The last thing to fall in a brick-by-brick rebuild is the NFL Draft. Michael covered Justin Coleman's surprising performance at the combine this week, which should allow Tennessee's streak of having a player drafted every year since 1963 to continue. With seniors like Curt Maggitt, Von Pearson, and Brian Randolph, and potential early-entry candidates like Marquez North and Cameron Sutton, the combine shouldn't be so quiet from here on out.
When you're doing it right, it shows up last in April. Last year, when we looked at the most overachieving Tennessee teams of the last 25 years, we found that the 1998 Vols had more starters drafted (19 including kicker/punter) than any Vol squad during that period. It shows up first in February: recruiting is always the first brick, and it's the cornerstone Butch Jones has been building on since his arrival in Knoxville. Three of his classes have left us with lofty and familiar expectations for 2015. This fall will mark eight years since Tennessee won ten games and the SEC East. There have been a couple of times since then we've thought the Vols were "back" - we put too much stock in Kiffin's recruiting and Dooley's bamboo - but I was curious to see how the 2015 Vols lined up with those moments (especially 2012) and the last eight years as a whole.
This will change soon, but right now we only have recruiting stars to go on for much of what we hope we'll get in 2015. But if you took that star power and compared it to the Vol teams of the past, just how well does this team shape up on paper?
I researched the recruiting rankings of every Tennessee starter for the last ten years. That's as far back as composite ratings reliably go using 247 Sports, which is what I used for this story. This isn't a story or an argument for or against recruiting rankings; there are far more qualified people on this site to do that. This is also obviously not the final or most educated word on which teams were better or more talented than others; as you'll see and you know already, there's a huge difference between starting a bunch of four stars as freshmen and starting them as upperclassmen. I'm just putting the numbers out there and making a few observations - as always, we invite you to do the same in the comments.
Here are the total number of stars for the starting 22 for each of the last ten Tennessee teams. So, a 66 would be averaging a three star at every position, and an 88 would be averaging a four star at every position. Consensus five stars are few and far between: last year there were only 35 of them, and in 2002 there were only 39.
This also assumes a couple of things about the 2015 Vols: the offensive line will start Dontavius Blair, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder, Jashon Robertson, and Kyler Kerbyson, Kahlil McKenzie will start at defensive tackle, and Justin Martin will start in the secondary. Is it too early and too dangerous to assume who will start this fall? Of course! But here we go anyway...
MOST RECRUITING STARS IN THE STARTING LINEUP
- 81: 2008, 2015
- 79: 2012
- 78: 2011, 2013
- 75: 2007
- 72: 2006, 2010, 2014
- 71: 2009 (see note below on walk-ons)
- 2008 showing up is an instant red flag for putting too much faith in these ratings, or the 2015 team joining them at the top.
- I didn't know how to handle unrated walk-ons; I gave them zero stars because, well, they got zero stars in the recruiting process. This shows up in 2006 (DT Matt McGlothlin), 2009 (The Brothers Sullins on the offensive line), 2014 (Jacob Gilliam), and everywhere you find Nick Reveiz. This explains much of the distance for the teams at the bottom of these rankings. For 2009 in particular, you have the Sullins Bros. and Reveiz in the starting lineup. If you were to instead assign all three of them a three-star rating, the 2009 team jumps to an 80 overall.