You gotta love National Signing Day. Even if you feel fairly comfortable about pinning your hopes on the "commitments" of 18-year-olds, you just never know until they sign on the solid line and the school's official website and social media accounts hit play on the pre-produced media packages hyping the accomplishments of the latest Vols. Often, there are gimmicks and drama and shenanigans and players playing around with the coattailed dreams of the older folks, and I say let them have their fun. For the most part, they've earned it.
But you know the guys I really love? The ones who have forgone all the aforesaid gimmicks, drama, and shenanigans and instead packed their bags and headed to campus to enroll early and get a head start on the fall. And I don't think the importance of early enrollees can be overstated. Getting here early matters. A lot.
Don't believe me? Here's a list of just last year's early enrollees, along with how many games they played and started:
- Kyle Phillips (7 games)
- Alvin Kamara (13 games, 1 start)
- Shy Tuttle (6 games)
- Jack Jones (9 games, 1 start)
- Darrin Kirkland Jr. (13 games, 10 starts)
- Jauan Jennings (11 games, 6 starts)
- Quinten Dormady (6 games, 0 starts)
- Andrew Butcher (medical redshirt)
- Chance Hall (10 games, 7 starts)
- Stephen Griffin (8 games)
Major contributions from most of the guys who got to work early last season. Nothing against the stars who wait, show up and give their all in the summer, and go on to do great things, but there's no doubting that an extra semester can often make a world of difference.
So who are this year's early enrollees? Glad you asked.
|Marquill Osborne||0.9228||4||4||4||3||5-11||183||Cornelius, NC|
|D.J. Henderson||0.8773||3||3||3||4||6-0||180||Lyman, SC / Dodge City C.C.|
Marquill Osborne is rated the No. 1 cornerback in North Carolina by Scout and the Nos. 3 and 4 prospect in North Carolina by Rivals and ESPN, respectively. 247 has him listed as their No. 17 cornerback in the class. In high school, he played CB, wide receiver, and returner, and he was a 2016 Under Armour All-American and PrepStar Dream Team. As a return man, he returned 15 kickoffs for 439 yards and two touchdowns, including a long of 96 yards.
D.J. Henderson comes to Rocky Top from Lyman, S.C. via Dodge City Community College. Scout has him listed as the No. 19 JUCO overall and the No. 2 JUCO cornerback. He's a consensus Top 10 JUCO CB, and despite mostly being rated a 3-star prospect, he's earned experience at community college.
With Cam Sutton, Justin Martin, Emmanuel Moseley, and Malik Foreman all back, there's not a glaring opportunity for immediate playing time for either Osborne or Henderson. But it did seem like the team spent a fair amount of time trying to figure things out back there last season, and so it is good to have options, especially options with some college experience.
|Alexis Johnson||0.8900||4||4||4||4||6-4||295||Atlanta, GA / Fort Scott C.C.|
A huge get for the Vols, Alexis Johnson is rated the nation's No. 1 JUCO defensive tackle by 247, ESPN, and Scout, and all three of those services ranked him in the Top 15 overall in this year's JUCO class. He talled 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss his sophomore season at Fort Scott Community College. In his last game, he had 3.5 sacks and a 19-yard interception return.
Three of four defensive line spots will be filled by returning starters this season, and the fourth will almost certainly be filled by Kahlil McKenzie and/or Shy Tuttle. Not only that, but the two deep looks pretty strong here as well, with Kyle Phillips and LaTroy Lewis ready at defensive end and Danny O'Brien and Tuttle/McKenzie ready in the middle. So Johnson isn't absolutely needed right away. But guys go down, and defensive coaching staffs in the SEC are fond of cycling fresh linemen in and out to keep the pressure on offenses, so Johnson can only help in that regard.
|Jeff George||0.8798||3||4||4||3||6-6||200||Leavenworth, Kan. / Dodge City C.C.|
*The UT web site currently has conflicting information about George's stars from the various services.
Jeff George is yet another JUCO early enrollee for the Vols this season. He's a consensus Top 10 wide receiver in this year's crop of JUCO talent, earning a ranking of No. 6 from 247, No. 7 from ESPN, and No. 9 from Scout. As a PrepStar JUCO All-American last season, he led his Dodge City Community College team with 49 receptions, 685 yards, and five touchdowns.
Two of three wide receiver spots will likely be won by returning starters Josh Malone and Josh Smith, and the spot vacated by Von Pearson will likely be filled by Jauan Jennings, who got a lot of playing time last year. But there is opportunity in the two-deep. Preston Williams and Cody Blanc have game experience, but George could see a real opportunity to back up that last spot.