Bye Week Big Board – Offense

With the Vols on their second of two bye weeks of the season, the Tennessee staff will not only take the opportunity to rest its team and develop its younger players but also reassess its 2020 recruiting board.  They’ll likely hit the road and touch base with prospects while at the same time likely handing out at least a handful of new offers.  Below we’ll take a look at the Offensive Board by position and evaluate where these prospects sit on Tennessee’s board as well as their reciprocal interest.  As a reminder, the Vols currently have 18 commitments, giving them 7-8 spots to work with and multiple needs to address:

QB

Current commitment: Harrison Bailey

Prospect:

Jimmy Holiday

Holiday is a TCU commitment from Madison, MS who has shined over the course of his senior season.  We featured him in an article talking about the need for playmakers in early October, after which Holiday took an official visit to Tennessee in October for the UGA weekend.  While it’s unclear whether or not TCU is recruiting him as a QB or as more of an ATH (read: WR), what’s not in doubt is the fact that Holiday considers himself a QB.  The Vols have told him that they will absolutely give him his first opportunity at QB, which seems to have resonated with him.  Bottom line is he’s ~6’0 and 180 pounds, runs a sub-4.4 40 and notched the 7th best overall SPARQ score at a Nike Regional event over the summer that included over 300 other prospects – and ALL of that translates on film. Whether or not the Vols need another QB in this class is up for debate, which is why the fact that Holiday projects as an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands no matter where he ends up a more valuable prospect for Tennessee.  Holiday took his OV to TCU over the summer, so the Horned Frogs won’t get a chance to host him in that manner again.  He’s been committed to them for a while now, so flipping him won’t be particularly easy, but the chance to play QB and play in the SEC could be enough if the Vols decide to push.

RB

Current commitment: Tee Hodge

Prospects*:

Zaquandre White (JUCO)

Ty Jordan – Texas commitment

John Gentry – Arkansas decommitment

Don Ragsdale (JUCO) – USM commitment

Like QB, one could make the case that Tennessee doesn’t need another RB in this class.  All three of Tennessee’s RBs who have played this season – Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Eric Gray – have eligibility remaining, and even the one senior in the RB room in Carlin Fils-aime could potentially redshirt and return.  Hodge’s senior season has been plagued by injury and he hasn’t put up monster stats, but there is a reason that schools like Wisconsin and Oregon wanted him up to when he committed to the Vols over the summer, and in the Badger’s case continue to try.  Hodge looks like a solid and capable SEC RB, something that’s not to be understated.  And assuming all of the above return in 2020 that would give Tennessee four (or five, pending CFA) RBs.  It would also set them up to need at least two in 2021, which in theory is precarious.  However, at the same time that would give the Vols a tremendous sales pitch.  Because for all of the great things that Jeremy Pruitt has done in terms of upgrading the talent and depth in the program, one sore spot he’s so far failed to correct is Tennessee’s decade-long inability to land a bigtime, no-brainer, blue-chip 5-star RB.  While Eric Gray was a highly regarded and coveted prospect, he’s just not on the level of the kind of RBs that the likes of Alabama and Georgia have been adding literally year after year, sometimes landing more than one in a class.  There are still more than a few things that Tennessee needs to do to reach the next level of truly going toe-to-toe with the Tide and Bulldogs as well as competing for championships, but having that kind of gamebreaking RB is one of them.  That has to be considered an absolute MUST for 2021.

As for the RBs on the board should the Vols choose to add one more, it’s an interesting group.  Given the above, on the one hand it makes sense to add a JUCO who would bring maturity and experience to a potentially shorthanded group. On the other hand, if the concern is more about who is around past 2020 then a JUCO makes less sense.  Either way, White is seemingly the most likely to make an instant impact, as he has the strongest pedigree as a former 4-star FSU signee and has had a nice sophomore year in Junior College.  The Vols have been on him for a while but so far he hasn’t been to campus since Pruitt was the coach, although it should be noted that he’s not been anywhere else either this year.  Jordan is the other one of the group who the Vols have been recruiting for some time, and he took an OV to Knoxville this summer before ultimately deciding to stay close to home, at least partially due to an illness in the family.  With the Vols adding a commitment from his high school teammate OL Kyree Miller, however, Volquest.com has reported that Tennessee has reengaged at least a little with Jordan.  Ultimately it seems hard to see the small but very dynamic back opting to leave the state, but like with most if not all prospects Tennessee covets they likely won’t stop trying.  The last three RBs on the board are all very new offers – with Tennessee tendering each of them in the past week or so.  Gentry is another Lone Star state standout, and Arkansas’s firing of Coach Chad Morris caused him to back off of his pledge to the Razorbacks.  Gentry seems like a Utah lean and as of this writing Amos appears to be ready to jump in the sinking ship that is Gamecock football, so those two could be off the board before Tennessee has time to gain any footing. Finally, Ragsdale, the newest offeree, is the second JUCO on the board and is currently committed to homestate Southern Mississippi.  He’s a big, powerful back whose film shows some impressive shiftiness but a lack of top end speed – think a bigger Tim Jordan while at the same time thinking of your prototypical Southern Miss RB. 

