The Tennessee Volunteers are already preparing for life without Tyler Bray.
With the rising junior quarterback being mentioned as a first-round possibility in next year's mock drafts, the Vols already have rising sophomore Justin Worley and incoming freshman Nathan Peterman on their roster. On Thursday, they added a quarterback to its 2013 class with the commitment of Riley Ferguson, the ringleader for Matthews, North Carolina powerhouse program Butler High School.
Ferguson is a player I've loved since long before the season. Of all the players I thought UT had a realistic shot at convincing to come to UT, he was second on my list behind Christian Hackenberg, a Penn State pledge. Ferguson comes from a family full of Volunteers fans who hail from Johnson City. I really like Ferguson's arm strength and pocket presence. He is also an athlete who can make things happen with his feet, the same way Peterman can. Decision-making isn't his strong suit yet, and his leadership qualities sometimes make him believe he can make the impossible play, an attribute that will have to be reined in a bit in college. He also isn't blessed with incredible size, looking a bit wiry out of pads.
247 Sports -- which has emerged as the go-to pay-wall recruiting service recently -- has the best analysts and talent evaluators in the business right now, and analyst Paul Strelow had this premium information to say to GoVols247 about the Ferguson commitment:
I think this is a fantastic get for Tennessee, especially this late in the cycle, as funny that sounds.
So many quarterbacks are off the board, and Ferguson represented great value at this stage because he’s comparable to a lot of those.
He is always one of the best performers at camps and has a moxie about him that I feel is one of his strengths as a quarterback that other prospects might not have.
Ferguson is a good athlete/scrambler who essentially is a high risk-reward player. Lives on the edge, so to speak, with his decisions, but makes plenty of plays to override the miscues.
Ferguson is a very nice prospect with a big upside, and he expressed interest in the Vols even before last season ended and camped in Knoxville this week. At the camp, the Vols were very impressed with what they saw from the 6-foot-3, 190-pound signal caller and extended an offer. Ferguson was audibly excited about the offer and vowed to return to Knoxville in the near future. However, it didn't take him that long to commit. He went home, talked it over with his family and decided to become the newest Vol and a centerpiece to Derek Dooley's class.
Ferguson is rated a three-star quarterback by 247 Sports, Rivals and Scout. ESPN rates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 199-ranked overall player in the class. The Worldwide Leader believes he is the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the class. 247 Sports rates him as the No. 26 pro-style quarterback [the top uncommitted QB on 247], Rivals rates him the No. 19 pro-style quarterback, and Scout has him as the No. 39-ranked pro-style quarterback.
Ferguson has dreamed of playing in the Southeastern Conference, a hope that wasn't certain to be realized after recent happenings. His profiles list several schools as having extended offers, such as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and South Florida. Not all of those were committable, though, as the Tide has taken two quarterbacks in this cycle and LSU has its quarterback commitment as well. Ferguson was also getting strong looks by Georgia, who accepted a commitment from his top receiver at Butler Uriah LeMay a couple of weeks ago. But with Brice Ramsey already committed and Uriah's brother Christian LeMay in last year's class, it was highly doubtful the Dawgs would pull the trigger on Ferguson.
Whether any of that mattered in the end is difficult to say. Ferguson grew up around UT fans and spoke openly about wanting a Vols offer even before the season. He was urged by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and Dooley to camp in Knoxville in attempts to earn a solid offer. When he shone this week, the Vols followed through, and now Ferguson is going to be a Vol. In his first year of replacing LeMay at Butler, Ferguson threw for 2,600 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. Last year, he took charge of the state championship team, completing 184-of-279 passes for 3,345 yards, 48 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The Vols also haven't stopped recruiting Uriah LeMay, his WR teammate committed to UGA, or linebacker Peter Kalambayi, who doesn't have UT in his top five, both Butler standouts.
There was also a news report this morning from the Gwinnett Daily Post that Zach Barnes -- a 6-3, 225-pound prospect from Loganville, Ga., UT is recruiting as an outside linebacker -- committed to the Vols. The Vols sites confirmed those reports this afternoon, and Barnes gave the Vols their second pledge of the day.
If you're looking for any information on Barnes, join the club. He's a virtual unknown who doesn't even have any recruiting profiles that I'm aware of. He plays on a loaded Class AAAAA state champion Grayson (Ga.) team that features the nation's No. 1 player defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and a pair of Clemson commitments, David Kamara and Wayne Gallman. Barnes' only offers were from Indiana and Southern Miss, but he impressed Sal Sunseri enough at this week's camp to earn an offer, and he committed today.
Barnes has quality bloodlines. His father Zack Barnes played at Alabama State and was taken in the ninth round of the 1984 draft by the San Diego Chargers. He also played for the Atlanta Falcons. Though he plays defensive end for Grayson, the Vols want him as an outside linebacker. He is probably a very raw prospect, playing one season in the sixth grade and not again until his sophomore season of high school. But he is also an athletic type that impressed Sunseri very much.
Again, these camp offers that turn into commitments are positive things if you trust your coaching staff. Barnes camped at Knoxville earlier this month, and UT wanted to see him again. When he arrived again this week and continued to dominate camp, he got the offer and pulled the trigger.
Ferguson and Barnes give the Vols 11 known commitments for this recruiting class.