The 2016 Tennessee Volunteers were supposed to win the SEC East and challenge Alabama. Similarly, the Vols were expected to compete for a top-10 recruiting class in 2017. Well, neither happened, but there are reasons to be encouraged if you’re a Tennessee fan.
Overall, the Volunteers wrapped up the 2017 recruiting cycle with the nation’s No. 17 class, according to 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings. Tennessee signed some solid players on both sides of the ball.
5* OT Trey Smith
UT signed an elite left tackle prospect in Trey Smith. The 6’5”, 310-pounder from Jackson, Tennessee, is a physical specimen that plays with a mean streak. Smith displays excellent technique, somewhat a surprise for a player so physically dominant and possesses outstanding footwork and is a candidate to start next season. He is an early enrollee and is not only Tennessee’s most talented signee, but most important, too.
4* RB Ty Chandler
Tennessee lost two its top running backs from last fall in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, the team’s leading rusher, is also gone, so the Vols needed an infusion of talent in the backfield. Chandler is that guy.
The four-star running back is a versatile runner that Tennessee can employ in a number of ways. He has the ability to run between the tackles and can also be a major factor in the passing game. Chandler has great vision and does a good job of breaking tackles and simply put: He can make an impact in 2017.
- The Vols struggled in-state: Tennessee is the premier college football program in the state. In 2017, eight of the state’s top 11 players chose not to come to Knoxville. Furthermore, the Vols managed to sign just five of the state’s top 20 players. Tennessee isn’t Texas. The Volunteers don’t have to compete with other in-state schools for the top players in the state. For head coach Butch Jones to get UT going in the right direction, he must keep the state’s top players home.
- Decommitments hurt this class: Decommitments happen to every school. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with teenage kids who have a number of people in their ears telling them what’s best for them. However, it just seems like no one has more than Tennessee. In the 2017 recruiting cycle, the Vols had 13! That’s a high number. They lost elite talent in quarterback Hunter Johnson and in-state wide receiver Tee Higgins, both five-star talents who each ended up signing with Clemson. While losing players like Brandon and Breyon Gaddy won’t hurt UT, the departures of Johnson and Higgins could be felt for a long time.
- Tennessee beefed up in the trenches: Of UT’s 27 signees, nine players are on the offensive and defensive lines. Smith, along with fellow offensive tackle Riley Locklear from Huntington, West Virginia could each find themselves competing for starting positions in 2017. TheVols’ defensive line is still ripe with talent, but they were able to add a trio of defensive tackles in Eric Crosby, Kivon Bennett and Matthew Butler. Defensive end Latrell Bumphus is an intriguing prospect too. At 6’4”, 241 pounds, Bumphus has an excellent frame and the Vols hope he turns into the next Derek Barnett.
- Expect more immediate contributors from this class: Last year, Tennessee received a lot of hype for its recruiting class. For the most part, that group didn’t deliver on the field. Tyler Byrd made the biggest impact last fall and he caught just 15 passes, although he proved to be a dynamic kick returner. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, last year’s prize signee, didn’t see the field because UT still had Dobbs but should see the field this time around. Smith, Locklear, Chandler, Maleik Gray and Will Ignont could all be competing for significant playing time this fall as well, as there will be plenty of opportunities for instant impact across the board.