With the NFL draft over and eleven more Vols (3 drafted, 8 free agents) added to the professional ranks, it's time to close the book on the 2014 senior class, and turn our attention to the 2014 football roster.
Future Roster Numbers
First, Butch Jones seems to have a significantly more active style of roster management, with seven scholarship players leaving1 the team with eligibility remaining: Paul Harris (WR), Tom Smith (RB), Alden Hill (RB), JaRon Toney (DB), Tino Thomas (DB), Jason Carr (DT),and Gregory Clark (DT).2 Second, twelve scholarship seniors are on track to graduate3 in the spring of 2015: Justin Worley (QB), Marlin Lane (RB), Devrin Young (RB), Riyahd Jones (DB), Justin Coleman (DB), Matt Darr (P/K), A.J. Johnson (LB), Jordan Williams (DE), Marques Pair (OT), Woody Quinn (TE), Brendan Downs (TE) and Jacob Carter (WR). Third, a number of additional players may decide to leave the team: Brian Randolph (S) and Curt Maggitt (LB) have remaining eligibility due to injury redshirts, but with good play could enter the NFL draft; Pig Howard (WR) remains in roster limbo as he tries to earn his way back on the roster; and, little used backups like Allan Carson (DT), Lemond Johnson (DB), Justin King (LB), and Gerald Orta (DB) could decide to transfer. This leaves the Vols with the following numbers:4
|Total Roster Size||Walk-Ons||Scholarship Players||2015 Seniors||2015 Non-Senior Scholarship Players||NCAA Scholarship Limit||Available 2016 Scholarships|
As it currently stands, with only 16 current scholarship available, Tennessee is looking at an extremely small recruiting class. If, however, all of the players with remaining eligibility and/or special circumstances leave the program, the Vols would be able to sign another seven players or so, bringing the class up to relatively normal size. As always, none of us know the exact circumstances behind any player departures, but expect aggressive roster management decisions to continue between now and next February's National Signing Day.
Currently Committed Prospects
|Preston Williams||Wide Receiver
|Jack Jones||Offensive Line
|Andrew Butcher||Strongside Defensive End||4||0.9056||Georgia|
|Cecil Cherry||Inside Linebacker||3||0.8771||Florida|
|Stephen Griffin||Safety||3||0.8563||North Carolina|
|Rocky Reid||Running Back
|Riley Lovingood||Long Snapper
Tennessee's 2015 recruiting class is headlined by quartet of four-star5 players, two each from the Volunteer State and Georgia. Leading the way is high-four star prospect Preston Williams, an enormous wide receiver from Hampton, GA. Ranked as the number one receiver by 247 Sports, and sixth in the Composite, Williams has earned scholarship offers from 23 schools, including all of the SEC heavyweights. After flirting with Georgia and South Carolina, Williams recently decided to "consider no other schools" and recommit to Tennessee. Early commitments by in-state four-star offensive tackle Jack Jones and athlete/quarterback Jauan Jennings not only brought more depth at key positions, but also provided more evidence that Butch Jones' strategy of locking down elite in-state athletes is paying dividends (both players had impressive offer lists). Jennings has been promised an opportunity at quarterback, but has the athletic ability to play a number of positions on the field. Rounding out the top four is four-star prospect Andrew Butcher, a strongside defensive end from Alpharetta, GA. Besides being a charter member of the All-Name Team, Butcher is a versatile pass-rushing prospect who made plays all over the field in Georgia's top division of high school football.
Notes about some of the other committed players:
- Cecil Cherry is a sure and speedy tackler who won the Linebacker MVP at the Nike Football Training Camp in Orlando. He's rated four stars by Rivals and 247, but only three stars by ESPN and Scout.
Dylan Jackson (Alabama) and Zach Stewart (Georgia, Clemson, LSU) are somewhat unpolished size/strength prospects with good offers from other BCS schools.
Riley Lovingood is considered one of the top long-snapping prospects in the country.
Top Tennessee Recruiting Targets
Tennessee is pursuing dozens of prospects across the country, and currently has more than 250 outstanding scholarship offers. However, with eleven committed players and a smaller number of scholarships this year, the Vols have been slower to accept commitments from lower rated players at positions where they believe they still are in the running for more highly rated prospects. Here's how to read the charts below:
- Only players who have publicly placed Tennessee in their top group of teams, attended Junior Day or another camp, or unofficially visited Knoxville are listed.
- Players are grouped by position, with the top ranked player at that position listed first. If the staff takes a commitment from a lower ranked player, it means either they need bodies, or they think they're out of the running.
