Remember when Tennessee had to replace every starting defensive lineman before the 2014 season? Much has changed.
In 2016, the Vols will consider their defensive line — especially their defensive ends — a strength, thanks in part to the Vols’ latest commitment: defensive end Jonathan Kongbo.
Kongbo was considered the top junior-college prospect in the nation by 247Sports and the No. 2 prospect by the service’s composite ranking.
The 4-star prospect told SEC Country he couldn’t even remember all the scholarship offers he received this fall. Recruiting heavyweights like Alabama, Ole Miss and Oregon offered scholarships to Kongbo, an elite prospect who is expected to make an immediate impact.
So what does that mean for Tennessee?
If Kongbo can even come close to living up to his billing, the Vols could have one of the best set of pass rushing defensive ends in the SEC — and perhaps the nation.
Derek Barnett had 10 sacks in 2014 and nine this season. He will be a junior in 2016 and could be playing for his NFL Draft status, so he’ll be motivated.
Junior Corey Vereen also has had flashes of brilliance, including two sacks against Alabama and one against Missouri. If he can become more consistent, he can be a standout player.
If defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt choses to pursue a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and receives it, he would certainly be an impact player when healthy. He had 11 sacks in 2014.
Then, there’s Kongbo. He’s still raw, but he has all the tools to be an elite pass rusher. Tennessee’s coaches have proven they can make a talented player productive quickly on the defensive line. They did so with Barnett as a freshman and with Maggitt in his first season playing defensive end.
That means Tennessee could potentially have four explosive pass rushers at defensive end. Sure, plenty has to fall into place for that to happen. But if it does, the SEC will have to take notice.