Why It Should Be Darnell Washington or Bust at TE for Tennessee in 2020

Tennessee has never had an expansive list of Tight End prospects on its 2020 board.  For whatever reason, the Vols never offered a large number of them to begin with, and now that we’re fairly deep into the season it’s become very clear recently that this isn’t going to change.  The one constant on the board has been 5-star Darnell Washington from Las Vegas, NV.  Washington is as sure of a thing as one sees coming out of the high school ranks – a massive 6’7, 260 pounder who can move like someone half a foot and 50 pounds lighter yet also uses that size functionally in the run game while also possessing good hands.  It’s no surprise, therefore, that Washington has always been a national recruit, with the likes of UGA and Alabama being consistently at the top of his list.  Tennessee, through dogged recruiting by TE Coach and recruiting ace Brian Niedermeyer, has managed to stay at the top of that list as well, and the Vols have gotten Washington to campus two times already.  He’s been presumed to be a Bulldog lean for a while now, however, and by all accounts had an outstanding official visit to Athens for their game against Notre Dame back in September.  However, he’s yet to commit there, which means something.  He took a surprise OV to Florida in early October but by all accounts the Gators are not real players here.  The Tide are set to host him for their massive showdown against LSU over the 11/8 weekend, and with them most recently losing out in the Arik Gilbert sweepstakes they will certainly be amping up their efforts.  Washington has two more OVs to take, and he has consistently said that Tennessee will get one, and the last one at that.  Niedermeyer went and visited his high school during the Alabama week, likely further solidifying Tennessee’s position as a real contender.  That said, Oregon and Miami are also in the mix, and with recruiting – especially for a bigtime bluechipper and one from the West Coast at that – nothing is set in stone.  But the Vols will continue to fight here until the end.

The natural question of course is, “What should Tennessee do if they do not land Washington?”  The answer: Nothing.

Tennessee has gotten solid if unspectacular play from a trio of TEs this season, and returns six of the seven on the current roster, the lone exception being senior Dominick-Wood Anderson:

Austin Pope

Andrew Craig

Jacob Warren

Jackson Lowe

Sean Brown

Hunter Salmon

Pope has turned into an outstanding blocker at the position, and while his hands could (definitely) use some work he does have a knack for getting open.  Craig, a former walkon, has proven himself to also be a valuable piece in the run game.  The freshmen trio of Warren, Lowe, and Brown are all promising prospects, with Lowe and Brown redshirting this season after being Pruitt signees in the class of 2019 and Warren having played in two games thus far in his redshirt freshman season and like Lowe and Brown possessing tremendous size.  Salmon is a 6’5, 240 pound freshman preferred walkon from Alabama who picked Tennessee over a PWO offer from Stanford, among others, after playing mostly DE in high school and is a promising future rotational piece at the position.  Not listed is Princeton Fant, who has shifted between TE and WR due to numbers at the WR position but is an intriguing player who looks like a potential Chris Brown (remember him?) HB-type player.  Is that a TE room that’s going to win games on its own in 2020?  Probably not, at least without Washington in it.  But, especially with continued development of the three freshmen, can it be a cog in a winning team?  Yes.  And with the needs across the roster both in terms of talent and sheer numbers, foregoing another top target at a different position and instead using a precious scholarship on a second-tier TE target – again, there really aren’t any in the first place at least right now – would definitely be suboptimal. 

Further, the class of 2021 has two top-tier TE prospects who happen to be Tennessee natives in Jake Briningstool and Hudson Wolfe, both of whom have been to Knoxville (in Wolfe’s case, multiple times) and have been bigtime Vol targets for a while.  Both of them are going to be national recruits and both are also far from slam dunks for the Vols, but Tennessee should be big players in both of those respective recruitments. Bringingstool is currently the #108 player in the country per 247 Sports, and though he is a Michigan State legacy (whose father played for Nick Saban, no less) he appears to have real interest in the Vols – among his most recent tweets were retweets of Martavius French’s and Bryson Eason’s Tennessee commitments, a retweet of Jaden Springer’s Tennessee commitment, and then a random rewet of his own offer from Tennessee from back in May.  Wolfe is lower rated at #216 but is also being heavily recruited by elite programs from across the country.  He hails from a big Volunteer town – Savannah, TN – that is also home to current Vol Latrell Bumphus, and visited Knoxville for two games last season and has followed that up with three campus visits in 2019. 

Tennessee has enough bodies to get by in 2020, even without landing Washington.  And given that four of them (including a walkon) are currently freshmen there is a lot of future development to be had at the position.  With two bigtimers instate in 2021 to really focus on, and the larger needs elsewhere on the roster, the Vols should absolutely put all of their TE eggs in the Washington basket.   With Niedermeyer spearheading the recruitment and an improved onfield product potentially changing the narrative around the program, the Vols definitely have a shot here and win or lose in that recruitment that should be the only shot they take.

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