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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Thoughts on Every 2020 Signee

Over 2000 words dedicated to giving you the scoop on every player.

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

We get it. Following college football recruiting is exhausting, often useless, be quite honest, sometimes creepy. Trying to stay up to date with over 20+ players every year, each with completely different profiles, is pretty difficult. Most Tennessee fans have heard about Tennessee’s solid recruiting, but the intricacies can get lost in the shuffle.

That’s where we come in.

We list every signed scholarship player* in the 2020 class and give a short blurb on what they’re bringing to the table. We list what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, what the staff plans to do with them, and how soon fans can expect them on the field. We won’t be too in-depth in this piece, since there’s so many of them that it could qualify as a short novel if we we’re given the space. Instead, we’ll link to their commitment articles if you want to know more about a specific player.

*Except for long snapper Will Albright. Sorry Will! Long snapping is a bit out of our wheelhouse.

4-star safety Keshawn Lawrence

Hyper athlete who could contribute at five different positions across the field if he had to. Will likely play safety at Tennessee, but has a good enough skillset at cornerback to get reps there as well. Showcases good instincts and elite ability to shed blocks. Stops ball carriers in their tracks when he gets his hands on them. Still getting comfortable in man coverage. Role in Tennessee’s defense will come down to where Pruitt decides to use him, since he has no real “weakness” at either safety position. Lawrence will play early regardless of veteran talent in front of him.

4-star defensive tackle Omari Thomas

Went from underdeveloped player to potential immediate contributor in one season. Always had great size, and finally matched it with technique and production. Powerful player who stays low to the ground and routinely provides a huge initial push. Surprisingly good closing ability for a player of his size. Could turn into an offensive lineman. Will need to reshape his body slightly if he wants to maintain at the SEC level.

4-star wide receiver Malachi Wideman

Best chance of becoming an offensive superstar. Elite athleticism that shows itself in the form of leaping ability and length. Can high point any pass at any level of the field. Could become No. 1 deep threat and red zone threat in the nation. Only reason he wasn’t rated near 5-star status was because of grades. Will need work on route running and fine tuning his technique. Potential to become an All-American and eventual top-10 NFL draft pick. Will play early due to sheer talent.

4-star defensive end Tyler Baron

Very well-rounded strongside defensive end. Possesses a great frame for putting on more weight in college and quickly reaching ideal shape. Can rush the passer productively and clog running lanes equally well. Technique is already a good deal ahead of most fellow high school recruits. Baron will contribute very early for Tennessee, to the point where I think he’s getting reps in the rotation by midseason. Baron is the most college ready of any player on the list.

4-star quarterback Harrison Bailey

Prototypical pocket passer with a natural feel for the position. Able to attack all levels of the field. Enough arm strength to make every throw, but some deeper passes tend to wobble out on him. Good anticipation paired with great accuracy means Bailey is a coach’s dream. Not very mobile at the position, but is not the “statue” he was billed as coming into his senior year. Refined technique and has shown improvement each year of starting in high school. Only things holding him back from playing immediately are knowledge of the playbook and filling out his frame. Both can be done in a single offseason. Very hard to predict whether or not he will play much, if at all, in 2020.

4-star running back Len’neth Whitehead

Powerful athlete who could see a switch to linebacker soon. Whether he has the ball in his hands or not, Whitehead is a tough runner that never loses his balance. He wields impressive lower body strength and a relentless motor. A bit slow for the running back position but adequate speed for inside linebacker. Tough to hold back for any blocker. Needs to work on quickness and reaction time. Will redshirt in 2020 barring injuries.

4-star defensive tackle Dominic Bailey

Playmaking defender with a specialty in terrorizing the backfield. Really explosive off the snap. Violent hands and legs that don’t stop churning. Always ends up past the blocker one way or another. Good size but looks filled out already. Needs to learn how to finish on a play by making sound tackles. Fits the bill as a pass rushing defensive tackle. Will be able to play early in certain packages.

4-star wide receiver Jimmy Calloway

Quick, twitchy athlete with okay top end speed. Won’t zoom away from college defenders, but will gain separation at the beginning of a play and make a few guys miss on his way down the field. Pretty raw as a football players at this point in time. Might be another year before we see Calloway, but all the tools are there to be a high level SEC starter. Somewhat reminds me of Jauan Jennings. Though there’s a good amount of potential for Calloway to play cornerback/safety as well, if the staff wants his playmaking on the other side of the ball.

4-star linebacker Bryson Eason

Imposing defender at 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds. Moves well for his size. Doesn’t have the bad weight you might assume he does. Exceptionally strong upper body. Looks a bit awkward as a linebacker, so he might switch to defensive end down the road. Will need to lose weight and work on his feet if he wants to play at inside linebacker. Athleticism is evident and provides him with a pretty high ceiling if he puts in the work at the next level. Still needs some reshaping and technique refinement to reach that ceiling. Will likely redshirt.

4-star center Cooper Mays

High floor interior lineman. Mays doesn’t do anything elite, but he does everything well. Looks excited to attack on every play. Especially good at pulling on run plays. Fairly good technique at this stage, though experience in pass protection is limited. Shows a lot of road-grader tendencies. Best projection is at center, could easily transition to guard if the staff goes a different route. Has the ability to play early but likely won’t thanks to a veteran offensive line. Redshirt candidate that could slide in starting spot 2021 without missing a beat.

