KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When it’s all said and done, Tennessee will sign a class slotted somewhere around the top 15 nationally.
The Vols landed one of their offensive tackles of the future in 5-star Trey Smith. They restocked the cupboard at tailback (three commits including U.S. Army All-American Ty Chandler) and secured pledges from a slew of athletic defensive pieces (think Maleik Gray, Solon Page III, Theo Jackson and Matthew Butler). They also added some depth along both lines and multiple prospects with intriguing upsides (K’Rojhn Calbert, Cheyenne Labruzza, Josh Palmer).
With 23 of 28 commits ranked as 3-stars, Tennessee is betting big on its evaluations and ability to mine and develop talent.
But, and here’s the proverbially hot-button question for Vols fans, what would this class look like with a few different names who ultimately passed on Tennessee?
Take a look at the Vols’ 3 biggest misses in the 2017 class.
1. Quarterback Hunter Johnson
Way back in the summer of 2015, the big-armed quarterback from Indiana was Tennessee’s first commit in the 2017 class. After a handful of visits to Knoxville, Johnson pulled the trigger, giving the Vols the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. A day later, 5-star wideout Tee Higgins joined Tennessee’s class, too.
The good feels lasted less than four months.
Johnson flipped to Clemson in December, and the Vols struggled to find a quarterback during the 2017 cycle until they flipped Will McBride from Memphis.
Johnson would’ve entered a crowded quarterback room at Tennessee, but missing on the U.S. Army All-American has made landing a top-notch signal caller in 2018 vital for the Vols.
2. Wide receiver Tee Higgins
No prospect elicits more reactions among Tennessee fans than 5-star receiver Tee Higgins.
Raised 20 minutes away from Neyland Stadium, the gifted Oak Ridge wideout was once a Vols commit, only to reopen his recruitment and later name Tennessee his leader again over the spring.
Higgins flirted with the Vols for months, but the elite wideout ultimately opted to escape the fishbowl and leave the Volunteer State. On July 4, Higgins committed to Clemson, following Johnson (and Tennessee legacy Amari Rodgers) to the Tigers.
Higgins’ decision was a major blow to Tennessee’s 2017 class, as the Vols failed to land another blue-chip player.
3. Linebacker Jacob Phillips
Tennessee was the second program to offer the Midstate linebacker way back in 2014. The Nashville native visited Knoxville multiple times, holding the Vols in high regard early in his recruitment.
But then Tennessee stopped communicating regularly with Phillips during his junior year, unsure if the 6-foot-4, 235-pound prospect was actually a linebacker and a schematic fit.
Meanwhile, Phillips grew close with other out-of-state programs and soured on Tennessee’s staff.
During the fall, Phillips’ stock rose after an impressive senior season, and the Vols reached back out to him.
While Phillips visited for Florida game (his first in more than a year), he’d already made up his mind that Tennessee wasn’t for him.
The U.S. Army All-American recently gained 5-star status in Rivals’ final rankings update, and recently flipped from Oklahoma to LSU.
With the Vols’ questions at linebacker, they certainly could’ve used a guy like Phillips.
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