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Big Uglies: Early Look at Tennessee’s 2020 Offensive Line Recruiting

Can Tennessee follow up an incredible 2019 haul with a similar 2020 result?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at West Virginia Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s 2019 offensive line haul will be hard to live up to. The Volunteers filled pretty much all their needs up front last year, meaning they can be a bit pickier in the 2020 cycle. I would not expect any more than four offensive line commits, and that is the ceiling for the group. As expected, grabbing multiple blue-chips and expected contributors means that you don’t have unlimited spots on your roster.

With every one of our recruiting articles, we urge readers to remember that names change rapidly. We are not giving an exhaustive look at where Tennessee’s offensive line recruiting will head. These are simply the top names at the moment who Tennessee is in play for—ranging anywhere from “hat on the table” to “favorite”.

5-star T Paris Johnson Jr.

The crown jewel of Ohio State’s recruiting class shows a genuine interest in Tennessee. Johnson has visited Knoxville twice since the start of the year, and considering what the staff was able to do last year with Darnell Wright, the Vols can certainly go toe-to-toe with Ohio State for a recruit.

That being said, Johnson has looked at a lot of campuses not located in Columbus, Ohio, so it is not a huge point in Tennessee’s favor like it would be for other recruits. If he returns for another visit, that would change the story. But there is a reason he committed to Ohio State in the first place, and right now Tennessee is fighting an uphill battle.

5-star G/DT Justin Rogers

This segment will be a bit shorter than the others, since it’s actually not clear if Rogers will play offensive line in college. He is an immediate impact type player on both sides of the ball—he’s physically ready and technically sound, with a raw power that doesn’t come around often. Tennessee did tell him that they’d give him a look at each position, so the Volunteers have a leg up on other schools. We need to see him visit Tennessee before saying the Vols have a good shot.

4-star T Tate Ratledge

Ratledge is the (current) highest rated player in this article that Tennessee has a genuine shot at getting. Ratledge is out of Rome, Georgia and has received more attention after a stellar performance at the Atlanta regional camp for The Opening. In fact, Ratledge was highlighted as the best player in the whole event. He’s got a special blend of athleticism and power that makes him a near dream-prospect at tackle.

Georgia and Tennessee are the two competitors in this recruitment. Ratledge spoke highly of Tennessee and seems to be genuinely interested in playing for Jeremy Pruitt. He’s been on campus twice in the past year, and there’s a good chance he’ll be back a couple more times before he makes a final decision.

4-star G/T Chris Morris

For a more local option, Chris Morris out of Freedom Prep in Memphis provides Tennessee with a flexible lineman. He’s a bit of a tweener right now who could grow into either a guard or tackle. He’s quick on his feet, which gives hope that if he picks up the tackle position, he could develop into a high-level starter.

Tennessee’s interest in Morris is unclear. There isn’t a buzz with Morris that there is with someone like Cooper Mays or Tate Ratledge. Early crystal ball predictions have him to Arkansas, but those might be changing soon. Morris took a visit to Florida State recently and supposedly plans to be back in Tallahassee for the FSU spring game. Tennessee will need to turn up the heat on Morris if they want to maintain a spot in the race.

4-star T Ty’kieast Crawford

Crawford is a 4-star tackle out of Texas that was previously committed to Baylor. He decommitted in late February after receiving heightened interest from bigger schools, including Tennessee. Now he is rocketing up the rankings and will likely end up as a composite top-100 player.

His interest in Tennessee is preliminary at this point, but apparently he does plan on visiting. That visit will be key in gauging how serious he is about playing further away from home. Arkansas is the current leader, but that doesn’t mean too much at this point in time. Crawford could be the surprise of the class if the Tennessee visit hits all the right notes.

4-star G Marcus Henderson

Another Memphis product, another recruitment where Tennessee’s standing is unclear. Originally Henderson was one of the staff’s main targets as another guard/tackle hybrid. However, it has since become clear that Henderson has a lot of work to do if he wants to be great at either spot. He has bad weight that needs to get cut before he is ready to contribute. The natural talent is undeniable though.

The tide seems to shifting away from Tennessee in this one. We will see if that’s a good move on the staff’s part, depending on how Henderson does in his senior year.

3-star C Cooper Mays

Yes, that is the younger brother of Cade Mays, the 5-star offensive lineman who spurned Tennessee at the last moment and flipped to Georgia after Butch Jones got fired. Whatever sour opinions you may have about Cade, just know that they are taking their recruitments differently and it doesn’t seem like there will be pressure towards a certain result.

Which is good news for Tennessee. Cooper has been on campus at least three times in the past year (since he goes to Knoxville Catholic) and is considered a near lock. Part of that has to do with his position: Mays projects best at center and is considered a top-5 prospect in that category. Granted, the center designation is a bit different than the other positions, since it basically means that a player is best on the interior—but he is still a quality prospect.

Tennessee will certainly be in the market for a center after 2019 is over. Mays has bulked up in recent months and looks much more physically ready for the position. If he continues developing at his current pace, Mays could see playing time early on.

Bad Start?

Two names that Tennessee fans were familiar with were Bryn Tucker and Mitchell Mayes. Both committed to Clemson in the past month, sparking discussion about what went wrong for Tennessee.

Firstly, Clemson just blew out Alabama in the national championship, and they’re priming for another run. They’re not going to lose many recruiting battles in the next few years. As good a job that Pruitt and his staff can do, they do not have the results that many recruits are looking for.

Secondly, the more pressing loss was Mayes, considering the staff was very high on him. I’m not convinced they were nearly as high on Tucker. Was Tucker still a take? Probably. But his stock has plummeted, and he went from a blue-chip tackle to a borderline guard. His composite still shows him ranked somewhat highly, but do not be surprised if he’s a 3-star when it’s all said and done. In my personal opinion, five of the players above are better overall than Tucker, and the other (Mays) is better at his position than Tucker is at guard.