Beggars can't be choosers
The commitment of Louisiana wide receiver Corey Henderson on Tuesday brought Tennessee's 2016 recruiting class back up to six members, where it had been for most of the winter prior to quarterback Austin Kendall's decommitment. After two years of taking jumbo recruiting classes to restock the roster, the Vols are expected to take a much smaller class this year. For one, Tennessee simply doesn't have the available scholarships to take more than 20 or so players, with head coach Butch Jones out of maneuvering room after manipulating previous classes with backcounting early enrollees, grayshirting, and blueshirting to evade NCAA and SEC scholarship limits. Secondly and more importantly, the Vols finally have enough roster depth to concentrate on increasing the number of blue chip players on the roster and adding difference makers at specific positions rather than on simply finding enough SEC quality players to field a team. As a result, for the first time since Phillip Fulmer left the Hill, Tennessee football has the luxury of being choosy in the recruiting process.
What do the Vols need?
Tennessee is expecting to graduate 14 scholarship seniors in 2016, including four wide receivers, four offensive linemen, and both of last year's starters at safety. In addition, the Vols could potentially lose a number of important junior starters to the NFL, including Marquez North, Cam Sutton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. While head coach Butch Jones has done a good job of adding depth and athleticism behind the current starters, Tennessee needs to prepare for feast as well as famine-- a breakthrough season on the field brings its own challenges. Let's look at the most important position groups for the Vols' recruiting in 2016, and for more on several of the targets below, check out Mike's article: Snowpocalypse Junior Day.
Wide Receiver (4-5)
The Vols lose three receivers to graduation, with shifty and talented slot receivers Pig Howard and Von Pearson the most difficult to replace. Former JUCO transfer Johnathan Johnson also played useful snaps at slot receiver and on special teams. UPDATE: Local product Cody Blanc failed to make much of an impact on the field and may leave the field, but he redshirted in 2014 and still has a year of eligibility remaining. Rising sophomore Vic Wharton was the most likely candidate to fill the slot position going forward, but with his transfer, the Vols lack prototypical options at the slot position-- both Josh Smith and Josh Malone can play at the Z position, but neither has the kind of short area quickness that Howard and Pearson brought to the role.
After whiffing on speedy Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome, Tennessee has two potential slot receivers in the 2015 class: athletes Vincent Perry and Jocquez Bruce, assuming the coaches don't move a player from another position. It's also possible that new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord anticipates moving to a more vertical offense with larger wide receivers, rather than the horizontal stretch scheme preferred by former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Recent wide receiver commitment Corey Henderson doesn't really answer the question one way or the other: he's extremely fast, but at a listed 6'1, he would tower over the diminutive Pig Howard.
Current targets: Diondre Overton, Donnie Corley, Marquez Callaway, Mecole Hardman
Offensive Line (2-3)
The Vols will lose three likely starters: center Mack Crowder, left guard Marcus Jackson, and left tackle Kyler Kerbyson. Junior college transfer Dontavius Blair is also likely to leave if he continues to disappoint, although he would still have one year of eligibility remaining. With Tennessee expecting a large and talented offensive line group from the 2015 class to land on campus in the fall, the Vols are likely to focus more on quality than quantity in 2016. Offensive tackle remains a priority, as Tennessee remains extremely thin on the outside-- the Vols have extended offers to five offensive guard prospects and 23 offensive tackle recruits.
Current targets: Brodarious Hamm, Bryce Mathews
Running Back (2)
The Vols remain perilously thin at running back, with virtually no depth behind Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. John Kelly should arrive in time for summer workouts, but Vincent Perry may have the option to play professional baseball instead. Former Coastal Carolina commitment Joseph Young and Cincinnati transfer Ralph David Abernathy IV (brother of Vols' cornerback Micah Abernathy) are rumored to arrive during the summer as well. However, there may not be a true feature back among that group and the Vols will try to sign at least two elite running backs in the 2016 class.
Current targets: Matthew Falcon, Elijah Holyfield (son of you-know-who and owner of this awesome Hudl video)
With steady safety Brian Randolph and his much maligned partner LaDarrell McNeil both graduating, the Vols need to restock the depth behind likely future starters Todd Kelly, Jr. and Stephen Griffin. 2016 is shaping up to be another good year for defensive backs, with Tennessee legacy Nigel Warrior and in-state jumbo athlete JoeJuan Williams at the top of the Vols' list. Expect Tennessee to sign at least three defensive backs, with an emphasis on versatile athletes with size and speed.
