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Tennessee Football Early Signing Period Analysis: Thoughts on every 2019 early signee

What to expect from an exciting 2019 recruiting class.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Early Signing Period concluded with 19 Tennessee commits grabbing their spot in Tennessee’s 2019 class. After a disappointing start on Friday, the good news rolled in for Tennessee over the next two days, with the additions of top-200 running back Eric Gray and top-100 athlete Quavaris Crouch. Only one de-commitment happened and it had been rumored for some time. All in all, Tennessee came out as a winner during the Early Signing Period, and they still have some room to improve when February rolls around.

In case you have not been closely following recruiting for the past few months—or if you just want a recap—we break down every single signee of the 2019 class so far. Below, we give summaries of all their strengths, areas of improvement, and future projections.

5-star tackle Wanya Morris

The most important member of the 2019 class has signed and will be an early enrollee.

Morris is a 5-star recruit because of how dominant he has looked in various settings. He has the perfect build to contribute early and eventually turn into a starting NFL tackle. Long arms, high motor, and power mainly coming from his lower half. He can be very good in run blocking, but where he has not reached his potential yet is with pass blocking. He has all the tools to be great there as well.

4-star linebacker Quavaris Crouch

Though he is listed as an athlete, Tennessee plans to put Crouch on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. He projects best there and it allows him to see the field sooner at Tennessee.

Crouch does not do anything “elite” in his game. Instead, Crouch is very good in every area. His speed, power, size, and acceleration are all indicative of an eventual high-level starter. It is essential that he remains healthy, however. He barely played in his senior year due to injury concerns and instead focused on getting healthy.

If the injury outlook is positive by spring, Crouch might be able to start as a freshman. He is already filled out and looks the part of an SEC linebacker.

4-star receiver Ramel Keyton

Keyton is a do-it-all receiver that cannot be squarely fit into one mold. He is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, suggesting a possession receiver frame. Keyton can certainly high-point the ball and he plays physical like a possession-type athlete. Yet he is surprisingly fast and hard to bring down, more like a shiftier guy. Keyton is also an incredible deep threat, and his highlights are full of him burning defensive backs for touchdowns. A foot injury limited his senior year, but it is not expected to be serious or long-term.

4-star safety Jaylen McCollough

Certain safeties are known for their ball-hawking ability. Others are feared for their ability to disrupt plays in the backfield. McCollough is decidedly the latter.

He will not blow anyone away with his speed, but McCollough’s instincts in both rushing the passer and stopping the run are impressive. He does not get fooled by the read-option or halfback screens. When he puts his hands on the ball carrier, they typically get stopped in their tracks. Tennessee needed a boost in their quarterback pressure this past season, and if McCollough is able to pick up the system fast enough, he could see the field as a true freshman in this capacity.

4-star running back Eric Gray

A dominant senior season led to Eric Gray being named Mr. Football in the state of Tennessee for three straight years. While he might not receive the majority of carries for a year, Gray is a fantastic commit for the Volunteers.

He is an all-purpose back who can find the hole at the line of scrimmage or find the gap in coverage. His burst is special, and he even runs harder than you would expect from a 5-foot-10, 193 pound back. Gray is not just a change-of-pace back: his high school career showed that he could be the bell-cow of an offense. It might not be until 2020 when Gray is unleashed as the main starter, but when he is, fans will see why so many evaluators felt that he was a top-100 player.

Eric Gray
Eric Gray
USA Today

4-star cornerback Tyus Fields

Fields is the perfect corner for a Jeremy Pruitt defense. He is very physical at the position and was noted in high school for his willingness to come up and hit. His jamming ability puts him at his current position, but he can shift to safety in a pinch. What Fields lacks in interceptions he makes up for in solid back-end play. He will be an interesting player to watch develop in Pruitt’s system.

4-star guard Jackson Lampley

Offensive linemen get the label “road grader” for being able to get great push at the line of scrimmage for the run game. Lampley excels in this area, and truthfully he could have made an impact on last year’s team if he was one year younger. He is aggressive on the snap and loves to go out and make contact. He is already at 300 pounds and looks physically ready to contribute.

Where he needs to improve is the pass blocking. His size allows him to simply overpower many of the linemen in high school, but SEC players will take advantage of his weaknesses. He can be a bit slow in reacting to the rush. Truthfully, much of it looks like a comfort aspect, which should be fixed with college level coaching.

4-star tight end Jackson Lowe

Lowe is more of a receiving tight end who could become an incredible red-zone threat. His initial acceleration from the snap is impressive and he tends to catch defenders off guard. Lowe has great ball skills and might even benefit from wide sets where he lines up like a wide receiver. He is also a willing blocker, though he is a bit thin at the moment to truly be a force on the outside.

Interesting to note is how many big-name programs tried to turn up the heat on him late in the process. It would indicate that many see his potential ceiling, which is something like a Jason Witten type player.

3-star JUCO defensive tackle Savion Williams

Football is an inherently violent game, but there are players who stick out above the rest when it comes to “playing violently”. Savion Williams’ tape is full of him bursting off the snap and thrashing his arms past the offensive lineman and getting into the backfield. He is a bit more compact with his height/weight and probably will not be able to put on much more physically. He still has enough to come in and immediately contribute on the defensive line, most likely on the outside or on the inside with certain packages. Whatever he may lack in raw physical talent he makes up for with mentality and motor. Williams is the exact type of defender that Tennessee was missing up front last year.

