The early signing period begins tomorrow, and the Tennessee Volunteers are hoping to add a few more stars to their 2022 recruiting class. We’ve given you some background, some tidbits, and a preview. Now, we are doing our predictions.
We need to state the obvious: Recruiting is very fluid, and things can change rapidly. By the time this article is published, there could be a surprising twist in any of these recruitments. That doesn’t mean doubt everything you read— just be wary of when someone is trying to sell you something and promise information they can’t possibly know. We’re giving our best predictions on how Tennessee’s recruiting class will look once the Early Signing Period concludes at the end of the week. We’ve also added some considerations to reflect on as you watch the NLI letters roll in.
4-star RB Justin Williams
The long anticipated commitment becomes official tomorrow. While Auburn gave their best shot, Justin Williams seems set on signing with Tennessee when the NLI papers come in. A great grab for an offense that became one of the best in the nation by year’s end. Follow the visits here.
4-star LB DeMario Tolan
Hey, go big or go home right? This is probably my “hot take” of the article. Tolan has remained committed to LSU, and recently took an official visit there. But I simply don’t have much confidence that he would stick with a team who doesn’t even have a staff yet. If you remember my previous article on the subject, I mentioned Florida State as a potential destination if he did flip. But their linebackers coach is no longer there, and Tolan seems intent on staying in the SEC. That leaves Tennessee as his primary choice beyond LSU. I don’t think it is inevitable at all, but I am just reading some tea leaves and going with my gut on this recruitment.
3-star Edge Gabriel Jacas
Label Jacas as one of those recruits who shows up at the very end of the cycle and makes a surprise signing. Tennessee has had a couple of those in the past few classes. Jacas wasn’t even on our radar a few weeks ago. He’s currently committed to Tulane, although consensus seems to be that he won’t stay there. He visited Tennessee recently, and Tennessee could use players with high ceilings like him.
Marquarius White will stick with Tennessee
A couple days ago, we gave a recap of what was happening with 3-star wide receiver Marquarius White. He took two visits to Georgia and Auburn, and basically said his recruitment was up in the air. But in the latest developments, it appears that White will be sticking with Tennessee.
The ultimate result might not be surprising, but you should still count this as a win. If a program like Georgia is investing time into White, they must’ve liked what they saw on tape. Even with the good season, it’s hard to beat out teams like the Bulldogs. Tennessee stood their ground and it looks like they will be signing a good receiver.
This also means that 4-star wide receiver CJ Smith is probably not in the plans for Tennessee. The Volunteers already have four wide receivers, and it never seemed like they’d make a big push for Smith. White reaffirming his commitment would signal that they won’t need to.
Transfer portal strategy
We’re getting a clear picture of just how many spots Tennessee is willing to keep open for the transfer portal. You shouldn’t be surprised that the Volunteers want some immediate help. Arguably the best way to do that is aggressively keeping track of who is in the portal.
At this moment, I anticipate Tennessee to take around 21 or 22 high school signees. That would leave roughly four or five transfer spots at minimum. The Volunteers already grabbed one with offensive lineman Gerald Mincey. Expect a few more in the coming months. They are also still in it for some high school players who will sign in February. 4-star defensive end James Pearce and 3-star athlete Jeremiah Caldwell are two examples.
I’d also keep an eye on how Tennessee utilizes some scholarship math. Prime example being early enrollees and how they backcount their scholarships. If there is any wiggle room with how many Tennessee takes, it’s going to be thanks to this tactic.
Jeffrey M’ba up in the air
4-star JUCO defensive tackle Jeffrey M’ba wrapped up his visits in the states and has headed back to France. He wrote on his blog that he will be deciding on December 19th. It’s been hard to get much insight here, and I do not feel as confident as I once was in Tennessee‘s ability to land him. Auburn is probably in a good spot, but Missouri has been recruiting surprisingly well this year. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but his blog post does not strike me as someone enthralled with the Tennessee staff. At one point, I would’ve been predicting M’ba to the Volunteers. Now, I think I would take the field instead.
Tyre West reality check
4-star defensive tackle Tyre West has come up recently as an option for Tennessee, since he did visit campus last weekend. Truthfully I do not expect Tennessee to land him. They did the best they could, but Florida State’s proximity to home and long-standing relationship with him will likely win out. I think the optimism on Tennessee’s side was ill-founded.
Walter Nolen saga
Hopefully this is the last thing we have to write about 5-star defensive tackle Walter Nolen. On Monday, his father gave an interview to the Knoxville News Sentinel, saying that Nolen would not sign on Wednesday. Just an hour or two later, 247Sports reporter Brian Perroni says the family told them he was, in fact, going to sign on Wednesday. This is nothing too unusual in this recruitment, it’s just a good microcosm of how recruiting plays out in the final days. Tennessee gave their best shot, but Texas A&M locked Nolen down and will presumably sign him on Wednesday. If he chooses to push back his signing dates, we will write something about it. But for now, let’s assume that he’ll stick to his word.
Coming up just short
From what it looks like at this point in time, Tennessee’s recruiting class will end up in the top-20, with a chance of breaking the top-15 if things go their way.
Let’s be clear: That is a legitimate accomplishment. Before the season started, if you had been offered a top-20 recruiting class for Tennessee, you would’ve taken it in a heartbeat. That’s because the program was not in a good state. It was also affected by rumors that NCAA sanctions were going to come down on the program. There were even recruits mentioning those potential sanctions in interviews. This staff’s ability to recover and still land who they did is encouraging.
But the fact of the matter remains that they came very close to having a fantastic recruiting class. As of now, they will probably finish in second place for players like Walter Nolen, Tyre West, Kody Jones, etc. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. The 2023 class will be the real marker for Heupel and his staff. It’s off to a good start—and it needs to continue like that if they want to seriously challenge for the SEC East and beyond.