Early Signing Day for football is just around the corner, with the Tennessee Volunteers set to make waves nationally with the prospects they are signing and with others that might pledge. Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have done a great job on the trail, and we will get our first hint at how much it will pay off when the Early Signing Period concludes.
Below, we give some general info on the Early Signing Period and what it entails. Then we break down what Tennessee is expecting and what fans should be looking for in the coming weeks.
When is it?
December 19th, 2018 through December 21st, 2018.
What is it?
The Early Signing Period is a recent addition to college football recruiting, which dictates that recruits can sign before the regular National Signing Day in February. Previously, the February date was the only time they could do so.
Once a student-athlete has signed their National Letter of Intent (NLI), they are entering an agreement with the university. They have committed to one year at the university, and in turn, the university is promising to provide an athletic scholarship for one year (This does not guarantee that the student-athlete has met the academic requirements for regular admission, however).
Importantly, it means that the student-athlete’s recruitment is over. Other schools cannot continue to recruit them.
Note: There is a difference between signing early and enrolling early. The former group signs their NLIs but does not become a university student until they have completed their full senior year of high school. The latter group signs their NLIs and graduates high school a semester early, allowing them to get on university campus and adjust to both their new education and their athletic team.
Why sign early?
Signing early can be advantageous for both a team and a student-athlete.
For the team, it allows them to divert their resources elsewhere on the recruiting trail. They can secure their top targets and guarantee that there will be no late flips.
For the player, it secures their spot in a class and guarantees that a staff will not yank their offer at the last second.
Typically a little more than half of a recruiting class will sign early, and only around a third will early enroll.
What happened with Tennessee last year?
Early Signing Day 2018 did not come at an ideal time for Tennessee. Less than three weeks prior to the start of the early signing period, Tennessee finished their tumultuous coaching search by hiring Jeremy Pruitt. All things considered, Pruitt did a good job.
He was able to ink 13 players overall, including starting cornerback Alontae Taylor and contributors Jordan Allen, Jerome Carvin, Dominick Wood-Anderson, and Jeremy Banks. Both Allen and Wood-Anderson were considered surprising grabs.
The larger focus was on the February National Signing Day, where Tennessee swung for the fences. It did not work out all that well, but that is to be expected with the amount of uncertainty.
Tennessee Commits Planning to Sign Early
Technically, none of these listed could sign early. There are examples every year of some recruits delaying their signing until February 2019, especially in cases where coaching change occurs. These are just the stated intentions or what has been reported by other outlets. Those with an (E) next to their names are also early enrollees.
5-star tackle Wanya Morris (E)
4-star receiver Ramel Keyton (E)
4-star safety Jaylen McCollough (E)
4-star cornerback Tyus Fields (E)
4-star guard Jackson Lampley
4-star tight end Jackson Lowe
3-star quarterback Brian Maurer (E)
3-star defensive end Roman Harrison
3-star cornerback Warren Burrell
3-star tight end Sean Brown
3-star JUCO defensive lineman Darel Middleton (E)
3-star offensive tackle Chris Akporoghene (E)
Tennessee Targets Planning to Sign Early
There are way too many players who could qualify as a Tennessee target. We have limited the names to prospects who Tennessee has a legitimate shot at or players that have received visits from Tennessee recently.
5-star linebacker Owen Pappoe
4-star defensive end Justin Eboigbe
4-star linebacker Trezmen Marshall
4-star defensive end Bill Norton
4-star running back Eric Gray
4-star cornerback Kenyatta Watson
What to Expect
Tennessee fans should remember that not all of their big targets are participating in Early Signing Day 2019. Highly valued players like 5-star tackle Darnell Wright, 4-star wide receiver Khafre Brown, and 4-star safety Jammie Robinson will all sign in February. Then you have long shots like 4-star defensive end Khris Bogle and 4-star offensive guard E.J. Ndoma-Ogar (who might be signing in December). Early Signing Day will help gauge how the staff is doing, but the final class still has plenty of room to fill.
Of the list with targets, Tennessee is the clear favorite for just one of them: Eric Gray. The rest are either 50/50 shots or less. That sounds pessimistic, but it is par for the course for recruiting. Keep in mind that recruiting is very fluid and all it takes is one piece of news for a prospect to swing towards a school.
In order of likelihood after Gray, it goes something like Pappoe->Marshall->Watson->Eboigbe->Norton.
Tennessee received some discouraging news when Pappoe cancelled his planned visit to Tennessee this weekend. But do not assume that recruitment is over. It is starting to look like Pappoe is back towards sticking with Auburn, however.
Marshall is the name that has rapidly become more and more of a possibility. He is very into what Pruitt is selling, and most think that he is a true coin flip heading into ESD.
The rest are mixed. Norton is pretty firm to Georgia, Watson has never seemed all that likely to flip to Tennessee, and it’s hard to tell whether or not Eboigbe is serious about Tennessee.
Still, the Early Signing Period will give an accurate picture of how Tennessee recruiting will shape up down the stretch. If they are able to end up with three or more of the players listed, Pruitt is going to absolutely clean up the trail for the rest of the year and contend for a top-5 class. If it is two of the above, they are still on track for a top-10 class and program-altering group. If it is just one or zero...February becomes a defining moment in the Pruitt tenure.