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Big Fish: Tennessee’s 2019 Class Can Finish Strong With Top Names

The ceiling for recruiting just keeps getting raised.

NCAA Football: East Tennessee State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s 2019 recruiting class is shaping up to be a program-changer, with head coach Jeremy Pruitt getting his first chance at assembling a full group of players he personally chose. Bump classes are typically a good indicator of what fans can expect from a staff further down the road, and if 2019 finishes like Tennessee thinks it will, Pruitt is going to be a problem on the trail for even the best programs.

Right now the Volunteers are 11th overall according to the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. Their average player rating is also in the top 20, and of the 20 current commits, eight of them are blue-chip prospects. Seven are in the top 250.

20 commits also means that the class is probably reaching it’s maximum capacity. Whereas Butch Jones had a tendency to exploit scholarship rules and bring in classes of 25+ players, Pruitt won’t be overloading the 2019 cycle. Tennessee expects to lose a couple of their current commits as well, so they’re looking to finish with anywhere from 22 to 24 recruits. Tennessee doesn’t have a huge class of outgoing seniors to free up spots (Note: The 2020 class might be absolutely massive.)

The bright side to this reality is that it grants Tennessee the freedom to focus on the “Big Fish” of their recruiting targets. The 2019 class already has a number of lower-rated guys who fit the systems both Pruitt and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton want to run.

Now, it’s a matter of getting game changers at various positions. Singular players won’t make-or-break an outlook, but they can provide much needed momentum for a first-year head coach trying to sell his vision. It certainly doesn’t hurt if they step on campus and immediately contribute.

Who is Tennessee a contender for when it comes to the remaining “Big Fish”? Here’s an overview of some popular names and where they stand at the moment.

Darnell Wright (5-star Tackle, #9 overall)

Tennessee is gunning for an absolutely elite 2019 tackle class. They already have fellow 5-star tackle and #8 overall player Wanya Morris committed, but they might not be done yet. Wright has visited Tennessee twice this year and will be making another visit in the coming weeks. After witnessing Tennessee’s offensive line through two games in 2018, early playing time should be an easy sell.

Wright is from West Virginia and will be deciding from a group of Alabama, Tennessee, and Ohio State. The Buckeyes currently hold a majority of the predictions for him, though things have cooled off since before Urban Meyer’s suspension. The word is that he’s looking to commit before the season is over.

Owen Pappoe (5-star Linebacker, #10 overall)

I’ll come right out and say that Pappoe is the player least likely to join the class. He’s been firmly committed to Auburn since the beginning of May, despite attempts by in-state power Georgia and SEC opponent LSU. He’s the highest rated player in Auburn’s class and they will do everything in their power to keep him.

Which is why it’s interesting that he’s taking an official visit to Knoxville for the Florida game. Pappoe and Pruitt have talked for a long time and Pappoe actually did go to a Tennessee camp earlier in the year. He’s not ruling out the possibility, even if he his solidly committed to the Tigers. All it takes is one unexpectedly bad year from Auburn and one unexpectedly good year from Tennessee to completely shift the battle.

That’s also why it’s very unlikely he’s going to flip.

Quavaris Crouch (5-star Athlete, #21 overall)

Crouch has been more vocal in recent weeks about his top schools and what he’s looking for in a program. He’s also said that he wants to see how Tennessee performs in 2018. While it’s never a sure-thing, he seems to be leaning towards the Volunteers and just wants assurance that they’re headed in the right direction.

Pruitt has done a good job of showing Crouch what he’s trying to build and how Crouch fits into it. Is it at linebacker or running back? While Pruitt may have an initial preference, Crouch is the type of athlete who will get his opportunities on both ends.

Henry To’oto’o (4-star Linebacker, #38 overall)

The California version of J.J. Peterson surprisingly remains an option for Tennessee, thanks to Pruitt and Brian Niedermeyer, as well as Director of Player Development Kevin Simon (Simon attended the same high school). In fact, To’oto’o recently listed Alabama and Tennessee as his two leaders.

I wasn’t kidding when comparing him to Peterson. Both linebackers have unbelievable speed for their position and look like they could become ferocious pass rushers in the future. This recruitment seems wide open, since he doesn’t act concerned with distance from home and is in no hurry to decide. Getting him back in Knoxville will be crucial.

