By Jimmy Hyams
After a strong December recruiting class for Tennessee, some projected a rather feeble February.
The concern: Tennessee might just sign one player – albeit a 5-star offensive lineman in Darnell Wright.
As it turned out, the Vols landed three: Wright, top 50 prospect Henry To’o to’o from California and a potential blue-shirt candidate in defensive back Kenney Solomon.
That’s not exactly a bonanza, but when you get the highest rated offensive player and the highest rated defensive player left on the national board, that’s not bad.
The Vols didn’t have much room, either. By my count, they could only take four. Signing three leaves room for UT to take a grad transfer or a regular transfer or another high school prospect.
Wright gives Tennessee one of the nation’s best hauls of offensive linemen.
While the Vols came up a linebacker short of needs, To’o to’o and Quavaris Crouch could both make an immediate impact, and potentially start.
If you’re grading UT’s class based on a No. 12 national finish, it’s good.
If you’re template is comparing UT to the rest of the SEC, it was average – placing sixth or seventh.
But if Pruitt can make his national recruiting rankings somewhat mirror the AP poll during the fall – something Butch Jones couldn’t do — then you’re making great progress.
If not, then Tennessee’s program will remain closer to Vanderbilt and Missouri rather than Georgia and Florida.
Georgia and Florida had top 10 recruiting classes. The Bulldogs and Gators appear to be the class of the East field once again this year.
But we know you can’t put all your eggs into one recruiting basket. For example, UT had the No. 4 rated recruiting class in the nation in 2015. When The Athletic re-ranked those classes based on player production, the Vols weren’t in the top 35.
What that class helped yield was an 0-8 SEC season in 2017 and a team that lost six games by 25 or more points last season.
That’s not nearly good enough for a program with the tradition of Tennessee.
Unfortunately for the Vols, they’ve only competed for the SEC East title once since 2007. And most recruits nowadays don’t see UT as a football power.
How can Pruitt change that?
- He’s got to do a great job developing his current players – along the lines of what Rick Barnes has done in men’s basketball.
- He’s got to have a banner recruiting class in 2020.
Here’s how we rank UT’s recruiting class by position (and by in-state results).
Offensive line: A. Getting two 5-stars in Wanya Morris and Wright and landing two of the best in-state offensive linemen and a talented player from IMG Academy has to rank UT’s group among the nation’s best. Two might have to start right away.
Linebacker: A-. I love Crouch and To’o to’o, two blue-chip signees. If Roman Harrison is a quality OLB, this could be a special group.
Defensive backs: B+. I really like Jaylen McCullough, Tyus Fields, Warren Burrell and Aaron Beasley, who can play several positions on defense – or perhaps running back. Got quality and quantity.
Wide receivers: B-. Ramel Keyton, Jarrod Means. Needed another speed receiver to give this position an upgrade.
Running backs: B-. I really like Eric Gray but you need to sign more than one running back in a class.
Quarterbacks: B-. Brian Maurer put up good numbers and could develop into a solid SEC quarterback.
Tight ends: B-. Jackson Lowe, Sean Brown. Each could be a two-way tight end.
DL: C. Savion Williams, Darel Middleton, Elijah Simmons. In the past 20 years, very few junior college defensive linemen have come to UT and been effective right away. That’s why I don’t expect much out of Williams or Middleton in 2019.
In-State recruiting: D-. When you sign only 4 of the top 25 players in your state and 17 sign with Power 5 schools, including LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, South Carolina and Oregon, among others, then you’ve done a poor job in state. Unless, in the long term, you’re proven correct and most of the players that went to other Power 5 schools are busts.
If you count transfers, like receiver-defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs and defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, then the class looks a bit better. But since you usually don’t grade recruiting classes based on transfers or grad transfers, we won’t either.
As with all recruiting classes, you have to wait three years down the road to get a better idea of how a team fared.
And it’s been a long time since you could say a Tennessee recruiting class overachieved.
If we can say that in 2020, then Pruitt and the Vols should be relevant again in the SEC East.