4-star wide receiver Jalin Hyatt

Speedy down field threat. The name of Hyatt’s game is “fast”, thanks to one of the fastest verified 40-yard dash times in the nation with a 4.31 mark. Needs to work on route running. Has good hands. Doesn’t really have a vertical aspect to his game, but he won’t need to if his role is taking the top off the defense. Good enough in fundamentals to get a shot at contributing in year one. If he poses enough of a threat to a defense, expect Hyatt to nudge his way into a starting role.

4-star linebacker Martavius French

More traditional inside linebacker compared to teammate Bryson Eason. Already 240 pounds but can afford to put more weight on his frame. Impressive ability to diagnose the offense and trigger downfield. Quick, not fast. Good hitter that needs to be better at wrapping up, rather than just going for a highlight. Could turn into a productive pass rusher at the next level. Frankly, I like French as an early contributor more than Eason. He looks more polished and natural at the position.

4-star defensive end Morven Joseph

Built to rush the passer. If defensive ends were broken down and ranked by their ability to get to the quarterback, Joseph is undoubtedly top-10 at the position. Burst off the line and overall acceleration is top notch. Crazy production in the high school ranks. Pretty raw compared to others in his position group, thanks to a shifting role in his high school’s defense. Can see the field early in passing downs. Might be physically maxed out.

3-star athlete Damarcus Beckwith

Emerging athlete with a wide range of possibilities. Quickness and top end speed jumps out at you. Plays quarterback for his high school and dominates as a running threat. Very patient at the line of scrimmage, but doesn’t hesitate to hit an opening when he sees one. Huge 6-foot-4 and 215 pound frame makes him harder to tackle than initial look might suggest. Still a lot of room to pack on weight. Beckwith could end up anywhere from tight end, to wide receiver, to maybe even defensive end. Will redshirt as the staff attempts to put him where he fits best.

3-star linebacker Tamarion McDonald

Arguably the biggest unknown in the class. McDonald is a part of the Whitehaven trio that doesn’t have a clear position in college at the moment. In high school he played all around the secondary and at linebacker. Currently he’s 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds, so too small for linebacker but a little big for anything beyond safety. Could be a secret weapon in certain packages. Has the speed to make an impact as a blitzer. Will take a bit of seasoning before he’s ready to contribute.

3-star running back Jabari Small

Situational running back with specific skillset. Doesn’t have the size to be an every down back in the SEC. Still does the best with what he has, which includes lightning fast acceleration and good hands. Won’t outrun any defender down the field, instead opting to create space with aforementioned acceleration. Great potential as a receiving back or even slot receiver on some plays. Prime redshirt candidate due to depth chart.

3-star center/guard Javontez Spraggins

Very aggressive player who got well deserved recognition towards the end of the recruiting cycle. Physical, with violent hands and a good motor. Clearly favors run blocking, but is not a slouch in pass protection. Needs to lose bad weight and get more experience pass blocking to reach potential. Will likely redshirt first year due to depth chart in front of him, but should push for a starting spot at either guard or center in 2021.

3-star safety Doneiko Slaughter

Undersized but feisty defensive back. Size will limit his ceiling at the college level and what he can do in the defense. Still has good enough instincts and toughness to get a lot of reps and show off his willingness to hit. Comes in hot wherever he’s lined up. Likely won’t contribute in 2020 because of more veteran players in front of him. 2021 he will come in handy in certain packages and situations.

3-star defensive tackle Reginald Perry

Huge project player. Comes in at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, but might not end up at defensive tackle. Regarded as a very raw athlete who could go anywhere from defensive end, to tight end, to offensive line. Had interest from Georgia Tech and Kentucky before choosing Tennessee. Staff seemed high on him and pointed to basketball background as evidence of his ceiling. Perry will not see the field for at least two years. Huge array of tools but needs serious development.

3-star guard James Robinson

Strong guard prospect already at college size. Makes a living off run blocking, where he overpowers almost everyone who goes up against him. Good at finding leverage and using extra push from lower body to finish the play. Heavy feet hold him back however. Looks susceptible in pass blocking thanks to lack of a quality first step. Bit of a disparity between camp performance and tape performance—but most of that can be explained by position mismatch, since he plays right tackle in high school. He will almost certainly play an interior role in college. Likely redshirt candidate.

3-star athlete Jimmy Holiday

A bigger, more developmental version of Jalin Hyatt. Runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash and played quarterback in high school. All testing numbers indicate an elite athlete. Tape shows off not just top end speed, but breathtaking acceleration. Subtle changes in direction make for a fun viewing experience. Has a bigger frame that would be well suited to wide receiver. Holiday will get a shot at quarterback, but it seems obvious from his tape that his best path to playing time is at wide receiver or running back. If he makes the switch early, he can get on the field after a redshirt year. Could see him on field late 2020 in certain packages.

3-star running back Tee Hodge

All the physical talent in the world to be a star running back, simply needs to stay healthy to realize it. Already at playing weight (220 pounds) and looks filled out. Great burst once the ball is in his hands, and he reaches top speed quickly. One-cut and go type of running back. Size would indicate a bruiser style of running—which he can do, but his quickness allows him to avoid a lot of those hits. Dealt with nagging injury in his senior season. Reminds me of a generic James Wilder Jr.