Current targets: Nigel Warrior, JoeJuan Williams, Chanse Sylvie, Donte Vaughn
Since December, fourteen scholarship players with eligibility remaining have moved off of the Tennessee active roster: Gerald Orta, Drae Bowles, Justin King, Nathan Peterman, Jaylen Miller, Daniel Helm, Joe Henderson, Dewayne Hendrix, Ryan Jenkins, D'Andre Payne, Treyvon Paulk, Michael Sawyers, Derrell Scott, and Vic Wharton. This makes the third consecutive off-season in which the coaching staff has moved unwanted or unneeded players to other destinations, so don't expect this trend to change any time soon. Tennessee's enormous 32 man class of 2014 has already been whittled down to 23 players in one year, with only of those roster subtractions involving players who were on-the-field contributors. While the roster below is as accurate as possible, the Vols may make further moves before the season. Below is a breakdown of current players and the numbers involved.
|2016||Mack Crowder, Pig Howard, Marcus Jackson, Johnathon Johnson, Kyler Kerbyson, Curt Maggitt, LaDarrell McNeil, Von Pearson, Brian Randolph, Trevarris Saulsberry, Chris Weatherd, Owen Williams||12|
|2017||Dontavius Blair, Cody Blanc, A.J. Branisel, George Bullock, Kenny Bynum, Jason Croom, Joshua Dobbs, Malik Foreman, Lemond Johnson, LaTroy Lewis, Marquez North, Danny O'Brien, Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, Devaun Swafford, Cameron Sutton, Corey Vereen, Dylan Wiesman||16
|2018||Derek Barnett, Elliott Berry, Evan Berry, A.J. Branisel, Rashaan Gaulden, Jalen Hurd, Jakob Johnson, Alvin Kamara (JUCO), Todd Kelly, Jr., Brett Kendrick, Josh Malone, Justin Martin (JUCO), Cortez McDowell, Aaron Medley, Dimarya Mixon, Emmanuel Moseley, Charles Mosley, Jashon Robertson, Austin Sanders, Josh Smith, Coleman Thomas, Kendal Vickers, Ethan Wolf
|2019||Micah Abernathy, Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant, Jocquez Bruce, Venzell Boulware, Andrew Butcher, Neiko Creamer, Quinten Dormady, Stephen Griffin, Chance Hall, Jauan Jennings, Jack Jones, Sheriron Jones, John Kelly, Darrin Kirkland, Riley Lovingood, Kahlil McKenzie, Darrell Miller, Kyle Oliver, Vincent Perry, Kyle Phillips, Quay Picou, Drew Richmond, Ray Raulerson, Quart'e Sapp, Austin Smith, Zach Stewart, Darrell Taylor, Tommy Townsend, Shy Tuttle, Preston Williams||31
|Total recruited players||82
Total recruited players, fall 2014
|Winter graduates||Coleman, Gilliam, Johnson, Pair, J. Williams||5|
|Likely spring graduates||Darr, Downs, Jones, Lane, Orta, Worley, Young||7|
|Confirmed transfers||Bowles, Helm, Hendrix, Jenkins, King, Miller, Payne, Peterman, Scott, Wharton
|No longer with team||Sawyers, Paulk
|Total recruited players, spring 2015
|Early enrollees||Butcher, Dormady, Griffin, Hall, Jennings, Jones, Kamara, Kirkland, Phillips, Tuttle,
|Recruiting class||Abernathy, Boulware, Jones, Kelly, Lovingood, McKenzie, Martin, Miller, Oliver, Picou, Richmond, Sapp, Smith, Stewart, Taylor, Townsend, Williams||17
|Potential blueshirts||Bruce, Perry||2
|Projected total, fall 2015||82
|Walk-on scholarship||Alex Ellis||1
|Potential transfer||Ralph David Abernathy, IV||1
|Potential late add||Joseph Young (or possibly Treyvon Paulk)
|Complete roster, fall 2015||85
|NCAA scholarship limit||85|
Updated Scholarship Matrix
Although I don't expect this project to be completely accurate (because schools don't have a handy way to keep track of awarded scholarships), the scholarship matrix has been updated to account for expected transfers and to reflect position changes. The columns have also been relabeled by football season rather than graduation year to prevent confusion. Note that scholarships awarded to former walk-on players have not been tracked.
