This is the first year in a long while that recruiting hasn't been something urgent in my always-looking-orangeward college football mind.
Why? Because, quite simply put, the on-the-field product is going to dictate a lot of what happens there. Believe it or not, I'm pretty content with what we currently have on the roster and on the commitment list. I think we're meeting needs, and while there are plenty of needs to be met still, I'm in a position to say no matter what happens, we've got players already on the roster to make it alright. If Derek Dooley is the coach next year, we'll get some players in this class. If he's not, the next coach will have some talent with which to work.
So, I'm kind of in sit-back-and-show-me mode right now with our coaching staff and our recruiting.
What is left that we need? Who are the difference-makers who can fill those gaps? I don't know where our numbers are and what we're going to have defect, but we're currently at 17 commitments. Four-star safety Kameron Miles already called himself "soft" after the Arizona State visit, so he's a concern. But we're going to count him as there since he's there. I'm going to work off of eight remaining commitments, but of course, there are going to be more than eight entries here. Here are our needs, in my opinion, in order of importance:
1. A hard-nosed, super-talented running back. There is only one real name that can fit this bill -- Virginia running back Derrick Green. The Vols are firmly in the mix -- some would say in the lead -- for the five-star back who is the top-ranked runner in the country according to Rivals. It's us and Auburn and Michigan. Though we haven't beaten either of those schools for many kids lately, it's essential we do here. Jay Graham won't quit with Henry either, but he said he was "done" with his recruitment after committing to Alabama last week. The Vols have a budding back in Rajion Neal who will be a senior next year, but he needs some help.
2. An impact, immediate depth builder at safety. Again, we have Miles [for now] and he fits that build, but five-star Vonn Bell of Ridgeland (Ga.) High is maybe the second-most important target left on the board. If we strike out with him, I'm really not sure where we go. My opinion is that Jalen Reeves-Maybin will wind up a safety unless we get Bell and then can move him to Star. But Bell can come in and make the rotation immediately. Alabama is the one to watch there. Ohio State is also a key option.
3. One or two high-quality cornerbacks. The Vols already have commitments from Cameron Sutton and Reeves-Maybin, but neither are lockdown corners. Thing is, UT doesn't seem high on really anybody's list right now. Brandon Langley is committed to South Carolina, though he is expected to visit for Alabama. Tennessee is still trying with former commitment MacKensie Alexander, but that looks like an uphill battle. UT is trying to get in on North Carolina DB Brian Walker, too. If some of those top targets fall through, the Vols lead for JUCO DB Khambrel Garland. There are always cornerbacks out there, but how many are elite?
4. Big, hulking inside linebacker. or at least a quality body. Tennessee has two young, inactive linebackers they love for the future with Kenny Bynum and LaTroy Lewis. Neither of those kids will play this year. The Vols also have commitments from five linebackers in this class already in Dominic Zanca, Colton Goeas, DeVondre Campbell, Corey Vereen and Zach Barnes. I'm not sure Barnes will stick. But the Vols need an impact linebacker and there are three options currently out there who seem high on UT. It seems the first one of those who pull the trigger -- if any -- will finish UT's recruiting at that position. Those guys are Washington D.C. LB Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Jermaine Grace and ILB Naim Mustafaa -- a Georgia commit who still likes UT and is visiting for the Bama game.
5. A pass-rushing defensive end. Honestly, I don't know that there are any viable options out there right now. The Vols seem to be going after a few pie-in-the-sky options at Jack linebacker who could get pressure on the quarterback, but those guys are committed elsewhere. Auburn pledge Carl Lawson is coached by former Vol Constantin Ritzmann and would be the biggest coup in years. USC commit Jason Hatcher hasn't said much positive about UT, so I don't know where that stands. You really don't hear anything anymore.
6. An interior offensive lineman. There is only one option here -- Hawaii four-star center Reeve Koehler, and the Vols have been expected to lead for him for the longest.
7. Another defensive lineman. Here's the rub here: You really don't ever turn down two at this position if you can get them. The Vols are a strong contender for five-star JUCO DT Toby Johnson, but he has a ton of options. The Vols are also major players for Alabama DT Rod Crayton. That's the two best guesses at possibilities.
8. Another running back besides Green. I believe the Vols need two runners in this class. I'm not sure they're going to get two or even recruit anymore once somebody pulls the trigger, but I think they need two. They are sitting pretty with a bunch of second-tier running backs that are just a notch down from elite. AJ Turman, David Williams [who will visit for Alabama], and Taurean Folston are three players I really like who really like the Vols. It's difficult to envision a UT signing class that doesn't include one of those three names or Green. It needs to include two of those names.
9. A tight end. This is going to be interesting to watch. After the news this week that JUCO TE Beau Sandlin eliminated all SEC schools because he has to take an online math class to qualify in December that the conference cannot count, the Vols have really two options: Vanderbilt commit Mack Weaver and uncommitted Luke Wilson. Neither of those guys are can't-miss prospects. I wonder if UT just doesn't take a tight end this year with Mychal Rivera graduating.
10. Another wide receiver. Believe it or not, after signing the nation's top core of receivers last year, the Vols are on the market for perhaps two more in this class. They already have three committed in Camion Patrick [who probably won't get into school], Josh Smith and Paul Harris. There was absolutely MASSIVE news this week that four-star North Carolina WR MarQuez North said the Vols were his leader. He is the type of player who could come in and start right away. Then, UT is really firmly in the mix for two JUCO receivers in Jonathan Rumph and Jaelen Strong [running back target Williams' best friend, originally from Philly]. Would the Vols take two of those guys? I think they would. How would that affect numbers? Your guess is as good as mine.
So there you have it. The Vols desperately need three impact defensive backs, another elite linebacker, a potential monster pass rusher [that can be included in the first two categories] and an elite runner or two. Hopefully, we'll win some football games and get those guys on the roster.