Where Does Tennessee Turn Now for Pass-Rushers?

With the flip of prized commitment BJ Ojulari to LSU over the weekend, Tennessee is now left with a large hole in what is otherwise an outstanding recruiting class.  With nine spots still remaining, the Vols have added 16 high quality players that will collectively will meaningfully improve the roster starting next season.  However, as potential All-SEC senior Darrell Taylor has only 5 games left in an Orange and White uniform (yes, I’m projecting a bowl game) and even likely backfills Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett – both of whom appear to be developing rapidly and look like good options in 2020 – being relatively near graduation, this class in particular needs impact pass rushers in the worst way.  The fact that Ojulari is actually the second decommitment in the class from a high quality player at that particular position of need after JUCO Jordan Davis flipped to Mississippi State over the summer quite simply stings.

That said, if we know anything about Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt it’s that he’s not one to cry over spilled milk but instead will roll up his sleeves and figure it out.  Especially in recruiting.  So where will the Vols look to now in order to add at least one pass rusher?*

*The assumption here is that Tyler Baron will commit to and sign with Tennessee but that considering he’s already 6-4, 250 pounds he’s more likely to end up as a SDE than a WDE or OLB 

Prospects Committed Elsewhere

Sa’vell Small (UW)

Simeon Barrow (MSU)

Khari Coleman (KU)

Brandon Williams (UVA)

Deontae Craig (Iowa)

Morven Joseph (FSU)

Jasheen Davis (WF)

Of that list, Smalls is the most highly coveted, and despite his commitment to homestate Washington the Vols are no doubt still trying there.  Some thought Tennessee actually led headed into the season, so he might be one that Tennessee and lead recruiter Brian Niedermeyer circle back on now that the season is on the upswing again.  Barrow is a 6-3, 250 pound DL who, like Baron, might in fact be destined to be more of an interior DL.  But he’s got some explosiveness off the edge and real functional strength that allows him to overpower OTs when he’s not blowing by them.  Importantly, he earned a Vol offer in February and though Tennessee was likely not ready to take him when he committed to Michigan State – known for their Defense – over the summer, the lines of communication have remained open.  Barrow is definitely not a Spartan lock, as he just took an OV to Virginia Tech and has a tentative official visit to Knoxville set for this weekend.  He could very well be one to watch down the road.  Coleman and Williams are both NOLA natives known for their pass-rushing skills.  Coleman has become his high school’s career sack leader this season and at 6’2-6’3 and closer to 220 pounds is more of a speed-rush type prospect with good length to go with his quickness of the edge.  He seems relatively firm in his Jayhawk pledge but if the Vols push one would think they could wedge themselves in there.  Williams is having a good season for Peyton Manning’s alma mater and was once a real target for the Vols.  Craig is a guy Tennessee liked earlier in the summer but seemed to back off a bit but again might come back to in order to see if there’s any interest.  Joseph was a Florida commitment who flipped to the Noles but had some interest in Tennessee at one point and has talked recently about taking other visits, to UT included, while Davis got an early season Vol offer but so far has remained solid to the Deacons.

Of all of those, Barrow seems to be the prospect with the highest chance of flipping to Tennessee while Smalls is of course the biggest prize.  The Vols will likely try and get back in the mix with as many of the above as possible in order to see what else they can shake loose.

Uncommitted Prospects

Jimari Butler

Johnathan Horton

Two prospects who share quite a few similarities: Gulf Coast area kids (Butler is from Mobile, Horton from Baton Rouge), both are new to the game of football after excelling on the hardwood, both are in the 6-5+, 210-220 pound range, and both have blown up on the recruiting trail after their respective films showing them terrorizing opponents off the edge got out.  The Vols were in relatively early for both, offering Butler in September before the likes of Nebraska, TCU, and Ole Miss have stepped to the table, and giving Horton just his 4th offer in mid-October after Baylor, UVA, and Arizona had offered. 

These two arguably have higher upsides than most of the players on the “Committed Elsewhere” list, as their sheer measurables and athleticism combined with bigtime production despite lack of experience just screams massive ceiling.  Butler visited Knoxville unofficially for the UGA game and was just in Baton Rouge for LSU’s game against Auburn (who is also sniffing around) so there is clearly reciprocal interest between the two parties.  Horton seemingly has yet to really visit anywhere – his recruitment is that new.  These two are less likely to be instant impact players than some others on the board – though you never know – but both look like they have real potential to be devastating SEC pass rushers in due time.  It will be very interesting to see how their respective recruitments play out in general and specifically as it relates to Tennessee.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vols circle back to multiple players on the lists above and even unearth new prospects who have that premium skill of getting to the quarterback.  But regardless of who they are, Tennessee needs to add at least one more if not multiple pass-rushers to its 2020 class. 

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