KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us at SEC Country for the latest recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers.
Let’s get to your questions.
Braden asks: Who are the top remaining targets for the 2017 class and will we have room for them?
I delved into this a little bit in a pair of late pieces earlier this week.
To keep things simple today, I’m going to separate “top remaining targets” into three categories: leans, maybes and long shots. Other names could emerge in January, too, but the list below includes the biggest fish left on the board for the Vols.
As for “room,” Tennessee’s final number seemingly changes almost daily. Could the Vols sign 27 or 28 guys? Will they sit on 26 commits? It’s still too early to know six weeks before National Signing Day. Most of the class attrition is done with, so Tennessee could face some tough choices in the near future.
CB Yusuf Coker (announces Dec. 26)
DE Matthew Butler (announces Dec. 21)
* Neither prospect is a lock to Tennessee, but the Vols like their chances with both recruits. Butler is a big need along the defensive line, while Corker is a corner who could slide in and play early in 2017.
WR Jaylen Harris (announcement date unknown)
RB Cam Akers (announces Jan. 8)
OG T.J. Moore (announcement date unknown)
RB Darrian Felix (announcement date unknown)
* Akers certainly could be in the long shot category, too. It’s hard to get a real read on his recruitment. FSU is suddenly the hot team after the buzz was on Ole Miss then LSU and then even Tennessee around 10 days ago. I continue to believe the Vols’ only chance to sign Akers is if the 5-star running back decides to delay enrolling early and visits Knoxville in January. Harris and Moore are tricky as well, as it’s unknown if Tennessee will actually add another WR or OL over other needs.
CB Lamont Wade (announces Dec. 17)
DE LaBryan Ray (announcement date unknown)
RB Travis Etienne (announcement date unknown)
DB DeAngelo Gibbs (announces Jan. 1)
* All four prospects are heavy leans to other programs.
Max asks: Why does Butch Jones set such low standards on recruiting by constantly going after 3-star players and bypassing superior talent in 4-and-5-stars?
Eh, look at the list above. Most of those remaining targets are blue-chip guys.
Tennessee has certainly chased plenty of highly-ranked prospects, but more often than not, the Vols have swung and missed — especially on studs in-state (Tee Higgins, JaCoby Stevens, Amari Rodgers, Jacob Phillips, Cordarrian Richardson).
Thus far, Tennessee has assembled a solid class. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s good.
The issue is that it simply lacks star power. There’s not a ton of bosses in the group. Trey Smith and Ty Chandler certainly fit the bill, but who else?
There’s definitely some quality, underrated guys — 3-stars like Theo Jackson, Solon Page, Jordan Murphy and K’Rojhn Calbert all have high upsides — but Tennessee is betting big on its ability to develop talent with this class.
Cody asks: What’s the likelihood the Vols add Derek Barnett 2.0 in LaBryan Ray?
Pretty low, but the door isn’t completely shut.
While Tennessee would love to sign the 6-foot-4, 255-pound pass rusher from James Clemens High in Madison, Ala., Alabama isn’t going to let the top-rated player in the state leave easily.
Ray doesn’t carry quite the pizazz of guys like Najee Harris or Alex Leatherwood, but he’s considered a critical piece of the Crimson Tide’s ridiculous 2017 class.
Alabama continues to trend heavily for Ray, per SEC Country sources. However, Tennessee will get a shot to try and change Ray’s mind when the 4-star end takes an official visit on Jan. 13.
Justin asks: Have the Vols decided if they still want to sign T.J. Moore, or are they still unsure about taking a 4th O-lineman? If Corker is the Vols’ best shot at signing a corner, who’s the fallback option? Of course, still praying for (Lamont) Wade! With Nixon joining the Gamecocks and Corker not a sure thing, did the Vols mess up by not working to keep (CJ) Cotman?
Several questions here, and I’ll answer them in reverse order …
1. I wasn’t a fan of Tennessee moving on from CJ Cotman. Positional fit was certainly a question — as previously noted he played mostly free safety in high school — but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound athlete has game-changing speed, and that’s an attribute missing on both Tennessee’s roster and in this recruiting class. I would’ve tried to find a spot for him on offense or as a returner. But spots are super tight, so …
2. As mentioned above, Corker is definitely Tennessee’s best bet at corner. The Vols remain the favorite, too. Ameer Speed is another name to watch.
3. Don’t expect Clairton (Pa.) 4-star corner Lamont Wade to pick Tennessee tonight. Penn State, West Virginia and UCLA are all in the mix there.
4. Too early to know yet on T.J. Moore. The Vols certainly like the 4-star guard from Mallard Creek (N.C.), but his comments at the Shrine Game this week were telling. For those who may have missed it, Moore told SEC Country, “Me and coach (Butch) Jones, we talk a lot, but I haven’t talked to him this week, actually. I was surprised. They got a big commit, Trey Smith. Hopefully, they still can get me, or if I can still commit. I’m not saying I’m committing there.”
It appears Tennessee is slow-playing Moore as it decides on a final few spots.