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Class of 2023 Early Signing Day Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

What’s in store for Tennessee on the biggest recruiting day of the year?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Kentucky at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A New Year’s Six bowl appearance, combined with a 10 win regular season, has Tennessee Volunteers fans feeling good. This was the best season Tennessee has had in almost two decades. This website wasn’t even around the last time Tennessee made an NY6 bowl! Some of us are in uncharted waters!

The good news will presumably keep rolling through the Early Signing Period. If you’re clicking on this article, chances are you already know more about recruiting than 99% of fans. You also know that the Early Signing Period/Day in December has become the main event—a stark change from a few years ago, when the regular signing day was in February. If we’re being honest, I preferred the February dates.

But you didn’t come here to listen to my preferences, and you probably just want to get straight to it. What will Tennessee have in store for Early Signing Day, and is there anything you should know before pen meets paper?

We’ve got it all below.

To make things easier, I’m going to be using Early Signing Day and Early Signing Period interchangeably. I will also just use ESP and ESD as shorthand.

What is the Early Signing Period?

The Early Signing Period is a three day window when prospective student athletes can sign their National Letter of Intent (NLI). This is the Early Signing Period for football. This year’s ESP will run from December 21st through December 23rd.

Trust me, you’re not going crazy. This is a very late early signing window. Last year‘s was December 15th through the 17th. This year, it’s a week later, and there’s been a lot of complaints about how close it is to the holidays. The final recruiting weekend will be this weekend of the 16th. On December 19th, a recruiting dead period begins. Which means coaches cannot have any contact beyond phone calls with recruits.

The majority of college football recruits will sign during 21st through the 23rd. Any high school players left unsigned after ESP are few and far between. They might have unique circumstances or academic issues that prevent them from giving their signature.

What should we be paying attention to?

The era of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) is fully upon us. College athletes can now receive compensation, and the floodgates have opened. There’s plenty of legal NIL deals, probably a ton more illegal NIL deals, and everything in the gray area. Chances are if you have a recruit committed to you in the top 500, you offered them some sort of NIL related compensation.

This state of affairs has obviously benefited Tennessee to start. But we are also just now approaching our second full recruiting cycle with NIL involved. There is a chance of much more movement and surprises come signing day.

This is not my way of saying I’ve heard rumblings behind the scenes—I’m just making a general observation on the landscape. I would think that Tennessee is more prepared and can mount stronger defenses than a lot of other teams could. But there’s still that sliver of uncertainty that we should all be aware of.

Where does Tennessee’s 2023 recruiting class stand now?

Tennessee’s 2023 class is fantastic right now. With 25 commitments, Tennessee is ranked 9th overall. Of the 25 commits, 13 are blue chip recruits. Four of them are in the top 100 overall. The Volunteers still have some room in the class, so they could conceivably move up when it’s all said and done. Realistically, the Volunteers are pretty close to their ceiling in the modern recruiting landscape.

There’s a bigger story here than the rankings and star power that Tennessee’s class possesses: Tennessee has done an amazing job at targeting their roster holes. This is something that I noted back during the Jeremy Pruitt era, where Tennessee had good overall talent in the classes, but some of the position groups left a lot to be desired.

Josh Heupel and his staff do not have the same problem.

We’ve all seen the weaknesses of Tennessee’s secondary. Tennessee hopes to address that with their defensive back class. Right now, the Volunteers have three blue chip defensive backs committed, including two cornerbacks: 4-star Rickey Gibson and 4-star Jordan Matthews. They’ve also got three more defensive backs in the class. While they are not blue chips, they are better depth than what Tennessee trotted out in the final weeks of the regular season.

That was just one example of many. Basically every position they might need help at (and some they don’t), they’re bringing in new talent. There is really no weakness in the class right now.

All in all, a very good class as it stands.

Who could they add in the Early Signing Period?

Here are some names to keep track of.

4-star JUCO DL Elijah Davis
4-star JUCO OL Keyshawn Blackstock
3-star DL Tavion Gadson (FSU Commit)
3-star S Tyler Scott

I have to had to rewrite this section multiple times before publishing. Here is the most up to date information as of morning time on Friday, December 16th.

It’s not a very extensive list. While Tennessee does have room in the class, it’s only a few spots. Of the names listed above, I would imagine that Tennessee only has room for one or two of them. The rest of the potential roster spots would probably go to transfer portal targets. We do expect Tennessee to be very active there, and we’re keeping track of any offers they extend.

Gadson is a weird situation. The rumors are that he doesn’t have a spot in FSU’s class for whatever reason (I’ve heard grades as a primary concern). I have no way of judging the validity of those rumors, but I can tell that something is transpiring. Gadson visited Kentucky recently, and Rodney Garner also stopped by his house for a recruiting visit. Keep an eye on this one. He’s announced that he’s not signing in December, but you never know if a team will greenlight him.

If Tennessee falls flat on Early Signing Day, I could see them greenlighting Scott, or convincing him to wait until February to sign.

Could they lose anyone?

This is a pretty hard section to write. There have been very few rumblings about any of Tennessee’s current commits actively looking elsewhere. I’d imagine that Tennessee’s fantastic season and a strong NIL presence means that pretty much everyone is locked in and ready to get to Knoxville. I could try and speculate on some commits who might have connections to other schools...but that’s all it would be. Speculation.

Note: However...refer to “What should we be paying attention to?” section for a caveat.