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What does Tennessee’s slow start mean for recruiting?

Should fans expect a slew of decommitments?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Tennessee at Florida Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed how Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class is shaping up. Once the games start up, recruiting takes a bit of a back seat (for fans at least), up until later in the year when the first of two signing days rolls around. Plenty of Tennessee fans wish they could fast forward to that date.

Yet despite the terrible start to the season, Tennessee’s recruiting class has only experienced one decommit—from a low 3-star cornerback. Is this a trend that’ll maintain? Or is there a flood of departures on the way?

We try to answer that question and provide the latest news from the trail.

What are Tennessee’s chances with top targets?

A lot of the names that were on the board a while ago are completely off it at this point. Whether it’s because they committed somewhere else or Tennessee is barely an option right now, these players are no longer on the radar: 5-star linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, 5-star tight end Darnell Washington, 5-star linebacker Noah Sewell, 4-star safety Antonio Johnson. I previously regarded two of these as dream scenarios and two as legitimate chances. No longer.

There are still a handful of top targets entertaining Tennessee however. As long as Harrison Bailey is committed to Tennessee, the Volunteers will have a chance with 5-star tight end Arik Gilbert, who is now the No. 1 option at the position since Darnell Washington is no longer a realistic option.

They are also very much in it for 4-star defensive ends Jay Hardy and Tyler Baron, as well as 4-star linebacker Len’Neth Whitehead.

How has Tennessee maintained momentum with some of these guys?

Mainly because Tennessee is the school willing to take them regardless of timing or preference. Most of the guys above are being heavily recruited by similar sized programs, but there’s still some uncertainty with how the classes shake out. Tennessee has the room and the need and made these players a priority early on.

The Volunteers need to get to at least four wins to land a majority of the players they’re still in contention for. It’s not negotiable. If they win less than that, there is virtually no chance of a decent recruiting class.

More likely options

You’re going to start seeing players who were lower on the board rise to the top. It’s pretty obvious why. When you have the season Tennessee is currently experiencing, you need to have Plan Bs and Plan Cs ready to pull the trigger. This doesn’t mean they’re “bad” players that won’t be good at the next level. It just means that they either aren’t perfect fits for the system, have a limiting factor which puts a ceiling on their development, or are more raw than what the staff is generally comfortable with.

Some names to keep an eye on are 4-star linebacker Martavius French, 4-star linebacker Bryson Eason, 4-star defensive tackle/guard Marcus Henderson, 3-star linebacker Tamarion McDonald.

It seems exceptional that the backup plans might be blue chip players, but keep in mind these are all players which the staff has waffled on in the past for various reasons. French and Eason had questions about their fits in Tennessee’s linebacker corps, Henderson wasn’t in great shape before his senior year, and McDonald is a very recent offer.

French and Eason are viewed as a package deal, which makes the task a bit difficult for Tennessee, since French is already committed to Arkansas. Though the Razorbacks are having a similarly terrible season. If Tennessee can convince Eason to come aboard (or at least consider Tennessee his top choice), it might change the situation.

But the Volunteers will need to start looking further down the board if they continue on a downward spiral. They need linebackers, yet they don’t have a true linebacker committed yet. If Eason and French or McDonald don’t join the class, who will? With situations like these, names will pop up out of nowhere.

That includes a lot of JUCO names. Tennessee needed to hit the JUCO ranks to try and fill their defensive line needs last year, and they might need to do the same for linebacker this year.

Are decommits coming?

One of the unexpected side effects of being selective/slow at the beginning of the cycle is that your current commits were pretty sure of their choice before the season ever began. There hasn’t been much discussion about players like 4-star safety Keshawn Lawrence or 4-star quarterback Harrison Bailey looking elsewhere. If the season becomes a complete disaster, that might change. For now? Tepid optimism is warranted.

Players like 4-star athlete Jimmy Calloway and 3-star running back Tee Hodge are where some worry may lie. Mainly because those are the types of players that get a lot of attention from other programs as the signing days approach. Both operated as under-the-radar grabs when they committed to Tennessee. As they play through their senior seasons, it wouldn’t be shocking if other programs turned up the heat on them. Especially for someone like Calloway, who is now getting recognition from the recruiting services.

Once the losses start piling up, the randomness becomes stronger. We wish we could give a recap of where every recruit might lean in that scenario, but that’s the reality of the sport.