Whether one wants to believe that it was simply due to Coach Mike Leach’s in-poor-taste tweet or not, Mississippi State Defensive Tackle Fabian Lovett decided to enter the NCAA’s Transfer Portal this past weekend. According to his father, Tennessee has been among the teams to immediately contact Lovett and his family, and the Vols were joined by programs like FSU, fellow instate school Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, and Oregon. Importantly, Lovett’s father also told the Clarion Ledger that Tennessee and FSU have stood out (editor’s note: very) early in the process. FSU’s tie is new head coach Mike Norvell, who recruited Lovett while the coach at Memphis, just over the MS/TN border from Lovett’s hometown of Olive Branch. Oregon also has a tie in that former Mississippi State Head Coach Joe Moorhead is now the OC in Eugene.
First, the player: As a recruit, Lovett took official visits to instate Ole Miss and Florida along with Mississippi State and also had firm offers from the likes of Alabama and then Tennessee once Jeremy Pruitt took the Vols head coaching job after having offered him while the Defensive Coordinator at Alabama. Near the end of the recruiting process, new Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen and Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham heavily pursued their former commitment after leaving one pit (Starkville) for another (Gainesville) and nearly pulled off the flip before Lovett ultimately decided to stick with the Bulldogs and stay closer to home. After competing in the Alabama-Mississippi All Star Game and showing his fit in a 3-4 defense by controlling the line of scrimmage during the week of practices, he got a bump to a 4-star prospect by 247 Sports. Lovett redshirted during the 2018 season after playing in two games, and then as a Redshirt Freshman he started in all 13 games, making 19 tackles while recording 2.5 TFLs and 1 sack. He made steady progress throughout the season while holding down a Bulldog DL that was decimated by suspensions and injuries that led to a resulting youth movement. He was 100% expected to be a starter once again for Mississippi State in 2020 and be one of State’s best players on defense.
Tennessee has two scholarship situations that are considerations when it comes to taking Lovett. For one, the roster is right near the overall 85 limit (actual numbers are not 100% known outside of the program due to the opaque nature of things like offering walkons scholarships, academic scholarships, etc). That concern could and likely will be mitigated when inevitably at least one more player decides to transfer out of the program, whether it’s a QB, a RB, or someone else who doesn’t see a path to playing time. Secondly, after signing 23 high school players in the class of 2020 and then taking two transfers in OL Cade Mays and WR Velus Jones, any further additions to the roster would likely have to come at the expense of numbers from the class of 2021. And with the Vols involved in a very strong number of elite players, that’s a real thing to consider. Ultimately, Pruitt and Derrick Ansley will have to decide if they think Lovett is worth possibly having to turn away a high quality 2021 prospect – or even a different transfer player after the 2020 season.
There are a number of reasons why, in this writer’s opinion, Lovett is 100% worth taking:
- He’s got a great pedigree, and since high school he’s become a proven SEC defensive lineman with double digit starts under his belt
- Having redshirted in 2018, Lovett still has three full seasons of eligibility remaining. Even were he to have to sit out in 2020, he’d still have two years to play at Tennessee, effectively making him a Junior College-type prospect, except one with at that point one season as a starter in the SEC and two others in an SEC program lifting weights, etc
- Either from a potential blanket waiver given to transfers from the NCAA during this offseason or what is likely a slam dunk “hardship” case from Lovett, there is a strong chance he will be granted immediate eligibility and further bolster what should be a deep and talented interior DL corps and give him three full years on the field for the Vols
Fine, one might say, but Tennessee has upwards of 14(!) interior DL on the roster for the upcoming 2020 season, what do they need another for? Well, for one, as the old adages go, “The SEC is a line of scrimmage league,” and “You can never have enough defensive linemen.” And Lovett is both big and talented enough to push hard for significant rotation or even starter level snaps. Secondly, were Lovett to become immediately eligible it would greatly increase the chances that Tennessee could redshirt incoming DL Omari Thomas, Dominic Bailey, Tyler Baron, and Reggie Perry, while also giving the staff the flexibility to redshirt one of the veteran DL who still have that available, such as John Mincey. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, of those 14 DL scheduled to be on Tennessee’s roster in 2020, fully half of them will be out of eligibility after this season, leaving the need for 2021 one of the biggest on the future roster.
The bottom line is that it’s very hard to pass on adding an starting SEC caliber DL, even more difficult if he has three seasons of eligibility remaining. Adding Lovett would at worst immediately mitigate some of the future depth concerns on Tennessee’s DL and at best do that AND significantly strengthen the Vols’ DL in 2020. As many elite players as the Vols are in on in the 2021 class, it’s hard to see Pruitt and Co. adding multiple DL who are both definitively more talented than Lovett has already proven himself to be and also are more likely to contribute immediately in 2021. And since he’s not just a one or even two year rental , the dreaded “robbing Peter to pay Paul” potential that so many transfers bring to a roster barely exists. Here’s hoping he lands in Knoxville.