*It is very important to note that Tennessee is recruiting both Desmond Tisdol and Len’neth Whitehead as Athletes who could play both RB or ILB.  Both of them are high level prospects and both could possibly be considered Vol leans at this point (with the South Carolina implosion moving the needle for both).  That said, not only is there still a need for another ILB in the class, but I have a hard time seeing Jeremy Pruitt put bigtime players on offense when he has a choice of keeping them on the defensive side.  Therefore for these purposes neither prospect is being counted on the RB board

WR

Current commitments: Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Calloway, and Darion Williamson

Prospect(s):

Rakim Jarrett (LSU commitment)

Thaiu Jones-Bell (Alabama commitment)

Dee Beckwith

With the impending graduation of two potential All-SEC players in Jajuan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, Tennessee’s passing game is inevitably going to look different in 2020.  Whether it ends up worse is TBD, as the move of UGA transfer Deangelo Gibbs from DB to WR and the decision to redshirt the dependable soon-to-be 5th year senior Brandon Johnson will give the Vols some veterans that they didn’t necessarily think would be there when the season started.  At the same time, freshmen Cedric Tillman, Ramel Keyton and Jerrod Means have gotten some real playing time this season, giving the Vols some more experience as well.  And of course Josh Palmer will be in line to take over as the headliner of the group.  Finally, in the second year of OC Jim Chaney’s system there could be more involvement in the passing game for both the TEs (especially if they add the stud prospect below) and RBs. 

That said, Tennessee needs an infusion of both quantity and quality at the position in the 2020 class, and although they have three commitments they could stand to add at least one more and are recruiting as such.  Even more because Calloway is still looking to take visits – to at least OU if not also UK and maybe homestate UGA if they end up offering – and Williamson has visited Memphis this season and also is less likely to be a Year 1 contributor given his inseason knee injury.  Tennessee was thought to be the leader for Jarrett in the spring until he made a surprising commitment to LSU (no one knew at that point their offense would resemble the Greatest Show on Turf), and even a summer official visit to Knoxville wasn’t enough to flip him.  The Vols have continued to stay in touch and so far Jarrett hasn’t told them a final “no,” while at the same time taking a late October OV to Alabama, but that one looks like an uphill battle.  Similarly, Tennessee was 1B to Alabama’s 1A when Jones-Bell committed over the summer, with some actually thinking that he was going to announce for the Vols.  An unofficial visit to Knoxville for the South Carolina game was a great sign for Tennessee – now it will be about getting an official visit for the December signee.  He’s talked about taking his OV to Bama the second to last weekend before the early signing period and then to Knoxville for the last weekend; in theory that sets up well for the Vols but one can be sure that Alabama will do everything it can to shut that down when he’s in Tuscaloosa.  Volquest.com has hinted that Jones-Bell’s mother isn’t a big fan of the Tide and she did accompany him on that recent trip to Knoxville.  Ultimately it could prove too difficult to flip a Bama commitment who the Tide is all in on, but the Vols are very much in the thick of it for an instant impact pass catcher.  The final player on the board is arguably the most interesting, as Beckwith is not only a multi-positional player on the gridiron but also a high level basketball player.  He’s now been offered the chance to play both sports at Tennessee to go with his other top schools like Florida (arguably Tennessee’s top competition), Ole Miss and instate Auburn.  At 6-5, 215 pounds he shows uncanny agility playing part-time  QB for his high school team while also WR/TE and even RB.  He’d be a Swiss Army Knife kind of player for Chaney, capable of playing Wildcat QB (and passing, too) while also both running and catching the football.  Beckwith is probably the most likely of the three and the Vols would do well to add him to the collection of WR talent they already have committed.  Should they combine him with either of Jarrett or Jones-Bell the Vols would have hit a grand slam at the position in the timeliest manner possible.

TE

Current commitments: None

Prospect: Darnell Washington

We’ve made the argument that Washington is the only TE the Vols should attempt sign.  Since then he’s made an unofficial visit to Knoxville for the UAB game, making it close to a half dozen visits to Tennessee since last year.  He also took his Alabama official visit this past weekend, which by all accounts helped the Tide get back into the race.  Georgia is still considered one of his top choices, and he’s taking an OV to Oregon this coming weekend.  That will leave him one more OV, which the Vols will be fighting Miami for.  Indications from 247 Sports are that he’s more likely to visit Knoxville than Coral Gables, and if he does so you really have to like Tennessee’s chances here.  The Vols have had uber-recruiter Brian Niedermeyer on Washington from the get-go, and will have gotten not only Washington’s last official visit but two of his final four campus visits overall and the chance to make the final impression.  Washington is a certain Day 1 starter at Tennessee and would instantly help the Vols recoup some of what will be lost in the passing game with the graduation of Jennings and Callaway. em

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