8. IZAUEA LANIER, 6-1, 190 CB GORDO, AL. [GORDO HS, EAST MISSISSIPPI CC]
Ratings: Rivals 4* No. 16 JUCO prospect, Scout 3*. Chose UT over Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Troy.
Looking back: Out of all UT's commitments last year, Lanier easily had one of the top five immediate impacts. He started nine games for the Vols and finished with 48 tackles, including 34 solos as a redshirt sophomore. Through the season's final eight games, he averaged 5.3 tackles per game. He also deflected four passes and continued to get better and better throughout the season, emerging as UT's second-best cover corner. Lanier originally committed to Auburn out of high school, but after he had to go to JUCO, he was not re-recruited, and ultimately chose the Vols over the Rebels and Gators.
Looking forward: Though Lanier had a nice first season, he struggled to make any game-changing plays, failing to get any interceptions or recover any fumbles. He has two more seasons to make the kind of impact UT coaches believe he is capable of, and he should be firmly in the mix for a starting spot again next season. Adapting to the SEC speed can be overwhelming for anyone, so getting that kind of on-the-job training was exceptional for Lanier. A year in the weight room and continuing to learn Justin Wilcox's defense could have him primed for a big year. The Vols certainly need that from him.
Final projection: I believe Lanier has NFL ability, and he certainly has the size/speed combo the pros like. But Marsalis Teague went from being a steady though not spectacular corner as a sophomore to a major liability last year. It's essential that Lanier continues to progress and try to take the next step toward being a superb cornerback. He has the ability to be elite, but he certainly isn't there yet. He has to trust himself more to break on the ball and make big plays. He is a steady tackler, though, and he could really have a big season for UT next year. He needs to.
7. MARCUS JACKSON, 6-3, 326 OG VERO BEACH, FLA. [VERO BEACH HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 13 offensive guard, Scout 3* No. 15 offensive guard, ESPN 4* No. 6 offensive guard, 247 4*. Chose UT over Miami, Florida, Florida State, South Florida, South Carolina, Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
Looking back: The Vols got a major recruiting coup when they stole Jackson from his Miami commitment during the whole Randy Shannon spiral and eventual firing. Jackson was one of UT's top two guard prospects from the beginning, and he showed why as a freshman, coming in as the Vols' strongest offensive lineman immediately when he arrived on campus for the spring semester. Like most freshmen, he struggled to grasp the system and lost his starting job prior to the season. Even so, he gained it back and started the season's final five games over sophomore James Stone.
Looking forward: Extremely strong, Jackson has limitless potential and gives Vols fans as much excitement as fellow classmate Tiny Richardson. After last year's dismal performance by the offensive line, every spot is up in the air going into this season, and the offseason should provide Jackson the opportunity to get even stronger and to learn the playbook. There is a lot of healthy competition at guard with Zach Fulton, James Stone and JerQuari Schofield, among others, vying for the two spots, but I figure that Jackson will be one of the two when next season starts.
Final projection: I'm trying to temper my expectations of anybody on the offensive line after last year -- when I originally believed we had five or six [at least] NFL prospects up there only to watch the season crumble, partly because of them. But I truly believe Jackson is a rising star who will be an All-SEC type player and long-time NFL starter. He is huge, he is strong and he will grasp everything and only get better throughout the next three years. As I've said 100 times already throughout this series it seems, nobody should have to start as a true freshman. Jackson did, and he wasn't bad at all doing it for the most part.