Good to Great

Now that the Vols have put the finishing touches* on an outstanding 2020 recruiting class, attention turns fully to the class of 2021.  And by “fully,” we note that not only does Tennessee already have six public commitments in the class but Coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have also gotten dozens if not hundreds of 2021 (and beyond) prospects on campus already.  After a relatively strong “stub” class of 2018 that he cobbled together in a matter of weeks after being hired, Pruitt has stacked back to back Top 10 classes in 2019 and 2020 along with a handful of high-impact transfers.  On top of that, the 2019 class proved to be not just top heavy with a handful of 5-star level prospects but also both deep and immediately impactful on the field.  Out of 23 total signees, the 2020 class includes 16 players ranked as 4-star or above by one of the two major recruiting services, a 70% “blue chip” ratio, bringing in star power throughout the class .  And that of course does not count the two scholarship transfers in OL Cade Mays (former 5-star) and WR Velus Jones (former 4-star) or even the walk-on transfer ATH Miles Jones (former 4-star).  The numbers back up what we can all see with our own eyes: Pruitt has transformed the roster from one that went 4-8 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in 2017 to what will likely be viewed as an SEC East darkhorse in 2020.

When you combine the onfield momentum that comes from winning six games in a row with the player development that Pruitt and his staff have exhibited along with the influx of talent coming in the class of 2020, it’s easy to see why there is so much optimism on Rocky Top.  And that is what makes the class of 2021 that much more important.  If Pruitt is truly going to get the Tennessee program to the point where the Vols are legitimate contenders for the SEC Eastern Division, the SEC Championship, the College Football Playoff, and the National Championship, there are still steps to be taken in terms of talent and depth.  This is the class that will have the benefit of a) the huge win streak; b) a 2020 schedule that includes a prestigious intersectional game at Oklahoma (likely to be broadcast in primetime on ABC) along with showcase home games against Florida and Alabama; c) years of relationship development with 2021 prospects; and d) the best top to bottom recruiting staff** that Pruitt has had since he’s been the head coach, and arguably the best at Tennessee in well over a decade.  Pruitt and Tennessee therefore must capitalize with the kind of 2021 class that firmly establishes the program among the elites when it comes to talent.  That means continuing to grow that “blue chip ratio” and even more importantly beating out the top programs in the country for more of the class than ever before.

As for the existing six 2021, commitments, they are good ones.  Two of them (WR Jordan Mosley and DL Isaac Washington) already hold offers from at least one elite program (see below) and the other four are camp/eval offers that Pruitt and Co. have strong track record with – history says that at least a few if not all of them will receive offers from other bigtime programs as well as ratings bumps.  Further, although it is relatively early, Tennessee has placed itself firmly in the mix at (i.e., with a strong chance of receiving at least an official visit) for more than three dozen “elite” prospects, as defined by players who have legit offers from one of the following programs:

  • Alabama
  • Auburn
  • Clemson
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • LSU
  • Ohio State
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Penn State

The above have at least one College Football Playoff appearance and/or at least one NY6 bowl game AND multiple recent recruiting classes that consistently land in the Top 5-10 nationally.  They also have recruiting footprints that mostly overlap with the Tennessee (some, like Oregon and Oklahoma, are national like Tennessee’s).  Those “elite” prospects include:

  • QB Christian Veilleux
  • RB Cody Brown
  • RB Treyvon Henderson
  • WR Adonai Mitchell
  • WR Donte Thornton
  • WR Romello Brinson
  • WR Jaquez Smith
  • WR Julian Nixon
  • OL Dietrick Pennington
  • OL William Griffin
  • OL Terrence Ferguson
  • TE Trinity Bell
  • TE Hudson Wolfe
  • ATH Tray Curry
  • DL Payton Page
  • DL Jahvaree Ritzie
  • DL Victoine Brown
  • DL Joshua Farmer
  • DL Javon Nelson
  • DL Tim Keenan
  • DL Leonard Taylor
  • OLB Demeioun Robinson
  • OLB Dylan Brooks
  • OLB Jeremiah Williams
  • OLB Smael Mondon
  • OLB Kristian Zachary
  • OLB Zavier Carter
  • OLB Justus Boone
  • ILB Terrence Lewis
  • ILB Junior Colson
  • ILB Ian Jackson
  • ILB Raneiria Dillworth
  • DB Andre Turrentine
  • DB Kyndrich Breedlove
  • DB Isaiah Johnson
  • DB Nyland Green
  • DB Khari Gee
  • DB Nathaniel Wiggins
  • DB Devonta Smith
  • DB Kamar Wilcoxson
  • DB Ryan Barnes
  • ATH Trenton Adkins

The above list leaves out some of the very recently offered OL like Jaleel Davis, Diego Pounds, Colby Smith and Jakiah Leftwich, WRs like Malachai Bennett and Christian Lewis, and likely many more prospects who seem likely to add those types of offers on top of Tennessee already getting involved.  It also does not include many of the instate prospects that Tennessee has offered and continues to evaluate.  The bottom line is that the 2021 class has to be great, and early indications are that Tennessee has put itself in position to make it great.  Next steps are obvious: get more elite players to campus when the dead period ends in March; set up April’s Orange & White Game to be a recruiting extravaganza; continue to get players back to campus over the summer; keep applying lessons learned; and then capitalize on the field in the 2020 season and off the field in December 2020 and February 2021. 

*Of course Tennessee could end up adding 5-star RB Zach Evans at some point in the spring/early summer

** With the news that Director of Player Personnel Drew Hughes has chosen to join good buddy Captain Will Muschamp aboard the sinking ship that is Gamecock Football, Pruitt has a chance to upgrade the staff again, and potentially poach one of his SEC rivals or dip into the NFL ranks in the process

*** EDIT: With news breaking from Volquest that DL Coach Tracy Rocker is leaving to also join South Carolina, the opportunity for Pruitt to upgrade his coaching staff from a recruiting perspective has perhaps never been greater. Pruitt will not only be able to sell a program on the rise and a hefty salary but also a depth and talent-laden DL to work with immediately and blue chip youth to mold. Rocker was as bad on the recruiting trail and he was good on the practice field, so Pruitt needs to find the right balance. Given the above to work with he should be able to easily do so.

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