- Player key: (H) is extremely high priority due to special positional importance or national ranking, (L) indicates legacy status, and (T) is an elite in-state player (whom the current staff is determined to keep at home).
|Michael Weber||RB||4||0.9552||MI||Detroit Cass Tech|
|Bryce Love||RB||4||0.9180||NC||All-purpose back|
|Van Jefferson||WR||4||0.9245||TN||Ravenwood High, Brentwood||T|
|Jalen McClesky||WR||3||0.8400||LA||Son of J.J., doesn't have UT offer||L|
|Drew Richmond||Offensive Line||4||0.9681||TN||Memphis University School, Memphis||T|
|Shy Tuttle||Defensive Tackle||5||0.9900||NC||H|
|Kahlil McKenzie||DT||4||0.9765||CA||Son of Reggie||H, L|
|Keiron Howard||DT||3||0.8430||MD||Teammate of 2014 Vol commit Jerome Dews|
|Kyle Phillips||SDE||4||0.9466||TN||Hillsboro High, Nashville (Eric Gordon's alma mater)||T|
|Joshua Alabi||SDE||3||0.8656||MI||Teammate of RB target Michael Weber|
|Darrin Kirkland, Jr.||ILB||4||0.9151||IN|
|Brant Mitchell||ILB||3||0.8513||TN||Webb School, Knoxville|
|Joshua McMillon||OLB||4||0.9274||TN||White Station High, Memphis||T|
|Darius Smith||OLB||3||0.8333||AL||Not evaluated by all services|
|Cameron Ordway||CB||4||0.8997||TN||Giles County High, Pulaski||T|
|Duke Shelley||CB||3||0.8802||GA||Tried to commit to UT once already|
In-state Recruiting Priorities
The Vols are in good shape with three of the five in-state prospects listed, all of whom are from middle Tennessee: Van Jefferson (WR), Cameron Ordway (CB), and Kyle Phillips (DE). Tommy Thigpen is a primary recruiter for both Ordway and Phillips, and has persuaded both to visit Tennessee multiple times, with Ordway on campus for the Orange and White Game (April 12th) and Phillips in attendance for Junior Day (March 1st) and an Unofficial Visit (March 28th). Van Jefferson attended Tennessee's second Junior Day (March 8th) and has been in constant contact with primary recruiter Zach Azzani. If the Vols can't sign Jefferson despite having a stable of successful VFLs in the NFL like Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, it may be time for Azzani to reevaluate his recruiting strategy.
Unfortunately, Tennessee continues to have work to do with Memphis-area recruiting. Drew Richmond remains a toss-up who the Vols would dearly love to add for both his athletic and academic potential. Josh McMillon is most likely to leave for one of the Mississippi schools, but Tennessee would like to at least make it a fight.
National Recruiting Priorities
Tennessee is currently in hot pursuit of six elite national prospects with the potential to be immediate difference-makers at the major college level. As detailed in my article yesterday, Torrance Gibson remains the most important target on the recruiting board for both talent and positional need. Jerome Baker, another Ohio State target and incredible athlete, has the same kind of game-breaking talent that the Vols missed out on last year in Adoree Jackson. An Ohio native, Baker named Tennessee to his top five, but he remains a long-shot.
On the defensive side of the ball, outstanding defensive line prospect Kahlil McKenzie is the son of former Vols linebacker, LA Raiders starter, and current Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie unofficially visited the Vols on April 18th and raved on Twitter about the facilities and staff following his visit. He is as close to a "must have" as there is in the 2015 recruiting class. Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle named Tennessee his leader on May 8th, following an unofficial visit on March 14th. Settle could be joined on campus by fellow five-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, who was on the sidelines for Tennessee's heartbreaking loss to Georgia last year and returned to campus on March 29th. Landing one or both of Settle or Tuttle would be a tremendous coup for Tennessee; simultaneously validating Jones' recruiting prowess and dealing a body blow to middling ACC programs UVA and UNC by stealing two of the top-ranked players in Virginia and North Carolina.
Outside linebacker Ricky DeBerry is a player with an offer list longer than Dikembe Mutombo's arm. While the Vols are not favored for DeBerry, he's consistently named Tennessee to his top group of teams, unofficially visited campus on March 14th, and has Tommy Thigpen as his primary recruiter. The Vols have high hopes that they can sell the speedy and athletic DeBerry on early playing time on an up-and-coming squad.
1. This counts players who remain enrolled at Tennessee as students, players who have transferred or announced the intention to transfer.↩
3. We'll assume the players are on track to graduate; in any case, they will exhaust their NCAA eligibility barring some unforeseen calamity.↩
5. A note on methodology here: I've listed both the star rating and the 247 composite number. The composite number is a ranking based on a proprietary algorithm of most of the publicly available recruiting services (Scout, Rivals, ESPN, and 247 being the major ones), where 1.0000 would be the consensus number one recruit across all of the services. The numbers correspond to star rankings in the following way: 0.8000 and above are three star players (the top 10% of prospects nationwide), 0.9000 and above are four star players (the top 300 players nationwide), and 0.98-- are five star players (the top 30 players nationwide). It's useful to compare the composite number and the stars because: first, rankings are not static and players rise and fall as they continue to be evaluated at events (in some cases, a high three-star player can become a four-star player with one additional evaluation); and, second, stars may not match exactly to the composite number as some players are more or less highly ranked compared to the other players around them.↩