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Answering questions about Tennessee’s recruiting momentum

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All your inquiries about the recruiting streak, answered here.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

In lieu of a million different articles for each commitment describing how they came about, we here at Rocky Top Talk decided to just pack it into one simple question and answer article. Anything you wanted to know about Tennessee football’s current streak in recruiting, we have attempted to answer below. Got any more questions? Hit us up in the comment section! In between pre-writing all these commitment articles, we’ll swing by and answer to the best of our ability.

Have you ever seen a recruiting streak like this?

Nope. I can’t remember a team in Tennessee’s position getting 10 commits in under 20 days, with eight of them being blue chips. Teams have had recruiting tears, for sure. But the sheer quality of those commitments in Tennessee’s case is shocking.

What makes Jeremy Pruitt so different?

One of the more unique attributes of Pruitt’s recruiting is the ability to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” so to speak. Perhaps more than any other team in the nation, Tennessee has pulled off stunning recruiting victories from seemingly out of nowhere.

It’s one thing to be in a recruiting battle where all the contenders are publicized. We’re not talking about clear cut 2-team races here (though Tennessee has won its fair share of those too). We’re talking about players where Tennessee is in the top-5 or top-10, but manages to all of the sudden come away with their commitment.

5-star Dylan Brooks and 4-star athlete Kamar Wilcoxson are recent examples. 4-star wide receiver Malachi Wideman, 4-star defensive end Morven Joseph, and 4-star defensive tackle Omari Thomas are some others from the previous class. Virtually all of these guys were considered out of the blue when they committed to Tennessee. The Volunteers were known to be involved in the recruitment, but their surge to “favorite” was very late in all of them. So while Brooks may be more of a surprise than Thomas, both players weren’t considered Tennessee leans until right before they committed.

Are they all going to stick?

No, and I am very confident in saying that. The lack of visits due to coronavirus has caused a lot of recruits to commit to teams in order to “save a spot”. Many are worried that if they don’t commit now, by the time things start opening back up, they won’t have their top choices available. Some programs are playing into that and convincing kids to commit and just see how they like it when the process returns to normal—others are intentionally holding off on accepting commitments. Tennessee is decidedly the former.

There’s some inherent advantages and disadvantages there. The obvious benefit is that kids are interested enough in your program that they’re willing to reserve a spot in your class. Even if you aren’t necessarily they’re top choice, they’re willing to say they want to be a part of the program. It’s a good indicator of staff strength and how your program is generally regarded.

The downside? If you even slightly disappoint during the season, you run a very risky proposition of your class tanking. Highly sought after kids would start to hear a lot more from other programs, and they’d likely be swayed towards somewhere more secure. There’s also undeniably a bit of “Fool’s Gold” with at least a couple recruits. Essentially, players who are more invested in the attention than they are Tennessee.

Where will those decommitments come from? I would imagine there’s a couple early commitments who will either start looking around or get told to consider other options. That’s a given in any class, and Tennessee’s unusual approach to this one means certain players will read the writing on the wall.

There’s also going to be a couple from the blue-chip section of the class. Unless Tennessee shocks the world and wins 9 or 10 games, it’s safe to assume that one or two of their current highly ranked commits goes somewhere else. In this regard, accepting early commitments from elite players can actually be detrimental.

How many more are coming?

I’d predict there’s at least two more players set to join the class before the summer is over. As we now get into the scholarship crunch, Tennessee has around 3 to 6 spots actually open in the 2021 class.

Giving names is difficult, mainly because...well, if you’ve been paying attention, a handful of these commitments were out of the blue. That being said, I would wager at least one commitment from this group of players in the next month or so:

5-star T Amarius Mims
5-star LB Smael Mondon
5-star CB Tony Grimes
4-star LB Junior Colson
4-star S Terrion Arnold
4-star TE Hudson Wolfe
4-star T Deitrick Pennington
4-star DE Jahvaree Ritzie
3-star TE Miles Campbell

Are they meeting their needs?

For the most part, yes. Earlier this offseason we identified the biggest areas of need for the 2021 recruiting cycle. In order, they are: Cornerback, defensive line, offensive tackle, and wide receiver.

Here’s how they’re doing so far.

Cornerback: 4-star Kamar Wilcoxson, 3-star Jay Jones, 3-star De’Shawn Rucker

Defensive line: 5-star Dylan Brooks, 4-star Katron Evans, 3-star Darrell Jackson, 3-star Isaac Washington

Offensive tackle: 3-star Colby Smith

Wide receiver: 4-star Julian Nixon, 4-star Jordan Mosely, 3-star Walker Merrill

The only real complaint is the lack of top end talent at most of the positions. Defensive line gets a pass here since they have Brooks committed. For wide receiver, one explanation is that last year’s wide receiver group means the level of competition will ward off kids who want to play early. We alluded to this possibility in the linked piece.

Offensive line is also not going to get top talent for the same reason, but that position was more about depth coming into 2021 anyways. Tennessee may have struck on both with Colby Smith, who has sky high potential. They’ll likely add one to two more.

Yet again, cornerback is the position with the most questions. Wilcoxson is a great addition, and guys like Jones or Rucker have potential (Rucker is more of a safety though). But for whatever reason, Tennessee hasn’t been able to convince top cornerback talent to come to Knoxville. They’re still in it for players like 5-star Tony Grimes, but they’re long shots. The Volunteers would need to add one more solid blue chip guy to really make the corner class a success.

Where do you think the class finishes?

Highly dependent on if there’s a season and how the season plays out. Right now I expect a full season and an 8-4 record. If that transpires, another class that sneaks in to the top-10.

Is there a downside to this?

Well. Yes. It’s a small one, but there is something I can’t shake.

I think this absolutely puts the pressure on Pruitt to start preparing for an all out blitz to the top in 2021. He’s not telling recruits that Tennessee is shocking the world in 2020—but he is telling them that they just need one more class to put them over the top. Presumably, that would occur in 2021.

Yet that also adds some pressure to 2020. Tennessee cannot afford to drop a game or get blown out in any. This despite playing top-10 teams like Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Florida. Going 8-4 with competitive losses has turned into the minimum needed to maintain the class.

That’s a fair—but still challenging—ask for the upcoming season. Tennessee fans have become accustomed to the success recruiting, but that only quells a fanbase so much. The game have to get played and Tennessee has to look better than they have the past couple of years. In that regard, this recruiting streak is setting quite the scene for 2020.