The Tennessee Volunteers are once again off to a great start in recruiting. Whereas last summer’s festivities launched with the commitment of then 5-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava, this year’s momentum has been more spread out. The Volunteers didn’t have that one prospect who shocked the world—instead, they simply amassed a quality group of guys in the first few months of the cycle.
Tennessee’s 2024 recruiting class is currently ranked 9th nationally and 4th in the SEC. It has 11 commitments, with the most recent being 4-star defensive lineman Kellen Lindstrom on May 5th.
Now that spring practice has concluded and the spring transfer window has closed for entries, we figured it would be a good time to evaluate where the class stands. We also give some names to know for the future, and we take a chance on predicting how the class will finish up.
4-star QB Jake Merklinger
4-star ATH Jonathan Echols
4-star WR JJ Harrell
4-star CB Kaleb Beasley
4-star DL Kellen Lindstrom
4-star ATH Marcus Goree Jr.
3-star S Edrees Farooq
3-star IOL Gage Ginther
3-star DL Carson Gentle
3-star T Jesse Perry
3-star DL Jeremias Heard
Names to know
5-star LB Sammy Brown
5-star DL Williams Nwaneri
5-star WR Ryan Wingo
4-star DL Kamarion Franklin
4-star DL Kameryn Fountain
4-star DL Jordan Ross
4-star T Daniel Calhoun
4-star LB Tylen Singleton
4-star S Ricardo Jones
4-star T Max Anderson
4-star ATH Boo Carter
4-star RB Peyton Lewis
4-star WR Mario Craver
Edge players/pass rushers
The Volunteers did a good job grabbing highly ranked Edge players in the previous recruiting class. Still, they could use some more in this one. Tennessee is doing a full court press on guys like 4-star Kamarion Franklin and 4-star Kameryn Fountain, hoping they can find one of those early impact starters.
Tennessee grabbed two high school receivers and one high school tight end in the 2023 class, as well as Dont’e Thornton and McCallan Castles from the transfer portal. When you start looking at the scholarship numbers however, it becomes clear that the Volunteers will need to stockpile some more depth. Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton, and possibly the aforementioned Thornton will be heading to the draft after 2023. They will also lose tight end Jacob Warren, another pass catching option.
The Volunteers also saw a couple of guys head to the transfer portal (namely, Walker Merrill and Jimmy Calloway), meaning the depth needs replenishing. They currently have one highly ranked wide receiver and one highly ranked tight end committed. I assume they will grab 1-2 guys from the transfer portal and use their high school spots for the rest. If that’s a fair assumption, Tennessee will likely want another 2-3 receiver commits from the high school ranks in this class.
This is more of my personal take on the roster. I think Tennessee has a lot of guys on the roster who can play safety, and the numbers aren’t the real issue. In my opinion, they still lack a guy in that backend who can patrol the field. There’s more than enough guys who can come down and help lay the wood at the line of scrimmage, but not as many who can ballhawk down the field. Perhaps that can be current cornerback commit Kaleb Beasley. Either way, it would be nice if Tennessee could upgrade the roster here.
Questions surrounding the offensive line
I think with offensive line recruiting, it has to be remembered that Tennessee’s system is going to recruit a different type of lineman. It’s obviously a good selling point that Tennessee just had Darnell Wright go 10th overall in the draft, but there’s going to be a lot of higher ranked linemen who will immediately cross Tennessee off their list.
It is still fairly surprising that Tennessee has pulled the trigger on the prospects currently committed. Perry and Ginther are high upside players, with a bit less fanfare than some of the recent guys that Tennessee has recruited at the position. After last season’s impressive performance, you’d be willing to trust offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, and put faith in his evaluations.
I’d also be remiss to not mention that the current recruiting cycle is a down one for offensive line prospects. Simply put, there aren’t nearly as many elite prospects in the 2024 class compared to the 2023, 2022, or even 2021 classes. There’s still some good options—but they are more rare in the current cycle. Perhaps this is also influencing the staff’s decisions.
One thing I noticed in the 2023 class was that Tennessee had an interesting divide in its commits. The Volunteers were able to land elite talent at the top of their board, and then they went straight to some of their “mid range” options. Typically, guys who ranked outside the top 300 nationally. The same story is repeating itself in the 2024 class.
In essence, the Volunteers don’t have a lot of guys ranked in the 200 to 350 range. The numbers say this is a decent enough strategy. In college football, having elite talent is much more of a requirement for winning than having a lot of “good” talent. The gap between a player ranked in the 50s and a player ranked in the 250s is fairly large when you look at their chances of making an impact and reaching the next level. Comparatively, the gap between someone ranked in the 250s versus someone in the 500s is less substantial.
If you want a program comparison, Clemson reached its highest heights under Dabo Swinney with a similar recruiting tactic.
In this class, the divide is already apparent. The Volunteers have two top-100 kids and another two top-150 recruits. 4-star defensive lineman Kellen Lindstrom is the only one ranked in the 200s, and then it drops all the way to the 400s with Marcus Goree Jr. at 411th. These rankings are still early, and I wouldn’t assume they will stay the same. But I would also wager that Tennessee’s class building strategy won’t change all that much. It seems to have worked out for them so far.
I think this is a really solid start to the class. I will say that I’m not sure it will match the level of the 2023 group. It won’t be anything dramatically different, but maybe instead of a top-10 class, it’s a 13th or 14th ranked class.
Part of that is because of how well the 2023 class finished, and where the roster holes are. Another factor is the consequence of the coaching change Tennessee underwent with offensive coordinator Alex Golesh leaving for the USF head coaching job. Golesh was a very good coach and recruiter, and it’ll take a little bit for Tennessee to form the relationships that he had with some recruits. The Volunteers aren’t struggling without him, but there’s still an impact when a guy like that heads out.
All in all, this projects to be a very good class and one that will keep the Volunteers in the 9 to 10 win range for years to come–if not better.