The unexpected college football dead period in the age of coronavirus has allowed us here at Rocky Top Talk to start working on ideas we had stored in the back of our mind, but never really got the chance to follow through on.
One of my favorite ones is the recruiting class superlatives. We’ve had an in depth look at what each signee brings to Tennessee, but those are pretty straightforward. They’re evaluations of strengths and weaknesses.
The real fun is predicting how their careers will pan out. It’s a crapshoot, for the most part—but man is it a fun crapshoot. Instead of sticking to cold analysis, we can let our imagination wander and let speculation run rampant. Instead of ranking them, why not go even further and answer some more...entertaining...questions?
Below we have six superlatives, and we’ve identified the member of the 2020 Tennessee class we think fits the bill the most. We’ve also listed the runner up for each category (though we did not go in depth on those).
Most Likely to Contribute Next Year
Our Pick: Tyler Baron, OLB/DE
There’s a variety of players from the 2020 class who will see in-game action in 2020. We’re essentially trying to pinpoint which signee will receive the most reps of all.
Not surprisingly, this selection was probably the toughest to make.
We narrowed it down to three position groups which we think will be most impacted by incoming recruits: Wide receiver, defensive line, cornerback. All three have either open position battles, little depth, or a starter who hasn’t impressed.
Ultimately, we picked Baron because he provides a strength (pass rushing) that isn’t readily apparent with the defensive end/outside linebacker positions. Tennessee lost their main sack artist with Darrell Taylor, and he already had an oversized share of the responsibilities. The Volunteers will need to get creative if they want to put more pressure on opposing signal callers.
They may have found the answer with Baron. He will arrive on campus already in college shape, along with more advanced technique than a lot of his fellow recruits. He could do quite well in a specialized role, which could eventually turn into a starting role by the end of the season.
Runner Up: Keshawn Lawrence, DB
Most Likely to Switch Positions
Our Pick: Jimmy Holiday, ATH
Holiday is listed as an athlete, but he will start at quarterback. It might be slightly cheating to say he’ll switch positions, since he’s an athlete already—but hey, it’s a discussion piece. Holiday’s impressive speed and size make him a prime candidate for anything from wide receiver, to safety, and even running back. This isn’t knocking on his potential at quarterback, it’s just being realistic about how far he has to go to become an SEC starter, compared to the other guys in the room.
Runner Up: Len’Neth Whitehead, RB
Most Likely to Redshirt
Our Pick: Reginald Perry, ATH
Perry was a pretty easy pick for this one. While other players will certainly redshirt, the vast majority of them have already pinned down which positions they’ll be focusing on. Perry is so raw that it might be two years before he gets in game action. He’s got the size and athleticism to be plenty of positions. Right now we’ll go with defensive end or even defensive tackle, however there’s still a lot of unknowns with how Perry will put on weight. He’ll need the redshirt year and likely another year to truly acclimate to the college game.
Runner Up: Damarcus Beckwith, ATH
Best Chance of Winning the Heisman Trophy
Our Pick: Harrison Bailey, QB
Harrison Bailey signing with the Volunteers makes this arguably the easiest selection of the entire article. In case you haven’t noticed, non-quarterbacks tend to not win the Heisman Trophy these days. It’s simply a sound strategy to pick the highest rated QB in the class for this category. Maybe he can finally be the one to break Tennessee’s bad luck streak with the most coveted individual award in the sport.
Runner Up: Malachi Wideman, WR
Our Pick: Tee Hodge, RB
When you look at why Hodge received the ranking he did (857th overall, 57th RB) it boils down to two major factors: Injury history, and questions about how his style will translate to the next level. Hodge missed a chunk of his last two seasons to a broken leg and turf toe. While those aren’t major injuries with long term ramifications, it does make you wonder if he could handle the workload of an SEC running back. Doubly so when you consider that he’s supposed to be a power back that can deliver damaging hits.
But there’s a ton to like when you evaluate Hodge’s strengths. As in, he has enough in his arsenal to become a feature back at the next level.
Mainly because Hodge boasts that stocky profile (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) with the speed of a smaller back. He doesn’t just lumber down the field, he blows by defenders. Despite missing a part of the season due to injury, Hodge still recorded 1006 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 7.0 yards per carry. The production matched what everyone was expecting pre-injury.
So I simultaneously understand why certain evaluators were down on Hodge—but I would maintain that his ceiling is much higher than his ranking would indicate. If he stays healthy (a big question), he could be the future of the backfield once Eric Gray and Ty Chandler leave.
Runner Up: Malachi Wideman, WR
Our Pick: Tamarion McDonald, OLB
We’re going to reiterate what we wrote on McDonald back during our class scouting piece. In addition to being a “tweener” physically, McDonald’s position isn’t clear on the roster right now. If we had to bank on where he’ll play, it’ll be a hybrid safety/linebacker who comes in when Tennessee stacks the box. He’s got some speed to his game which could help in rushing the passer at the very least. But truthfully, McDonald is one of those players who is either playing in every single game, or he’s lost in the depth chart.
Runner Up: Jimmy Holiday, ATH