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Recruiting Outlook Heading Into February Signing Day

Some names and storylines to track heading into the final signing period.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Taxslayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The second of two college football signing days will be here before you know it. February 5th marks the final day where recruits can sign to their school of choice, and Tennessee is actively working to be that choice for a few highly-ranked recruits.

Most recruits signed back in December during the Early Signing Period. Unsigned players ranked in the top-500 are a rarity these days, making the final push for their signatures a rapidly changing affair. Typically, they didn’t sign in December due to extenuating circumstances, and their recruitments tend to be open.

Tennessee inked 21 players and enrolled four of them. They also received huge transfer additions in wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. from USC and offensive lineman Cade Mays from Georgia, thus taking up two more scholarships. Most people have the Volunteers pegged at 23 scholarships, giving them just a couple more spots to work with. Admittedly the numbers can get a bit funky depending on what coaches want.

So far Tennessee has narrowed its focus to a select group of players. Below are the storylines to watch from these recruitments and where they currently stand.

Will Darion Williamson Flip?

Recently, Florida State and newly hired coach David Johnson extended an offer to 3-star wide receiver/running back commit Darion Williamson. The talented athlete out of Brownsville was one of just two Tennessee commits who did not sign in the Early Signing Period—which typically indicates there’s more to the situation. It’s not totally clear if Williamson has the go-ahead from Tennessee. A season ending injury in October robbed us of a full year of exciting athleticism, and it seems to have made his standing in Tennessee’s class a bit more shaky.

The sentiment at FSU is that they have a great shot at flipping Williamson. Johnson was his main recruiter, and now that Williamson’s spot at Tennessee is up in the air, it makes sense that he’d be looking for a school where he’s a guaranteed take. FSU is looking to add at least one more running back and one more wide receiver, and Williamson can fit either position. Norvell is familiar with Williamson from his Memphis days as well.

Tennessee’s recent pursuit of other wide receiver options would also point towards Williamson not staying in the class.

Will Jay Hardy Flip?

Momentum was in Tennessee’s favor after 4-star defensive end Jay Hardy elected not to sign during Early Signing Period. Tennessee never gave up their pursuit of Hardy, even after he shockingly chose Auburn back in early November. The delay in signing made it seem like Tennessee’s efforts had paid off.

Now it appears that Hardy just wanted to play the recruiting game a bit longer.

There’s been very little chatter about Hardy being a flip risk. Usually by now word would start to leak out that the team is looking at other options in preparation for a flip. Auburn seems fairly confident that Hardy is locked in and will not be a genuine flip risk to Tennessee.

It hurts to miss on a player like Hardy, but Tennessee’s defensive line class still managed to meet all its needs and upgrade the depth while maintaining a high talent level.

Update on Kyree Miller

Many assumed that 3-star guard Kyree Miller was all but gone when he decided to hold off on signing with Tennessee. The thought process goes: Miller is the lowest ranked regular recruit of the class, Tennessee is tight with spots, Tennessee is going after other players, therefore Miller is not in the picture.

But that only works if you believe Tennessee has multiple players they’re really high on who want in to the class. There’s plenty of the first part of the sentence...but not many of the latter. Tennessee’s class is pretty much complete, now it’s just adding the “cherry on top” so to speak.

Which means there’s still a spot for Miller. Tennessee may not have been ready to take his signature in December and wanted to see how things played out. Now that they look like long shots for most of their remaining targets, it’s possible they give him the go-ahead to sign.

Then again, Miller might like his chances of contributing earlier at a smaller school. It’s no secret that Tennessee is the best offer he has to mull over, but sometimes the biggest name isn’t the best fit. At this point I’d assume Miller stays in the class, even though the margin for error is fairly slim.

What are their chances with Malachi Wideman?

One of the top remaining unsigned prospects is Florida State 4-star wide receiver commitment Malachi Wideman. He’s a 2-sport athlete ranked highly in both basketball and football, and his announcement that he wouldn’t sign early was met with surprise by those at Florida State. They consider him their best playmaker in the class and believe they still offer the best location for what he wants.

To give some background, Wideman had serious academic concerns after his junior season. It was to the point where certain teams weren’t interested in recruiting him because of it. Wideman committed to his studies however, and word is he did everything he needed to do to get eligible. Truthfully we won’t know for sure until he shows up on campus, but it’s encouraging to hear about how he turned it around.

Wideman plans to visit Tennessee, Oregon, and FAU over the coming month. If I had to rank each of those teams in terms of likelihood, I’d say it’s the order shown above.

Tennessee can pitch early playing time and more stability than Florida State. This is also where someone like Tee Martin comes in handy, since Tennessee was more or less “lurking” around this recruitment and hoping he wouldn’t sign in December. Now that he’s more open, Tennessee has a shot to wow him on a visit.

Keep in mind that Wideman is still committed to Florida State at the moment. If I was a gambling man, I’d still put them as a slight favorite to land his signature. To date they are the only school of the four that has more or less guaranteed him a spot in both basketball and football. It also helps that they took the risk on him early and kept up with his progress, allowing a trust to be built between the two parties (even though Willie Taggart was fired, Norvell retained wide receivers coach Ron Dugans).

In terms of talent, there is a good argument that Wideman is a top-40 player nationally. His athleticism is truly unique and he could be a dominant receiver if his development continues. If Wideman does surprise the nation and sign with Tennessee, he will be their best receiver recruit since 2015.

Where will Damarcus Beckwith sign?

Every year there are certain players whose stock skyrockets, mainly due to their availability. That’s not to see they’re undeserving of the offers—it’s just noting that their stock might get inflated due to the sheer lack of options.

3-star athlete Damarcus Beckwith is an example of this phenomenon in the 2020 class. He plays quarterback for his high school, but colleges view him as a general athlete. A couple of the bigger schools after him include Florida, Auburn, and Ole Miss. The Gators probably view him as a quarterback, but I’m not sure about anyone else.

His athleticism is not in question. Beckwith probably projects best at wide receiver, where his freaky burst at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds could do the most damage. If you think that Pruitt likes to put the best athletes on defense, then Beckwith could go there as well. His combo of quickness and top end speed jumps out at you when looking at the tape.

Right now I’d say Florida leads in this one. They’ve been on him the longest and they’ve had the most success of the teams currently after him. Tennessee isn’t out of it but they’re certainly not in the lead.

Update on Broderick Jones

Tennessee generated a lot of buzz in January when it was revealed that 5-star tackle and Georgia commit Broderick Jones would be taking an official visit to Knoxville. The development came shortly after Jones decided to extend his recruitment to February. Was Tennessee going to pull off another 5-star signing in February, a la Darnell Wright?

Well...sort of. Tennessee actually got a former 5-star and highly regarded lineman Cade Mays thanks to the transfer portal. So if you had “Tennessee flips a Georgia commit” on your recruiting bingo card, you can put a chip on that square.

That transfer also made the pursuit of another highly regarded lineman a pipe dream. Tennessee figures to have their starting lineup set for the next two seasons, which would obviously impact players who want to see the field early. Jones has a much better chance of contributing early at Georgia or Auburn. He’s simply not in the picture for Tennessee at the moment.