While Tennessee has some talented Running Backs on its 2019 roster, and all but one (Carlin Fils-aime) are expected back in 2020, the Vols lack both enough sheer numbers – there are only five true RBs on the roster -as well as the kind of dominant, star talents at the position needed for a truly elite offense. With needs across the roster, Coach Jeremy Pruitt must be prudent about numbers at each position in each class, thereby making it a step-by-step process in terms of simply having the kind of necessary depth at Running Back.
Tennessee already has a commitment from 3-star Ebony Jackson, and the Vols staff thinks it has struck gold with the 6’2, 210 pound track star. With Jackson in the fold and possessing both the big body they covet at the position but also the game-breaking ability due to his elite speed, Tennessee can afford to be picky with its 2nd RB spot. While they have a relatively small but promising board as we head into the spring/summer evaluation and camp periods, the number of realistic targets will likely grow over the course of the year.
RB Tank Bigsby – The 4-star Bigsby, like Jackson, is a top-shelf RB prospect from Georgia. LSU, Auburn, and South Carolina were considered the leaders heading into his visit to Tennessee for the Orange & White Game – his first visit to Knoxville – but the visit has put the Vols into that top group. He doesn’t appear to be close to a decision so the Vols have some time to keep making up ground. Bigsby is likely right a the top of the board right now for Tennessee so look for them to keep pushing
Daijun Edwards named Tennessee his leader as recently as last month, but with instate Georgia picking up its efforts the Vols have a battle on their hands – Auburn is also in the mix as they always are for Georgia RBs. Edwards is a very talented back who’s slightly smaller than Bigsby but still well put together with great speed and agility. He’s likely one of a few RBs on this list who’d be takes for the Vols right now, but he’s not going to be making a decision until the summer at the earliest
RB Deondre Jackson is a former Auburn commit who made his third visit to Knoxville and second in less than a month for the Orange & White Game. The 3-star has offers from Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida to go with those from Auburn and Tennessee and brings a really nice combination of power and speed with his 6’0 200+ pound frame. He’s not dissimilar to Edwards in that way, and the Vols would also likely take him if he wanted that second RB spot
Jabari Small is more of an All-Purpose Back than the rest on this list, but the Memphis native is a dynamic playmaker. Similar to Eric Gray – another Memphis private school running back who looks a bit bigger on film than his listed size – Small is also currently enamored with Michigan early in the process. He recently named the Wolverines his leader following a visit to Ann Arbor for the spring game and said that right now his plan is to either commit somewhere this summer or name a top group. Small has been to Knoxville 3-4 times, including last season’s Alabama game as well as a March Junior Day. He’s also a teammate of bigtime Vol DL target Omari Thomas, and Vol Defensive Coordinator and ace recruiter Derrick Ansley visited their school last week. As an aside, one wonders whether the experience with Eric Gray last cycle will color Michigan’s approach to Small’s recruitment one way or the other, and also whether Gray’s experience with a summertime commitment to a school that far away that didn’t end up lasting will impact Small at all
Zach Evans is a 5-star and one of the highest ranked players regardless of position in the country. The Lonestar State native visited Tennessee in late January and while the Vols made a great impression they are likely on the outside looking in as instate Texas is the presumed leader while other programs like Alabama, Georgia and Clemson appear to be ahead of the Vols in terms of out of state options. Should Tennessee be able to secure another visit, whether unofficial or official, they would become more serious players in this recruitment.
Tee Hodge – The Maryville product was just on campus for the Orange & White Game for least his fifth time since Pruitt took over and second this year, so he’s very familiar with the staff and the campus. Hodge was already big for a RB at 6’2, which Tennessee likes, but he’s recently put on a lot of (good) weight and is now at least 230 pounds. He’s recently picked up offers from Penn State and Ole Miss to go with his Vol offer, and he seems to be blowing up a bit on the recruiting trail. Given his size one wonders whether he might end up being a better LB prospect when all is said and done, but either way it was good for Tennessee to get him back on campus yet again and keep pushing forward in his recruitment
Trenton Simpson, like Hodge, is a multi-position prospect who many bigtime programs are recruiting at both RB as well as Linebacker. He visited Tennessee once each in February and March and likes the Vols quite a bit. However, instate North Carolina appears to hold an edge at the moment and other programs like Georgia and Auburn are also heavily involved. Simpson has indicated that he might prefer LB ala fellow Tar Heel state native Quarvaris Crouch, so how Tennessee handles that aspect of his recruitment could play a role in its ultimate success.
For both Hodge and Simpson, it’s worth noting that the Vols currently don’t have a plethora of realistic ILB targets at the moment, which could impact how Tennessee’s staff approaches each of them. That is, with both of them being outstanding athletes and prospects regardless of position, and with Simpson in particular being more enamored with the LB position anyway, perhaps that could be the way for Tennessee to ingratiate itself with him – and conversely if Hodge thinks of himself more as a RB maybe the staff tells him “sign here and we’ll figure it out when you get here.”