Tennessee’s football team isn’t desperate anymore. However, the Vols could still use some help.
That was apparent last season when they couldn’t turn in enough big plays to beat most of the top-tier teams on its schedule. Imagine one more game-changing play against Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas and/or Alabama. With a pair of wins among that group, the Vols could have been playing in the SEC Championship game and perhaps the College Football Playoff.
When it comes to talent, the Vols are closer to the best teams in the country than they have been in almost a decade. However, there are still holes left to fill. Here are the four biggest needs the Vols have in their 2016 signing class:
Clearly, this position has been a head scratcher during Butch Jones’ tenure. The Vols have signed talented receiver classes but didn’t have a bona fide playmaker last season. Understandably, Tennessee is on the prowl again to find a consistent threat at wideout. The Vols have signed receiver Jeff George from Dodge City (Kansas) Junior College. He is set to enroll in January. Tennessee also has a commitment from 3-star receiver Brandon Johnson from American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.).
The Vols would like to add another receiver or two to this class. The top targets are 4-star receiver Mecole Hardman from Elbert County (Elberton, Ga.), 4-star Donnie Corley from Martin Luther King High School (Wyandotte, Mich.) and 3-star receiver Velus Jones from Saraland (Ala.) High School.
The Vols aren’t expecting to strike it rich like they did last year when they signed Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle. Still, Tennessee would like to address the depth at defensive tackle. That became woefully thin when Tuttle (ankle) went down for the season in October.
Tennessee has one signee that’s expected to be an immediate contributor: defensive tackle Alexis Johnson from Fort Scott (Kansas) Junior College. Still, the Vols would gladly add another highly rated interior defensive lineman. Five-star prospect Derrick Brown from Lanier High School (Buford, Ga.) is the most coveted defensive tackle on the Vols’ board.
The Vols don’t need a running back for 2016. However, 2017 could be much different. There’s a chance Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara could forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft after 2016. If that happens, the Vols would be woefully thin at running back.
Therein lies the problem. Tennessee’s current depth hinders it from securing a highly-rated tailback. Running backs usually prefer early playing time. The Vols have Carlin Fils-Aime on board. The 3-star running back from Naples (Fla.) High committed to Tennessee in July. He is Tennessee’s lone running back commitment. It’s unclear where else the Vols can turn for a top tailback prospect.
The Vols have been hit hard by de-commitments recently. There has clearly been a public relations backlash. No matter the position, Tennessee needs to close strong. Brown, Hardman or Coley would all do the trick. The best case scenario for the Vols is to create an avalanche of momentum just before National Signing Day on Jan. 29, when Tennessee will host a handful of top prospects.