Back to back defensive lineman make our list at number six and number seven overall. Shy Tuttle was our 7th most important player on the roster, now defensive end Jonathan Kongbo checks in at six.
Kongbo came to Knoxville with plenty of hype, billed as the number one JUCO player in the country and a five star recruit. He was expected to make an immediate impact and provide some much needed depth behind Corey Vereen and Derek Barnett, but Kongbo just wasn’t all that impactful early on.
He was eventually kicked inside to help out the ailing defensive tackle position, but he’s back on the edge for 2017 — and Tennessee needs him to emerge badly.
Here’s what our staff had to say about Kongbo along with where they ranked him.
Terry Lambert: #7
Kongbo is one of a handful of guys that absolutely has to show up for Tennessee this year. They’ve got to replace perhaps the greatest pass rusher to ever come through Knoxville in Derek Barnett, and a lot of that pressure is going to fall directly onto Kongbo’s shoulders. He’s a guy that we still really don’t know much about as a pass rusher, but we’re going to get a crash course immediately.
Evan Winter: #7
Now that he's back at defensive end and has plenty of support, Kongbo is ready to make a huge impact for the Vols. Not only does he have the potential to reach double digit sack totals, but he will create opportunities for his teammates to excel. If he can become a good run defender, Tennessee's defense will be vastly improved.
Conner Knapp: #6
In 2017, Tennessee’s defensive line is going to be depending on talented guys who haven’t necessarily lived up to their expectations yet. Kongbo fits into this category, as he came to Tennessee as a five-star JUCO prospect in 2016 but had some trouble acclimating to the SEC - especially being depended upon so heavily with the Vols’ injury problems on the defensive front. But with an offseason in Tennessee’s strength and conditioning program and the added benefit of spring practice, Kongbo should take that next step in development this season and make an impact for UT on defense in 2017.