When Dylan Brooks committed on April 26, there was certainly excitement over landing a five-star and the number one player in Alabama. But, at the time, Brooks was by far the biggest fish in Tennessee’s pond. The Vols were low in blue chip ratio with lots of work left to do in this class.
Fast forward two weeks, and it feels like everything changed.
Jesse Simonton at VolQuest did the research, and calls Tennessee’s run of 11 commitments in 15 days the best two-week run in program history. The Vols now have nine four-or-five-star commitments in their group of 21, a blue chip ratio of 43%. There’s still room to grow to get the Vols above the 50% threshold teams need to hit to compete for the national championship. But there’s good news there too.
The current class has the most buzz, and rightfully so ranked second in the nation. That generated some poo-pooing from Bud Elliott at 247 Sports, who wrote on how unlikely it is that the Vols finish with the nation’s number two class. But for Tennessee right now, it’s not about whether the Vols can finish number two or number three or whatever. Everything for the Vols is about sustainable progress, and Jeremy Pruitt was already setting the pace through recruiting.
Tennessee’s 2019 class finished 13th nationally, then 10th in 2020. But their blue chip ratios (Bud Elliott’s benchmark) on signing day both came in at 56.5% (13 of 23 signees). As we wrote back in February 2019, those are the highest blue chip ratios at Tennessee since 2005.
We know the thrill of a top-tier recruiting class in early summer: Butch Jones did that before he ever coached a game here with a class that ultimately finished seventh (on the strength of 32 signees!). And we know the recent thrill of landing a can’t-miss prospect: Jones, again, was there with Kahlil McKenzie. Both of those are good teachers in no guarantees and the importance of player development.
But we also know how much of Jones’ 2014 and 2015 classes were built on great in-state years and an unusually high number of legacy targets. By contrast, Pruitt’s strong blue chip classes featured two in-state players in 2019 (Eric Gray and Jackson Lampley, a legacy target). In 2020 the Vols got while the getting was good in-state with six blue chip players from the Volunteer State, including legacy signee Cooper Mays.
In Tennessee’s current commit list, the top-rated players are from Florida, Alabama, Maryland, Georgia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. Brentwood’s Walker Merrill is the class’s highest-rated in-state player at #11, one of only two players from Tennessee in the current group of 21. That too looks much more like an old Phillip Fulmer class.
If the Vols finish out with a handful of three stars, then sure, we’ll note that a class with a 36% blue chip ratio may not be deep enough to get the Vols where they ultimately want to go when these guys really start being counted on in 2022 and beyond. But even if that’s the case, the elite talent at the top of this group is already noteworthy.
On the strength of the national championship, Tennessee signed the number one class in the nation in 2000, including five five stars. They added three five stars in both 2001 and 2002. Since then, the Vols have added multiple consensus five stars just five times in 19 years:
- 2007: Eric Berry & Ben Martin
- 2010: Da’Rick Rogers & Ja’Wuan James
- 2015: Kahlil McKenzie & Kyle Phillips
- 2019: Darnell Wright & Wanya Morris
- 2021: Terrence Lewis & Dylan Brooks
As you can see, Pruitt has now done twice what no one, including Fulmer, did more than once after 2002.
There’s a long way to go through uncharted and uncertain waters. But we’re not just celebrating this class because we’re bored.