With so much recruiting momentum and an early top-five class, it's not too difficult to give new Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones the benefit of the doubt.
That's what most Vols fans are doing tonight as we scramble for any information on UT's latest commitment -- Lawrence Lee, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound wide receiver from Pensacola, Fla., (West Florida HS) who had offers from Missouri, Memphis, South Alabama and Old Dominion. He is a three-star player on 247Sports, a 247 Composite three-star and has yet to be rated on Rivals. Lee has visited Alabama and Auburn and both wanted him to come back to camp.
If the commitment of Lee is puzzling on its surface, it shouldn't be because of his 4.7 40-yard dash listed on his profile. After all, those are routinely wrong and rarely updated on players who haven't attended many camps this early in the process [Editor's Note: Lee told multiple recruiting services he'd recently been clocked in the 4.5 range]. If anything, it's quizzical because of the juncture of the recruiting cycle, the number of commitments already at the position for the Vols and the sheer number of targets the Vols are in the mix for at receiver.
At this early stage of the 2014 class, Tennessee already has secured commitments from four-star in-state receiver Vic Wharton and jumbo legacy receiver Neiko Creamer, who has shown out recently at a New Jersey camp and could be on his way to becoming a four-star prospect who could grow into a tight end or play defense.
The Vols also are firmly in the mix for in-state receiver Josh Malone [who has offers from everybody and has UT firmly in his top group, Dominique Booth [who has UT atop his list along with Alabama] and Georgia receiver Demarre Kitt [who likely favors Ohio State], among others, such as jumbo WR Terry Googer of Georgia and Austin Roberts of Indiana. With a healthy, highly-rated interest list such as that, Jones really must have found something he loved about Lee to take him at this early stage.
Former UT receiver Jayson Swain referred to Lee as a "baller" on Twitter late Sunday night [Note: Other than being a former receiver himself, I don't know if Swain has any association with Lee, has any inside knowledge of his recruitment or just is making an educated observation based off Internet-provided film]:
Lawrence Lee is a baller. #Vols see player that fits into their system & adds a explosive player to their commitment list.
It is no secret that A) the Vols are at a major shortage of playmakers at wide receiver, B) they would like to sign several in this class, C) there are big-time needs all over the field and D) UT can sign a massive class of 31-32 players. So, maybe taking their third receiver at this stage isn't questionable, especially considering they could take five total.
Looking ahead to 2014, Vincent Dallas and Jacob Carter -- two players who aren't going to 'wow' anybody at the position -- will be seniors, along with versatile Devrin Young; Alton "Pig" Howard and Cody Blanc will be juniors; Jason Croom, Drae Bowles; and Paul Harris, MarQuez North, Ryan Jenkins and Josh Smith will be entering their second years in the program. With Jones previously stating he wanted to have "at least" 12 receivers in the rotation, this class needs to include at least four receivers. Lee makes the third if both Wharton and Creamer wind up there.
Lee almost assuredly fits that position and brought a dynamic to the table that the new coaching staff loved. Here are a couple of videos of Lee here and here. At first glance, he looks like somebody who can make opponents miss in the open field, though nothing really may jump out as spectacular. He definitely looks like his 40 is in the 4.5 range, and he looks like he has very good change-of-direction in the open field.
His 247 profile says he was once a four-star prospect who was a heavy lean to Notre Dame or Auburn, yet his rating has dropped since despite being named first-team all-state in 5A in Florida last year after catching 56 passes for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also ran for 304 yards and four more touchdowns, according to Football Time magazine.
Welcome to Knoxville, Mr. Lee!