aaron Willis and Katron Evans. Burton has offers from the likes of Alabama (which also has extensive SFA ties), PSU, Michigan and others, so even were he to decommit it’s far from a shoo-in that the Vols would be at or near the top of his list. That said, could be one to keep an eye on down the road as things evolve with both his recruitment as well as Tennessee’s DB recruiting.
Tennessee projects to have one of the best secondaries in the SEC this season, which quantity and quality especially at Cornerback but at Safety as well. With that along with multiple experienced seniors, the need to replenish the cupboard with the class of 2021 is great. As the Vols seek to bring in the largest and most talented group of DBs possible, it’s given itself gives itself maximum flexibility and multiple options with its recruiting so far and will seek to cash in by locking down multiple players from the elite prospect list above.