The transfer portal taketh, but the portal giveth, too.
While the Vols have lost double-digit players to the portal, including four who have transferred to other SEC schools (Tyler Baron, Ole Miss; Tamarion McDonald, Ole Miss; Addison Nichols, Arkansas; Doneiko Slaughter, Arkansas), Tennessee’s added some quality talent, too.
Players have until January 2nd, 2024 to enter their name into the portal during this session, and we’re keeping tabs for all the comings and goings, offers and potential targets. You can find that here.
Even with the multiple departures, it’s not all bad news for Tennessee. From the outside looking in, the staff seems to be targeting specific needs and going for quality over quantity. We’ll go in chronological order, starting with defensive back Jakobe Thomas.
Jakobe Thomas, Safety, RS Junior
Thomas, a native of Tullahoma, TN, signed with MTSU out of high school. He was a 3-star prospect when he signed, and the 247 rankings listed him as the 55th-ranked prospect in the state.
During his RS freshman season, Thomas played in 12 games and finished 9th on the team in tackles with 37. He added four interceptions and a pass break up, all of which garnered him Pro Football Focus’ Conference USA Second-Team honors.
Thomas excelled during his sophomore season with the Blue Raiders when he finished second on the team with 71 tackles, third on the team with 5 PBUs, tied for first with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was also the only player on the team to block a kick. After two seasons with the Blue Raiders, he entered the transfer portal, committed to Oregon State, took an official visit to Tennessee, decommitted from the Beavers and committed to the Vols in about two days.
MTSU doesn’t get a whole lot of love from the mainstream media, but through the magic of YouTube, I found a video from the channel Bluechip Breakdown that goes through Thomas’ game against Alabama from last season.
The video is long, and the Xs and Os breakdown begins around the 3:30 mark, but it shows parts of Thomas’ game where he excels and others where he needs improvement. His team was outclassed athletically, but you can see the upgrade in athleticism that Thomas should bring to the Vols’ secondary. He’s got good play recognition and instincts, plays both safety spots and should add some help in run support. The first play in the highlight reel might give you PTSD of a certain safety and his poor angles, but I encourage you to watch the rest of the video and make your own ascertains of Thomas’ game.
Jermod McCoy, CB, Sophomore
Tennessee’s defense allowed opposing teams to complete nearly 67 percent of its passes, which ranked the Vols 126th out of 132 teams in the country. Obviously, that’s not all on the defensive backfield, but watching the games, it was clear the DBs needed an upgrade. There’s a reason the staff brought in six corners or safeties in the past two recruiting classes.
With Thomas, the staff added a safety to help out on the backend, but adding a cornerback was still of paramount importance. And ideally, Jermod McCoy — ranked as the 7th cornerback in the portal — can help fill that void.
McCoy, a 3-star prospect, signed with Oregon State out of high school from Whitehouse, Texas in the 2023 cycle. As a freshman, he started five games, played in 12 and recorded multiple tackles in all but three games. He finished the season with 31 total tackles, a fumble recovery, two interceptions and a PBU.
This breakdown isn’t quite as in-depth as the previous one, but it gives you some game film so you can see what McCoy can possibly add to the class. The film starts around the 6:50 mark.
Holden Staes, TE, Junior
With Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles both out of eligibility, tight end was perhaps one of the most important spots on the team that needed to be addressed. There was considerable chatter that Tennessee was after UCONN tight end Justin Joly, especially since he torched the Vols for eight catches and 89 yards in UT’s 59-3 last season. But the coaches opted for a different route in Notre Dame transfer Holden Staes, the No. 1 rated TE in the transfer portal.
Staes signed with Notre Dame in the 2022 class as a 4-star prospect from Atlanta, GA. Staes played in 11 games in both his freshman and sophomore year, but he didn’t really start to shine until last season. He snagged 15 passes for 176 yards and four TDs, including his best game of the year against NC State during which he caught four passes for 115 yards and a score. TE is one of the most difficult positions to play in Tennessee’s offense just because the guys are asked to do so much in terms of blocking and catching passes.
By all accounts, Staes more than holds his own as a blocker, but it’s not really easy to find highlights of good blocking. So, instead, I figured I’d share the film of his game against NC State to give you an idea of the matchup problems he’s going to create for opposing defenses. He’s too big for safeties and too quick for linebackers. Castles caught five TDs last season, which was something the offense has been missing. Hopefully Staes can step in and fill that void.
Chris Brazzell, WR, Sophomore
As a true freshman at Tulane, Brazzell caught 44 passes for 711 yards and five TDs. Those gaudy numbers garnered him on a spot on the 2023 AAC All-Conference team.
At 6-5 and a 16-yards per-grab average, the sophomore looks to fit right in at one of the outside WR spots. And with Ramel Keyton and Castles gone, the team’s second-and-third leading receivers, there should be plenty of opportunity for Brazzell to take a spot and quite literally run with it.
Chas Nimrod, Kaleb Webb and Dont’e Thornton, Jr., all figure to be in the equation somewhere, but as a 4-star transfer and the No. 11-ranked receiver in the portal, Vol fans are rightfully excited about another target for sophomore QB Nico Iamaleava.
The Vols are getting an IMMEDIATE IMPACT guy in Transfer WR Brazzell II from Tulane— Vol Scoops (@VolScoops) December 21, 2023
The Freshman All-American had an amazing freshman season at Tulane and is a perfect fit with a QB like Nico Iamaleava
“I think that have one of the best quarterbacks in the country” pic.twitter.com/Ih0SIBIjNk
Players still have a week to enter the portal, and I’m sure the coaches are working to add another piece or two while they prep for the Citrus Bowl against Iowa on New Year’s Day. I’m a bit surprised the staff hasn’t added a lineman — on either side of the ball — but maybe they’re still working on one, or they’re content with where they’re at. We’ll see soon enough.