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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 2022 Recruiting Class Superlatives

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Most likely to play early, most underrated, biggest question mark, and more.

TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Purdue v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

With the main events of the 2022 recruiting cycle wrapped up, Tennessee football will finish with the 16th ranked class nationally and 7th ranked class in the SEC. While it’s not amazing, it is very much an overperformance in many ways. If someone approached you in March 2021 and told you that Tennessee would have a near top-15 recruiting class, you would’ve taken them up on the offer immediately. The Volunteers did a very nice job of addressing their needs and grabbing a strong group of players that fit their systems. The traditional National Signing Day on Wednesday was fairly quiet—but that’s largely because Tennessee had done all their legwork in December.

We’ve been following the 2022 class for almost a whole year. Now that they are all signed, we decided to hand out some superlatives to the players in it. We’ve given our scouting reports and will have some more in the coming days, so this article is mainly for fun. In a few years, we can look back and see if we were accurate...or if the class took another route entirely.

Best Chance at Heisman Trophy

Our Pick: QB Tayven Jackson

Pretty simple explanation for this one. Jackson is a quarterback, and quarterbacks have won eight of the last 10 Heisman trophies. Hendon Hooker returning for his super senior year means that Jackson will probably redshirt for the 2022 season, barring a rash of injuries. After that, he could reasonably compete for the starting job in 2023 and beyond. Jackson was a good win on the recruiting trail for Tennessee, and recent evaluations have reinforced what scouts think his ceiling could be.

Runner Up: RB Justin Williams

Most Underrated

Our Pick: LB Elijah Herring

At the time of this writing, Elijah Herring is ranked as the 694th overall player in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. He comes in as the 69th ranked linebacker.

One look at his film is enough to doubt that ranking. Herring is a violent player with a really strong set of skills for an outside linebacker at his age. Great pursuit, good hands, and some decent bend. His length is really the only thing lowering his ceiling, but he’s not playing a traditional defensive end role, so it wouldn’t hurt him as much. He’s athletic enough that they could even experiment with him at multiple linebacker positions.

To their credit, 247Sports’ own rankings caught on to Herring’s emergence as a potential high level Power-5 player. They actually put him as a high 3-star and a top-50 linebacker. It’s a better ranking than the composite—but I’d still argue it’s a bit low. There’s a real chance that Herring locks up a starting spot in the next couple of seasons.

Runner Up: WR Marquarius White

Most Likely to Redshirt

Our Pick: OT Brian Grant

Grant committed back in May of this year, so it’s not unusual if you forgot that he was part of the class. Grant is the prototype developmental tackle prospect. He measures out to 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds, with both a basketball and track-and-field background. He will need a couple of years in the weight room before he is ready to contribute for Tennessee. He certainly has a high ceiling, but don’t expect to see him for a bit.

Runner Up: DL Jayson Jenkins

Most Likely to Switch Positions

Our Pick: S Jourdan Thomas

This superlative is strictly based on my own scouting of the recruiting class. While I am not sure if the team has any plans on this, I do think Thomas could switch over to cornerback and give you a much needed physicality at the position. Your numbers are already not great, and the end of the season showed that there is a bit of a talent issue.

Thomas is not the most highly ranked guy, but he does have a high ceiling. Recruiting services projected the high ceiling at the safety position. But if you look at his tape, a lot of Thomas’ traits can easily transfer over to one of the corner spots. The obvious issue is whether you can afford to move him from the safety position. It’s a bit of a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” conundrum. Even with this in mind, I don’t think Tennessee signed enough cornerbacks to solve the issue. If Thomas starts to look capable in practice, I could see the coaching staff electing to switch.

Runner Up: CB Christian Charles

Most Likely to Play Early

Our Pick: CB Desmond Williams

This was one of the toughest superlatives of the list. I think you could reasonably argue for five different signees for the category, either at the defensive line positions or on offense. Josh Heupel’s usage of players makes it a tough selection.

I ultimately went with Desmond Williams because of the aforementioned issues I discussed in the Thomas selection. Tennessee needs more talent and depth at the cornerback spot. Williams comes from the JUCO ranks, having played in 23 games with 13 interceptions. He’s going into camp as the most game-ready secondary signee in the class. There’s very few scenarios where Williams does not get at least some sort of rotational play once the season begins. The departure of Alontae Taylor and Kenneth George Jr. necessitates it.

Runner Up: RB Justin Williams

Best Win of the Cycle

Our Pick: OL Addison Nichols

Nichols’ commitment happened long enough ago that people may have forgotten just how big of a win it was for Tennessee. Nichols had committable offers from teams like Ohio State and North Carolina, who have both had more stability and more success than Tennessee in recent seasons (Ohio State especially). Despite this, Tennessee made him a priority and grabbed him in August.

That recruiting win could produce dividends as early as the 2022 season. Nichols is considered a fairly college ready recruit, and he has already enrolled at Tennessee for the spring. There’s a real chance that the Volunteers got themselves an immediate contributor at a position where they need depth. For both the competition they beat out, and the ramifications of it, Nichols is the best win of the cycle.

Runner Up: DE Joshua Josephs

Biggest Question Mark

Our Pick: DL Jayson Jenkins

This was another tight one, this time between Jayson Jenkins and Christian Harrison. I ultimately went with Jenkins because I could legitimately see him in three different positions. His length and quickness on his feet make him a prime candidate for either offensive tackle or defensive end, but his frame and motor scream defensive tackle. There’s almost no chance he is playing before 2023, so there is still plenty of time for the staff to see where he grows naturally. There’s also a decent chance that he never finds his true position and ends up as a missed evaluation.

Runner Up: CB Christian Harrison