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Tennessee Football: The State of Recruiting After Four Games

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The sky isn’t falling.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the hype with the Tennessee-Florida game was the amount of recruits the Volunteers had in attendance. This weekend was supposed to show a competitive team trying to climb their way back into SEC East contention. Even if they lost, the idea was that attendees would see a great shot at early playing time.

Losing by 20-plus points obviously wasn’t ideal. With the letdown came the worries about Tennessee’s 2019 recruiting class. The Volunteers currently rank 12th in the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings and were 10th overall when the season began.

Would the loss begin an exodus of top talent? Could Tennessee ever regain momentum on the trail? Many have already given in to the idea that the Volunteers will start dropping in the rankings and Pruitt’s first full class will be a bust.

Suffice to say, it’s a bit of an overreaction.

Win-Loss records aren’t as important as you think

Concerns that the recruiting class is about to collapse are highly overblown. Recruits are much less attached to win-loss records than fans believe them to be. The only situation I can think of where a recruiting class would actually tank for a first-year head coach is if everyone believed that the team was going to be national contenders, only to miss a bowl game.

This coaching staff isn’t dumb when it comes to selling their program. Everyone from Pruitt to the grad assistants understands that this team’s ceiling is seven wins at best. Even getting to a bowl game would be considered a huge victory.

They aren’t advertising Tennessee as an immediate contender that needs an extra push over the top. Their pitch is that Tennessee is completely changing its identity and building from the ground up, and that the recruits can be the foundation for later success.

Which means nothing about 2018 or the loss against Florida is shocking to their current commits and targets. They are aware of the problems at Tennessee and how the new coaching staff is changing systems on both sides of the ball.

Sometimes this can actually benefit a recruiting pitch, especially if the player has been sold that they’d be competing for a starting job immediately. Say, an offensive lineman that just watched Tennessee fail to win the line of scrimmage continuously. If what they’re telling you is lining up with what you’re witnessing, that can only help credibility and your own confidence.

Obviously everyone would prefer winning. But Tennessee knew the upcoming journey and so did recruits. Pruitt getting this class to the top 10 by the start of the season was a genuinely impressive feat, and despite the deflating loss, it seems there is good news coming on the trail.

Remaining Needs

Defensive Pass Rusher

The top need from a month ago remains the top need now. Tennessee’s pass rush improved against Florida, but there’s surprisingly little depth behind senior Kyle Phillips and redshirt senior Alexis Johnson Jr. Defensive tackle is a different story since Tennessee already has Savion Williams and Darel Middleton on board.

Earlier we mentioned Khris Bogle as an option, but Bogle decided to forego a trip to Knoxville. He’s almost certainly Miami-bound at this point.

That leaves surprisingly few possibilities on the board. 4-star defensive end Charles Moore seems to be the top choice, though flipping a commit is always more difficult than gaining one in the first place. He’s still a legit option and you can guarantee that Pruitt and staff will ramp up their efforts here.

The 2019 class does already contain 3-star prospects Jalil Clemmons and Roman Harrison, but neither are immediate impact players. Each have high ceilings and will benefit greatly from entering a college program.

An elite pass rusher isn’t a do-or-die need for the class, but it would make the 2020 class more balanced.

Offensive Line Maulers

If the Florida game showed one thing only, it was that Tennessee’s offensive line suffers from a bit of everything. Lack of talent, lack of development, and lack of depth. Two of those problems can get fixed on the recruiting trail.

5-star tackle Wanya Morris was a great start and remains the crown jewel of the 2019 group. 4-star guard Jackson Lampley is a nice interior option, and 3-star guard Melvin McBride could be a steal if he is medically cleared to continue playing football.

Still, that leaves a glaring hole at offensive tackle depth. Drew Richmond is a redshirt junior who has woefully underperformed to start 2018, so there’s no guarantees that his starting job is safe. Left tackle Trey Smith is a good player but it’s obvious he would be better suited on the interior. The Volunteers would prefer someone else in addition to Morris who could step in and compete for the job from Day 1.

That someone looks to be 5-star tackle Darnell Wright, who visited for the Florida game. He’s already considered by some to be leaning Tennessee, and rumblings from this weekend suggest that he could be very close to joining the class. He’s a lot like Morris in the way he approaches the game with his physicality. Both are fantastic run blockers that would thrive in Tennessee’s system.

As a final note, don’t sleep on 3-star tackle commit Chris Akporoghene. Right now he is the lowest rated commit according to the 247Sports composite rankings. However, it needs to be noted that 247Sports has not updated their evaluation in quite some time. ESPN and Rivals have him much higher in their own rankings.

Akporoghene is a high-ceiling/low-floor prospect who needs at least one full year of development before he’s ready to see the field. Still, there’s a reason that Oregon, Texas, and others were willing to take the risk. He might not be an immediate difference maker, but the payoff down the road could be massive.

Additional Secondary Help

Tennessee has three true freshman starting in the secondary and other underclassmen getting major reps. That indicates two things.

Firstly, that the need for an influx of talent is crucial. Secondly, that the next few classes can be relatively balanced in the number of secondary recruits they bring in.

Tennessee currently has two cornerbacks (Warren Burrell, Tyus Fields) and two safeties (Anthony Harris, Jaylen McCullough) committed. Burrell is held in very high regard by multiple coaching staffs despite his low 3-star rating, so Tennessee feels very good about the future of that position.

They would still like one more contributor if they could pull it. A couple names to mention are 4-star cornerback/safety Kenyatta Watson II and 4-star cornerback/safety Jammie Robinson. Note that both players could be either position in college, depending on what the staff wants to do with them. Both visited for the Florida game.

The safety position is also a bit unclear at the moment. Harris has some work to do before he can enroll, and it’s a bit up in the air if he’ll make it in.

Meanwhile, the situation with 3-star safety/running back Aaron Beasley is complex. There are other factors at play besides what he’s done on the field. For reference, Beasley was suspended from his team a couple weeks ago due to violation of team rules. Take that for what it’s worth.

The Florida Gators are also making Beasley a priority in their class. They’ve missed on basically all of their top safety targets and are beginning to look at backup options. Beasley could go in to their locker room and receive playing time early on. He’s definitely a flip candidate.

Conclusion

Fans tend to not fully grasp how football recruits react differently to on-field results. These guys are making decisions that could affect their future career—they’re not just tuning in for fun. It takes a lot more to dissuade them than a bad game. Especially if a man like Pruitt is showing you how many players have earned millions of dollars thanks to his coaching.

Tennessee still has a very solid class put together that could be a great class if a couple more players jump on board. They’re also bound to lose a couple of current commits due to the nature of recruiting. It’s up to the staff to maintain their relationships on the trail and make sure that for every player that might de-commit, they have another who could be very interested.