UPDATE: Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Gary Huntzinger for pointing out that I didn't update the matrix for the redshirts from 2014, and for keeping track of the status changes. The full list of changes:
- Tight end Neiko Creamer, linebacker Gavin Bryant, and offensive lineman Ray Raulerson all received redshirts and are now listed in the 2018 class as redshirt freshmen.
- Linebacker Dillon Bates received a medical redshirt for the shoulder injury he suffered during the 2014 season and is now listed in the 2018 class as a redshirt freshman.
- Wide receiver Josh Smith received a medical redshirt for the ankle injury that knocked him out of the 2014 season and he's moved from the 2016 class to the 2017 class. He's now a redshirt sophomore.
- Tight end A.J. Branisel received a redshirt and is now listed in the 2017 class as a redshirt sophomore.
- Offensive lineman Dontavius Blair and wide receiver Cody Blanc both received redshirts and are now listed in the 2016 class as redshirt juniors.
Quick Observations on the current roster:
- With the departure of Ryan Jenkins and Vic Wharton, the Vols have signed only two true wide receivers combined in the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes. While Tennessee has several versatile athletes who could play wide receiver in a pinch, the Vols need to sign at least four wide receivers in the 2016 class to restock the two-deep once the current crop of seniors graduate.
- The Vols lose two defensive tackles to graduation, but defensive end might be a bigger position of need, following the unceremonious exit of Dewayne Hendrix and Joe Henderson. 2016 looks like a great year for defensive tackles, so expect Tennessee to sign a few there, especially if they whiff on top defensive end targets.
- Offensive line numbers shouldn't be a problem for Tennessee. With Drew Richmond flipping to the Vols on signing day, Tennessee has 15 scholarship players on the line next year, including a pair of four star tackle prospects in Richmond and Jack Jones. The Vols will look to upgrade the overall length and athleticism of the offensive line, but this is no longer a bottom of the conference group.
|Tennessee Vols Scholarship Matrix|
|Total (82) ||2015 (12) ||2016 (16) ||2017 (23) ||2018 (31)||HS Commits (6)
||Josh Dobbs||Quinten Dormady, Jauan Jennings, Sheriron Jones
||Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara
||John Kelly, Vincent Perry**
Pig Howard, Johnathon Johnson, Von Pearson*
|Cody Blanc*, Jason Croom*, Marquez North||Josh Smith*, Josh Malone||
, Jocquez Bruce**||Corey Henderson|
||A.J. Branisel*, Ethan Wolf||Neiko Creamer*, Kyle Oliver||Devante Brooks|
||Mack Crowder*, Marcus Jackson*, Kyler Kerbyson*||Dontavius Blair*, Dylan Wiesman||Brett Kendrick*, Austin Sanders*, Coleman Thomas, Jashon Robertson||Ray Raulerson*, Drew Richmond, Chance Hall, Jack Jones, Zach Stewart, Venzell Boulware
||Trevarris Saulsberry* (DT), Owen Williams* (DT),||
LaTroy Lewis* (DE), Danny O'Brien* (DT), Corey Vereen (DE)
||Derek Barnett (DE), Dimarya Mixon (DT), Charles Mosley (DT), Kendall Vickers*
Andrew Butcher (DE), Darrell Taylor (DE), Kyle Phillips (DE), Kahlil McKenzie (DT), Quay Picou (DT), Shy Tuttle (DT)
||Curt Maggitt, Chris Weatherd*||Kenny Bynum*, Jalen Reeves-Maybin||
Jakob Johnson, Cortez McDowell, Elliott Berry
|Dillon Bates*, Gavin Bryant*, Darrin Kirkland, Austin Smith, Quart'e Sapp
||LaDarrell McNeil (S), Brian Randolph* (S)
||Malik Foreman, Lemond Johnson, Cameron Sutton (CB), Devaun Swafford
||Evan Berry, Rashaan Gaulden (CB), Todd Kelly, Jr. (S), Emmanuel Moseley (CB), Justin Martin (CB)
||Darrell Miller, Stephen Griffin (S), Micah Abernathy||Marquill Osborne, Bailey Phillips|
||George Bullock* (PK)||Aaron Medley (PK)||Tommy Townsend (P), Riley Lovingood (LS)|
|Key||* = Redshirt||** = Blueshirt candidates|