Tennessee football received two commits this past weekend, much to the surprise of those following the recruiting class and who was supposedly close to committing. In what is becoming a common theme, Tennessee’s recent commitments were out of left field. That can be good or bad—in this case, it appears uniformly good.
3-star guard Javontez Spraggins and 4-star safety Antonio Johnson were the two players who announced their intention to sign with Tennessee. Both are from East Saint Louis High School in Illinois and both were on campus this past weekend when they committed. Neither had any crystal ball predictions to any school. Prior to this past weekend, they were hardly mentioned as trending towards Tennessee.
Tennessee’s 2020 class has now increased by 25% thanks to Spraggins and Johnson. We looked over the available tapes for each player and give our analysis of what they bring to the table, as well as what their commitments mean for the class down the road.
3-star Guard Javontez Spraggins
I was offline for a while on Friday, so when I logged back in to Twitter and checked my feed, I saw the Spraggins and the Johnson commitment at the same time. My initial reaction was that Tennessee probably took Spraggins (#854 overall) in a package deal with Johnson (#161 overall).
That is probably still true. But after looking at the tape, I think Spraggins could be a take regardless of what Johnson does. I came away genuinely impressed.
The first thing that sticks out with Spraggins’ tape is the aggressiveness. He loves to hit, he loves to handfight, and he loves to bulldoze defenders. He possesses great power and finishing ability that some interior defenders simply lack. He has some bad weight, but that weight doesn’t seem to stop him from moving quite well at 6-foot-3 and 336 pounds.
It’s that immediate movement on the snap which takes Spraggins to a new level. He recovers at a good speed and he almost always stays in front of his defender. A lot of guards coming from the high school ranks can be inconsistent (or downright bad) with their pass protection. That doesn’t apply to Spraggins, since he has quality footwork and good hands that neutralize some pass rush moves.
My only questions are one that has an easy remedy (bad weight) and a question about competition. Spraggins certainly looked the part of an SEC lineman against Midwest players. But I’d really like to see how he’d do against better athletes, and how he would handle some of their speed.
Regardless, his ranking seems way out of place and does not line up with reality. According to the 247 article, he impressed at a recent camp and earned multiple Power-5 offers from the likes of Illinois and Missouri. Tennessee’s staff has proven that their early commits tend to rise later in the process as the services get more looks (Elijah Simmons, Roman Harrison).
4-star Safety Antonio Johnson
Johnson comes with the star power that many fans enjoy to see. He is ranked by the 247Sports composite as the 161st overall player and the 11th best safety in the nation, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds.
His tape makes him look even bigger than that. Johnson looks physically ready for college football even during his junior year of high school. Versatility is another plus, as Johnson plays cornerback and safety for his team, along with some reps at wide receiver.
Why Pruitt pushed so hard for him at defensive back is obvious. Johnson hits with a purpose and never shies away from making contact, whether the ball carrier is a wide receiver, running back, or quarterback. He’s similar to his teammate Spraggins when it comes to being physical and looking for someone to hit. Though he still manages to play clean as a cornerback when he’s trailing and shadowing a wide receiver.
The most exciting trait with Johnson is the ability to close out at the last second. There are multiple plays in his tape where it looks like the receiver might have a little bit of separation, before Johnson swings around and either intercepts the ball or bats it away. It’s the little movements that make Johnson so imposing as a defensive back: he’s quick in all the right areas. His speed is good for a safety, but more valuable to his game is the close out quickness and the time it takes for him to recover on a route. Johnson even wins a large majority of the 1-on-1 battles at camps, which are inherently favorable to the receiver.
Other positive traits include a knack for figuring out where a play is heading, underrated cutting ability, and a good vertical which makes him completely dominant on jump balls.
I think Johnson ends up a safety at the next level—his physicality could make him a heat-seeking missile at strong safety, while his ball tracking skills could turn him into a hawk at free safety. He has very high ceilings at both positions. That being said, there is still a high chance Pruitt gives him a look at cornerback. Players with his size and quickness don’t come around often, and he could become a star at cornerback in the system.
What It Means for The Class
Because Tennessee is still in the early stages of its class (from a numbers standpoint at least), the two most recent commits don’t radically change the plan at either position.
For the offensive line, Spraggins is the first commit of what will likely be four by the end of the cycle. Tennessee’s five offensive line signees in 2019 helped depth tremendously, so the 2020 class will be more limited in terms of who they can realistically get. Right now it seems that Tennessee is splitting the four spots between two interior and two exterior, though it is possible they get three guards.
Part of the confusion stems from players that could play tackle at the next level, but are currently guards in high school. That includes players like 4-star Chris Morris or 3-star James Robinson, who Tennessee is currently in a good spot for.
Johnson’s commitment is a bit more consequential, since it fills up one of likely two safety spots. Now Tennessee figures to focus in on top-100 player Keshawn Lawrence out of Nashville. Rumor is that a commitment is in the near future for Lawrence, and all signs point to Tennessee as the likely destination. Johnson and Lawrence would be a fantastic haul at the position and continue a loading up of the secondary.
Overall a great weekend for the Vols that figures to pay dividends as the summer months continue on. Something tells me that Tennessee can expect a few more big names in the class sooner rather than later.