19. TOM SMITH, 5-11, 205 RB APOPKA, FLA [APOPKA HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 29 running back, Scout 3* No. 47 running back, ESPN 3* No. 74 running back, 247 3*. Chose UT over Florida, Pitt, Northwestern, Utah, Wisconsin.
Looking back: Smith played a fair bit early in the year, amassing 34 yards on 13 carries after enjoying a standout senior season at Apopka. Rivals thought enough of him to say he was the fourth-best "downhill runner" in last year's class, but that did not translate onto the field at UT. Smith came in undersized and didn't look impressive with the ball in his hands. Late in the year with the Vols looking for anybody to do anything on the ground, he couldn't even sniff the field as walk-on JaRon Toney got carries over him. Ten of his carries came against Buffalo for 28 yards. Honestly, the coaches burned his redshirt for nothing ... [unless he can get one because he didn't play past a certain point in the season, but somebody with more knowledge of that rule will have to answer that one].
Looking forward: I was a fan of Smith when the Vols recruited him as visions of a road-grating runner danced in my head. Seeing him in uniform colored me largely unimpressed with his size and ability. Thirteen carries is entirely too small a sample set on which to judge Smith, but the fact that the coaching staff already has two RB commitments in this year's class and is looking for a third doesn't tell me they are enamored with Smith's abilities. Maybe the light will come on, but there didn't appear to be anything dynamic about his game.
Final projection: These are never fun when your final analysis is something like this, but I think/hope the Vols over-recruit him. Of the two backs UT brought in last year, Marlin Lane is far superior, and coaches are looking for even more answers this year. Maybe -- hopefully -- Smith will prove me wrong and live up to the Montario Hardesty clone visions I had of him ... after all, it took Hardesty four years to be successful through an injury-plagued career. His closeness to Alton "Pig" Howard did help us steal that recruit, though.