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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Biggest Question Marks Remaining for the 2022 Class

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Could Tennessee land a 5-star? Who are some of their best remaining options? We answer those questions, and more.

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

Tennessee football’s 2022 recruiting class currently has 11 players committed. We expect that number to rise to 12 or 13 in the next couple weeks. As the Volunteers near the halfway mark of their class, Josh Heupel and his staff’s vision is becoming clearer—as are the expectations with some of their position groups.

We’re still in the middle of summer. But recruiting timelines have been pushed up by the Early Signing Day. There’s a lot more recruiting classes across the country that are getting filled before the season ever starts. Tennessee might even be a little behind compared to most. Which does make sense, given what happened with the firing of the previous coach.

With that in mind: Tennessee has actually surprised a little bit with recent trends.

Recap of recent events

Firstly, they locked down their quarterback for the cycle in 4-star Tayven Jackson. The high-ceiling gunslinger from Indiana figures to be the only passer they take.

After that, Tennessee was able to grab another top target in 3-star tight end Brody Foley, who has seen favorable reviews by recruiting services as of late. Tennessee was even able to lock down one of their top options at wide receiver with 3-star Cameron Miller. Add in some key additions on the defensive line with 3-star Jordan Phillips and 3-star Venson Sneed, and the Volunteers’ class has a very nice foundation.

Perhaps the most exciting recent development is their momentum with 4-star offensive lineman Addison Nichols. Tennessee appears to be the favorite for the Georgia native, who is slated to announce on August 2nd. Should Tennessee pull it off, there’s a great chance Nichols is the highest rated player in the class.

All this being said, there’s still some pressing questions about how the class is shaping up. Tennessee has plenty of spots they’re going to use. With the second half of the class coming up, we give an overview of what may lie ahead.

Who are the best options at linebacker?

No other position saw the effects of the talent exodus that linebacker did. They lost an eventual early round NFL draft pick in Henry To’o To’o; a regular contributor in Quavaris Crouch; a promising young player in Kivon Bennett; and then lost their 2020 signee Martavius French to the transfer portal (after a suspension caused by an off-the-field incident).

That’s...not great. The Volunteers have thankfully added former Texas player Juwan Mitchell, one of the top transfer linebackers in the portal; another decent option in former Michigan player William Mohan; and they also have reinstated Aaron Willis, a 4-star linebacker signee in the 2021 class. The math is still not in favor of roster depth.

Tennessee will at least benefit from a transition in the defensive scheme. Whereas Pruitt ran a 3-4 defense, new defensive coordinator Tim Banks is more of a 4-2-5 guy. That’s typically more successful in defending the newer spread offenses in college football. It also means that a team without many linebacker options can hide the issue more successfully.

The need is still there. Tennessee has 3-star Elijah Herring committed, but he’s the only linebacker in the class. The other realistic target is 3-star Joshua Josephs out of Georgia. That’s not a bevy of options unfortunately. The linebacker choices have whittled down quickly, and it’s not clear if Tennessee is getting “difference makers” on the trail.

Who are they going for at cornerback?

Unfortunately, this is also where the previous staff’s failures have been put upon the new staff. For whatever reason, Jeremy Pruitt and his defensive staff were unable to land their top cornerback targets. Year after year, they would swing for the fences and miss on highly ranked prospects like Maurice Hampton, Travis Jay, Nyland Green, etc.

They still got a couple nice players, but the numbers of the room are mind boggling. Now, with Bryce Thompson gone to the NFL, the Volunteers really have just one secure starter in Alontae Taylor. They will also be missing Keshawn Lawrence (transferred to Oklahoma) and Shawn Shamburger (left team). It’s not only an experience issue—there’s also a bit of a talent drop off, as well as a depth hit. Fun place to start isn’t it?

Tennessee did address some of this with their transfer portal pick-ups of Brandon Turnage (transfer from Alabama) and Kamal Hadden (transfer from Auburn). Those guys should help in the immediate future. But in the 2022 class, they probably need around five defensive backs. Not all of them have to be cornerbacks, but I would say around three of them do need to be able to play corner comfortably.

Tennessee has none committed at the moment. Truthfully, this might be a position where Tennessee feels better with transfers than high school players. Some really interesting prospects in-state weren’t focused on as much. Guys like 3-star Anthony Brown and 3-star Jaylen Lewis (Arkansas commit) never seemed to get pushed by Tennessee, even though they are some of the more promising cornerback prospects.

There’s always going to be good cornerbacks and safeties available in the portal. Whereas other positions like offensive tackle or defensive end are a bit harder to find.

Can they reel in the big fish?

We wrote a separate article on this, so I’ll keep it short. There are rumors floating around that 5-star defensive lineman Walter Nolen—the No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee, and the No. 3 player overall in the country—could end up at Tennessee. It was recently announced that he transferred to Powell High School, just outside of Knoxville. He has been to campus multiple times in recent months, and seems to have struck a chord with defensive line coach Rodney Garner.

We’ve hardly mentioned Nolen in our recruiting posts to this point, largely because it was believed he was out of reach for the Volunteers. At one point, they even missed his top-8 list.

But right now, we have no choice but to believe that some of the smoke is real. It truly does seem that Tennessee is a major contender for Nolen.

This is no guarantee that he signs with the Volunteers, even if he does announce a commitment. With a player as high profile as Nolen, nothing is guaranteed until pen meets paper. Major players will be Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, and Florida. If you want a taste of what’s already happened in his recruitment, Nolen said a month ago he was shutting down his recruitment and making a decision. Evidently, that never happened.

Still, getting a commitment from Nolen would be legitimately massive—and potentially change the program’s trajectory. The fact that Tennessee is even in this race is a gigantic positive sign for Garner. We won’t be putting in any predictions right now. Just know that Nolen is absolutely in play.