3-star guard Melvin McBride

Another interesting piece of the offensive line is athletic guard Melvin McBride out of Memphis. Plenty of staffs loved his tape with run blocking and his ease of movement, but a medical issue scared some teams from offering him a secure spot in their class. Tennessee is willing to take that risk, and despite a late push from Arkansas, McBride decided to sign on Wednesday.

There is too much unknown to confidently say what the plan is for McBride. Given his potential, they would probably redshirt him, but if the medical issue is resolved then he could be a nice rotation piece.

3-star quarterback Brian Maurer

Maurer is a project quarterback. He put up eye-popping numbers in high school thanks to a prolific system and his raw physical ability. His arm strength and durability is top notch, along with his pocket movement and zip. However, he has an elongated throwing motion which will need to be corrected before he wants to see the field. He will also need an adjustment to Tennessee’s offense, since his high school offense made him a virtual Air Raid quarterback. Development is going to be crucial if Maurer wants to contend for the starting spot in 2020.

Brian Maurer
Brian Maurer
Brian Maurer’s Twitter

3-star safety Aaron Beasley

The best news for Tennessee on the Beasley front is that he seems to be keeping his head on straight after a rough start to his season. Rumblings emerged that Beasley would not end up in the final class after off-the-field red flags became apparent. Those red flags appear to have cleared up.

Beasley is a major talent at the safety position. He is a lot like McCollough with his physicality and knack for getting into the backfield. His initial burst out of the defensive secondary is incredible, and it allows him to be a playmaker at the high school level. He could turn into an Eric Berry-level safety if he reaches his potential. If he continues to grow, he could also turn into a linebacker.

It might take a while for Beasley to reach that ceiling. Should he take well to coaching, he will vastly outplay his recruiting ranking.

3-star defensive end Roman Harrison

Harrison might end up being the hidden gem of the 2019 class. When he first committed back in the summer, the 247Sports Composite Rankings put him at 870th overall and the 63rd ranked weakside defensive end. He has since risen to 456th overall and 32nd in the position, and he might not be done.

Harrison’s testing numbers are off the charts. For someone who is already 240 pounds, Harrison’s explosiveness is incredible, and his push off the line is exciting to watch. Keep in mind that he plays out of position for his high school team and will assume his natural position at Tennessee. The Volunteers like him at either defensive end or outside linebacker, and it simply depends on where they think he has the most potential.

3-star cornerback Warren Burrell

The lower ranking does not match what many staffs considered Burrell to be. At least three Power-5 teams (including two SEC teams) think of Burrell as one of the better cornerbacks in the class, and each had him high on their board.

Burrell’s potential comes from his length. He is 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds with long arms, and he loves to get up in a receiver’s face. His speed is average, but his instincts have allowed him to maintain a very high level of play. Burrell had another stellar season at North Gwinnett and might even get some rotational action in 2019.

3-star tight end Sean Brown

Whereas Lowe is the receiving tight end, Brown is the blocking tight end. He is a bulky 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, yet he might not be done growing. He is a very raw prospect at the moment, but his physical tools have allowed him to receive interest from a variety of SEC schools. Tennessee also thinks he could grow into a defensive line prospect down the road. For Brown, it depends on how he develops in those first two seasons.

3-star JUCO defensive lineman Darel Middleton

Many things have been up in the air with Middleton since his original high school recruitment as a tight end. He is now in the JUCO ranks and fully converted to a defensive lineman, though whether he stays on the inside or goes to the edge is unknown. He has great size and power for either option. He should provide immediate depth if nothing else.

3-star defensive tackle Elijah Simmons

Simmons does not have much more room to grow. He is 6-foot flat and 350 pounds, prompting Pruitt to mention that he wants Simmons at 325 if he wants to see the field. Pruitt also mentioned that Simmons could dunk, and he received video confirmation of said dunk.

That accurately shows what Simmons can bring. He might never be dominant on the interior, but Simmons moves well for his size and has good hand action with his initial contact. If he follows Pruitt’s wishes to slim down, Simmons might actually get reps sooner than expected. You cannot teach the athleticism that he possesses.

3-star tackle Chris Akporoghene

The award for biggest gap between offers and ranking goes to Akporoghene. Despite holding offers from Texas, Oregon, and Michigan (among others), Akporoghene is the 837th player in the nation.

The reason for the gap? Akporoghene is an offensive tackle project. He’s a naturally large human being who wears his 300 pounds pretty well. He is fast on his feet, strong at the point of attack, and has great length against pass rushers. But he has played football for just three years and is still learning the intricacies of the position. He is a prime redshirt candidate with a sky-high ceiling. Even with the current limitations, Akporoghene’s potential makes him one of the more exciting players in the class.

3-star wide receiver Jerrod Means

This will be the least informative of the bunch. Tennessee seems to believe they found a hidden gem in Georgia with wide receiver Jerrod Means, who is 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, and allegedly runs a 4.43 40-yard dash. His highlight video on Hudl is private so I cannot personally view it. This may be a similar situation to Jordan Young last year. Or it could just be a staff wanting to cover up missing on other targets. Who knows?