The conversation on signing day usually starts and ends with where a team is ranked. This year the Vols go to NSD 14th in the 247 Composite. But they do so on the strength of 28 commitments; as of Tuesday evening that was more than any of the 13 teams ahead of them, with only Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M holding more than 25 commits of that group.
If the average player rating is a better indicator of who wins on signing day, blue-chip ratio is a better indicator of who’s going to win in the fall. Bud Elliott and SB Nation have been driving this conversation for the last few years: having at least 50% of your class be a four-or-five-star has been a prerequisite to winning the national championship in the last dozen years. This blue-chip ratio played itself out again in 2016: of the 13 teams to hit a 50% or better blue-chip ratio, three made the playoffs and Clemson won the title.
Tennessee was the first team on the other side of that line last year, having 44% of its four-year roster be a four-or-five-star. With the first of Butch Jones’ elite recruits now off to the NFL and a quantity-over-quality class heading in today, how will that change the Vols’ outlook? And how has Jones developed his blue-chip prospects?
Here is every four-or-five-star player to sign with Tennessee under Butch Jones, listed by their individual composite rating at 247 in each category:
2013 (4 blue-chips, 23 total signees)
- Success: Josh Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
- Temporary Success: Marquez North
- Transferred: Jason Carr
2014 (16 blue-chips, 32 total signees)
- Success: Josh Malone, Todd Kelly Jr., Von Pearson, Derek Barnett, Chris Weatherd, Evan Berry
- Temporary Success: Jalen Hurd
- In Progress: Dillon Bates, Cortez McDowell, Gavin Bryant, Charles Mosley
- Transferred: Dewayne Hendrix, Derrell Scott, Daniel Helm, Dontavius Blair, D’Andre Payne
2015 (16 blue-chips, 30 total signees)
- Success: Alvin Kamara, Shy Tuttle, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Jauan Jennings, Micah Abernathy
- In Progress: Kahlil McKenzie, Kyle Phillips, Drew Richmond, Jack Jones, Sheriron Jones, Quart’e Sapp, Justin Martin, Quinten Dormady, Darrell Taylor, Andrew Butcher
- Transferred: Preston Williams
2016 (10 blue-chips, 23 total signees)
- In Progress: Nigel Warrior, Jarrett Guarantano, Jonathan Kongbo, Tyler Byrd, Marquez Callaway, Marquill Osborne, Daniel Bituli, Ryan Johnson, Carlin Fils-aime, Alexis Johnson
The much-heralded 2014 class that really got Tennessee back on the map clearly had some success at the top, but has also seen five of its 16 blue-chip signees transfer out. The strength of the Vols in 2017 will depend in large part on the big In Progress groups from 2015 and 2016.
Heading into today, the Vols have 28 commitments but only five of them are blue-chip prospects: OT Trey Smith, RB Ty Chandler, safety Maleik Gray, DT Eric Crosby, and LB Will Ignont. 2018 is off to a good start with five-star OT Cade Mays and four-star athlete Alontae Taylor.
But it’s no secret: for Butch Jones and the Vols to be the kind of successful everyone is looking for, Tennessee is going to have to recruit like it did in 2014-15. If you throw in a year like 2016 here and there, that’s okay. But that run of three years has to be the rule and 2017 the exception, not the other way around. And I think the Vols are simply going to have to win more on the field to be able to pull those 50+ percent blue-chip classes again.