The Dog That Didn't Bark
Without a doubt, this was the most relaxing national signing day I can remember. Despite the Vols moving into Wednesday with a top 10 recruiting class, there was little-to-no angst from the Tennessee fanbase -- players who were thought to be risks to decommit signed with the Vols, nothing scurrilous happened, and the only flip of the day happened in favor of Tennessee. That everything went so smoothly is a great credit to the recruiting job that head coach Butch Jones and his entire staff have done during this recruiting cycle, and, moreover, to the recruiting strategy that Jones employs.
Even though the UT Sports live broadcast tried desperately to include them in today's signing day hoopla, most Tennessee fans had already forgotten about the ten early enrollees already on campus. That's crazy when you consider where the Vols were even a few years ago. For example, take this stat courtesy of our NSD live thread: if you plug Tennessee's early enrollees into the 247 Sports class calculator, by themselves, they would rank 37th in the team rankings, ahead of Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and only a few spots behind Missouri and Arkansas. It probably hasn't received the attention it deserves, but the ten early enrollees are eight four star players and two three star players who the Vols didn't have to sweat coming into signing days. Players who would be the centerpiece of a lesser class like five star defensive end Kyle Phillips and high four star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle are already off the board and salted away weeks before the national circus begins.
|Name||247 Composite||Stars||Height||Weight||Hometown||Jersey Number|
|Jauan Jennings||0.9257||4||6-4||188||Murfreesboro, TN||15|
|Quinten Dormady||0.9029||4||6-4||200||Boerne, TX||12|
|Alvin Kamara||0.9760||4||5-10.5||210||Norcross, GA||6|
|Jack Jones||0.9404||4||6-5||290||Murfreesboro, TN||66|
|Chance Hall||0.8585||3||6-5||305||Roanoke, VA||76|
|Kyle Phillips||0.9831||4||6-3.5||250||Nashville, TN||5|
|Andrew Butcher||0.9018||4||6-2||242||Alpharetta, GA||52|
|Shy Tuttle||0.9738||4||6-3||320||Lexington, NC||2|
|Darrin Kirkland, Jr.||0.9271||4||6-1||223||Indianapolis, IN||34|
|Stephen Griffin||0.8565||3||6-3||190||Charlotte, NC||21|
Tennessee can expect at least five additions to the depth chart from the early enrollees, assuming that injuries don't complicate the issue: defensive end Kyle Phillips, defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, running back Alvin Kamara, offensive tackle Jack Jones, and middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland. Each of these players is at a position of need, enrolled early, and will go through spring practice to acclimate to the grind of the SEC season. Kirkland and Phillips will be limited during spring practice because of rehabilitation after surgery -- Kirkland tore a pectoral muscle and Phillips had preventative shoulder surgery -- but should be full go by the summer.
Positions of Need
In some ways, evaluating recruiting is like writing a restaurant review: do you value the steak or the sizzle? Butch Jones has done a fantastic job of recruiting the steak -- the Vols will add eleven players along the line of scrimmage in 2015, with six defensive linemen (Phillips, McKenzie, Tuttle, Taylor, Butcher, and Picou) and five offensive linemen (J. Jones, Hall, Richmond, Stewart, and Boulware). Of those players in the trenches, seven of the eleven players are rated four stars or better, with only Chance Hall, Zach Stewart, Venzell Boulware, and Quay Picou rated three stars, and those four players are all likely to redshirt. That's not only a fantastic percentage, it's the kind of recruiting that leads to championships.
Elsewhere on the roster, Tennessee coaches solved problems with commitments at every turn. Need an experienced backup to your primary running back? No problem, just grab four star junior college transfer Alvin Kamara. Need an all-star middle linebacker after your four year starter leaves for the NFL? Sure, just go out and trade one commitment (Cecil Cherry) for an even better one (Darrin Kirkland, Jr.). Worried that you might need an instant impact starter at cornerback? Hey, I hear you can get a near-mint condition Justin Martin from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M to solve your problem! That's not just star-gazing, it's fantastic problem solving.
Blue Chip Ratio
We covered this a few weeks ago, but the common denominator for every national champion in the last decade is meeting the blue chip benchmark -- recruiting more players rated four and five stars than players rated three stars over the previous four years. Tennessee's 2015 class more than meets that standard, with sixteen blue chip players and thirteen three star players. It's important to note here that the Vols lose a few points here for the commitments of special team studs Tommy Townsend (punter) and Riley Lovingood (long snapper), because the rating services never rate special teams players over high two or low three stars. Here's the list of Tennessee's National Signing Day commitments, based on rating:
|Kahlil McKenzie||0.9968||5||6-3||354||Concord, CA|
|Preston Williams||0.9763||4||6-4||191||Hampton, GA|
|Drew Richmond||0.9732||4||6-5||310||Memphis, TN|
|Micah Abernathy||0.9082||4||6-1||187||Norcross, GA|
|Quart'e Sapp||0.9077||4||6-1.5||200||Alpharetta, GA|
|Justin Martin||0.9069||4||6-2||190||Nashville, TN|
|Sheriron Jones||0.9039||4||6-2.5||191||Moreno Valley, CA|
|Darrell Taylor||0.9004||4||6-4||230||Hopewell, VA|
|Venzell Boulware||0.8837||3||6-4||290||Fairburn, GA|
|Quay Picou||0.8706||3||6-2||271||Buford, GA|
|John Kelly||0.8665||3||5-10||203||Oak Park, MI|
|Zach Stewart||0.8649||3||6-4||295||Coalfield, TN|
|Austin Smith||0.8631||3||6-3.5||235||Buford, GA|
|Kyle Oliver||0.8606||3||6-5||230||Murfreesboro, TN|
|Darrell Miller||0.8560||3||5-10||171||Cedar Hill, TX|
|Tommy Townsend||0.8098||3||6-1||168||Orlando, FL|
|Riley Lovingood||0.7578||2||6-1||240||Hendersonville, TN|
|Vincent Perry||0.8538||3||5-11||170||Nashville, TN|
Recruiting the Atlanta Area
Phil Fulmer's teams were built on simple recruiting realization -- without enough talent in Tennessee to sustain a top tier program, he could instead pillage the nearby states of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina for the talent he required. While former coach Derek Dooley made a big to-do about recruiting in the Vols' traditional areas, he far too often relied on commitments from Florida and Texas players, only to be left in a lurch when they decommitted or felt homesick. Butch Jones has instead carefully maintained and supported relationships in Tennessee's traditional Atlanta and North Carolina recruiting grounds. The 2015 class is rife with examples of relationship recruiting from the greater Atlanta area: five star running back Alvin Kamara is from Jason Croom's hometown; three star offensive guard Venzell Boulware played on the same high school team as the Berry twins; four star linebacker Quart'e Sapp played with former Vol running back Treyvon Paulk; and four star cornerback Micah Abernathy's older brother, Ralph David played for Jones at Cincinnati. Even some of the less heralded Tennessee commitments are helping to lay the foundation for another generation of future Vols -- three star defensive tackle Quay Picou and three star linebacker Austin Smith both hail from a Buford High School program that is a pipeline of Division One talent.
With the 2015 class wrapped up before lunchtime, I can tell you with certainty what Butch Jones did with the rest of his day -- he called 2016 and 2017 recruits. That's the thing to remember about the Buzzcut -- what you're seeing isn't the ceiling, it's the floor.