Khris Bogle (4-star Defensive End, #58 overall)

All indications are that Khris Bogle really likes Pruitt and still has Tennessee near the top of his list. But he’s from Miami and his family supposedly would prefer either the Hurricanes or Ole Miss. Bogle still intends to take a visit to Tennessee for the Florida game, and if he can convince his family to come along, he might start receiving predictions for the Volunteers.

He would help out the pass-rush almost immediately. Bogle is a very polished defensive end that excels in getting to the quarterback. If nothing else, he would get reps in 3rd down situations and rotate in. Given Tennessee’s lack of an elite defensive end however, Bogle would almost be guaranteed to earn a starting spot further along in the season.

Khris Bogle Tennessee visit SBNation Recruiting

Charles Moore (4-star Defensive End, #102 overall)

The current Mississippi State commit has flown under the radar since he pledged to the Bulldogs back in August 2017. Despite a top-150 ranking and dominant showings on the field, Moore hasn’t been talked about much.

Tennessee fans should get to know him because he is strong flip candidate to the Volunteers. Moore visited Knoxville twice in the summer and still remains in contact with the staff. Auburn is also a major contender, so Tennessee will have their work cut out for them if they want to grab the powerful strongside end out of Mississippi.

Whereas Bogle might be more polished, Moore shows impressive strength on tape. He’s not even that “raw” of a prospect, since he has some nice moves on the line. It might take him a little longer to carve out his role but he’s another early contributor type of player.

Maurice Hampton (4-star Cornerback, #137 overall)

Hampton is an in-state prospect from Memphis who is currently committed to LSU. He is simultaneously a high level football player and high level baseball player, which gives the Tigers an edge over other schools still going after him. That’s especially true for Tennessee, whose baseball program is in the midst of a rebuild under Tony Vitello. The most recent year they made the NCAA tournament was 2005. Compare this to LSU, who hasn’t missed the tournament since 2008 and has won the national championship six times.

Pruitt is still pursuing Hampton and trying to convince him to visit Tennessee. It’s still a long shot that Hampton goes anywhere else but LSU, and even then, he might switch over completely to baseball.

Jalen Curry (4-star Wide Receiver, #154 overall)

Basically nobody has a good read on where Curry is going. At one point Florida State was the leader, then Texas A&M got into the race, then Auburn started to gain momentum, and now it’s looking like Penn State is charging up the leaderboard. Tennessee has remained an option for Curry and he visited back on April 20th.

It’s even down to what people think of Curry as a player. I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether or not he’s massively overrated or if he’s properly identified as a playmaker at the next level. Nothing is solid in this recruitment, so don’t follow it too closely.

Eric Gray (4-star Running Back, #217 overall)

Another Memphis product on the list, except this time on the offensive side of the ball. Gray is a Michigan commit listed as an all-purpose back at 5-10 and 191 pounds. Initially this doesn’t seem like the type of player that might fit the offense. Tennessee is still talking with him though, indicating that they believe he’s shown enough to warrant attention. He’s going to be a harder pull than others and he’s not a can’t-miss player when it comes to the running back position. Still, Tennessee likes him and would take his commitment.

Khafre Brown (4-star Wide Receiver, #229 overall)

Tennessee has maintained their spot in this recruitment for a while. Brown originally looked like a North Carolina lock through and through, being from North Carolina himself and visiting Chapel Hill multiple times. Since April, he has visited Tennessee and North Carolina twice, and he plans to come up for the Florida game. Brown is a smaller receiver who exemplifies the “speedster” label quite well.

Right now it’s a question of room in the class for many of Tennessee’s receiving targets. They already found a difference maker in Ramel Keyton, so now it’s just solidifying the depth chart with a quality option.

That’s four top-50 prospects and a total of 10 top-250 prospects. Tennessee would qualify as a legitimate contender for around six of them, and a dark horse for the other four. So how many should fans expect?

Tennessee isn’t at the level of recruiting where they can pull off near sweeps on the trail. This is still a program in rebuilding mode, and they’re going to need more results on the field to start contending for that status. They also simply don’t have enough room in the class to take more than half.

At most, I’d expect four of the current recruits listed. Tennessee is in a great position for two of the three 5-stars, which would give them a huge boost on both the field and the recruiting rankings. They’d really want one of the defensive ends to join as well, and if they could pull that off, Pruitt’s first full recruiting class would be a stunning victory.

Any more than that and Tennessee will be the talk of the national media come National Signing Day.