Tennessee had just a single commit from its 2017 recruiting class at The Opening this week, but coach Butch Jones & Co. still had their eyes fixated on Nike’s premier summer camp as a number of the Vols’ top targets were in action in Beaverton, Ore., over the last several days.
Gray dominates testing, says Tennessee is “on the rise”
Maleik Gray, the 4-star safety from LaVergne (Tenn.) and the Vols highest-rated verbal commit, had an excellent showing during combine testing at The Opening Finals.
The nation’s 59th-ranked player recorded a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.07-second agility run, finishing in the 99th percentile nationally among all 2017 prospects tested by Nike. His combined Nike+ Football Rating of 125.67 was good for 23rd overall in the nation.
Gray told SEC Country he feels like Tennessee is “home” and thinks the program is “on the rise.”
Skinny: Gray will still visit Alabama and Florida State — his perceived favorite before committing to Tennessee in June. But the 4-star safety is solid and should remain a part of the Volunteers class.
Smith releases Top 6
Trey Smith, the nation’s No. 1 offense tackle per 247Sports, released his top six schools Sunday, and Tennessee was one of three SEC schools on the list.
In June, the 4-star prospect from Jackson (Tenn.) participated in a satellite camp in his hometown hosted by Tennessee, and during his announcement Sunday on ESPN he said, “Just being a home state guy from Tennessee, a lot of fans come up to me. The fan support is tremendous. The team is doing great things down there. They’re going to be a top 10 team this year. They might have a chance to win it all.”
Skinny: Although the University School star prospect is viewed as an Alabama lean, Tennessee remains in Smith’s ear. A lot.
Smith’s 247Sports Crystal Ball reads 38 percent for Ole Miss and 25 percent for both Alabama and Tennessee, but the 6-foot-6, 299-pound lineman won’t make a decision until December before enrolling early. The Vols are playing catch-up, but they still have a legitimate shot to land the in-state star.
Williams names leaders
Virginia defensive end Jordan Williams, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound 4-star prospect, trimmed Ohio State off his finalists over the weekend, releasing a top 4 of Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Tennessee.
Williams had an excellent week at The Opening, showcasing his speed and power during 1-on-1s. He earned Final 5 honors as one of the best defensive linemen at the camp Sunday.
— The Opening (@TheOpening) July 11, 2016
Skinny: Williams will announce his decision on Aug. 6, and Tennessee is considered among the favorites to land the standout pass rusher. The Vols need to get Williams back on campus again though. Stop if you’ve heard this before: It’s shaping up to be another Tennessee-Clemson battle.
Receiver board in flux?
The Volunteers wideout board took a big hit recently after they missed out on Oak Ridge (Tenn.) 5-star receiver Tee Higgins, who committed to Clemson on July 4.
Tennessee continues to recruit Higgins, but the Vols face an uphill battle trying to lure the nation’s No. 16 prospect from the Tigers.
The rest of Tennessee’s priority receiver targets appear in flux, too.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, a 5-star product from Detroit, doesn’t seem to have any interest in Tennessee anymore. The Vols also are trailing for 4-star receivers Jerry Jeudy, largely viewed as an Alabama vs. Florida battle, and Jeremiah Holloman, who was giving off major Georgia vibes at The Opening.
My Fam ✊?? pic.twitter.com/ASXj3oI6Mf
— Jeremiah Holloman (@Obey_Classics) July 9, 2016
Still, the Volunteers remain in the mix for both blue-chip targets, as Holloman recently told DawgNation that Tennessee continues to recruit him the hardest. The wideout also said he was excited to see his Newton High School teammate Jaquan Henderson commit to the Vols during “Orange Carpet Weekend” in June.
As for Jeudy, he told SEC Country that Tennessee remains firmly in his top four. The Deerfield Beach (Fla.) product, who earned All-Tournament honors after an outstanding week at The Opening Finals, stopped by UT on June 18 and said he won’t make a final decision until taking all five official visits, including a return trip to Tennessee in the fall.
Meanwhile, Tennessee offered 4-star receiver KJ Hamler on Saturday.
Blessed to receive and offer from Tennessee #go#Vols????????? pic.twitter.com/0aSkqHtG3j
— GIO.4⭐️ (@Kj_hamler) July 9, 2016
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound athlete flashed his wheels at The Opening, running a 4.43-second 40-yard dash.
Hamler originally hails from Michigan, but he’s transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his senior season.
Skinny: There’s no way to sugarcoat it, Tennessee has some work to do recruiting receivers. The Vols won’t stop pursuing Higgins, Holloman or Jeudy, but all three prospects are trending in the opposite direction. Of the three, Holloman remains Tennessee’s best bet to land an elite receiver prospect. Look for the Vols to continue to search other avenues, too (i.e. new offers like the one to Hamler).
Vols legacy showcases well
Chase Hayden, a 3-star tailback from Collierville (Tenn.), was among the standout sleepers during The Opening Finals.
The son of former Tennessee tailback Aaron Hayden finished with a 137.22 Nike+ Football Rating, which ranked sixth overall in the country.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound prospect recorded a 41.1-inch vertical jump and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62-seconds.
However, Tennessee (36 percent) currently trails Arkansas (64 percent) in Hayden’s 247Sports Crystal Ball.
Skinny: Hayden told SEC Country that Arkansas, Michigan and South Carolina are his top schools right now. The Vols only have room for one more tailback in their class after landing 3-star running back Tre Coleman (West Monroe, La.) in June. Guys like Ty Chandler and Cam Akers are higher on Tennessee’s board, but perhaps Hayden’s strong showing will have the home-state team reconsidering its options. Stay tuned.
Miami cornerback Chris Henderson, a 3-star prospect and Hurricanes commit, told SEC Country he will take an official visit to Tennessee in the fall. … The Volunteers remain in the mix for Akers, who earned his 5th star at The Opening and told 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong that he will continue to visit Tennessee because he’s developed such a great relationship with Butch Jones and running backs assistant Robert Gillespie. … Finally, Top50 cornerback Jamyest Williams (Loganville, Ga.) released his top 5 Sunday, naming three SEC schools (Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee).
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com