KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones’ lowest-ranked class in four years isn’t about the numbers.
It’s about filling needs. A lot of them.
The Vols will have to replace seniors Josh Dobbs (quarterback), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (linebacker), Cam Sutton (cornerback), LaTroy Lewis (defensive end), Corey Vereen (defensive end), Dylan Wiesman (center), Kenny Bynum (linebacker), Jason Croom (tight end), Malik Foreman (cornerback), and Charles Folger (defensive end) along with early departures of Derek Barnett (defensive end), Alvin Kamara (running back) and Josh Malone (wide receiver) to the NFL Draft.
The 2017 class, ranked No. 17 nationally, showcased a group of signees who were already in place coming into the day. That was a stark contrast to previous classes, which Jones finished building in the final seconds.
“We added Trey Smith up front as he chose to stay at home and could have gone anywhere,” Jones said of his headliner in the 2017 signing class. “We needed to add running backs and we did that. We also added skill on the perimeter with guys with size on the outside. It was imperative to take care of the kicker position for the future.
“Each year is different in how it goes. It’s good to fit your recruiting profile from a character standpoint. This group really formed a bond and they stayed true to their word. The dynamics of your roster is constantly changing. We want people that want to be here and to get a degree and to win championships. This was more of the positive years in recruiting for us. We knew we were going to take three linebackers, two tight ends, three corner backs, and two safeties. A lot of times we had to turn away more talented players more than any other time since we’ve been here.”
The biggest question of the day, and quite frankly the only question of the day, was if wide receiver Jordan Murphy, who visited Ole Miss last weekend, would reaffirm his commitment and sign with the Vols. Murphy did so.
With the 2017 class not providing any last minute theatrical commitment decisions like Drew Richmond and Jonathan Kongbo provided in past classes under Jones, it does provide fit, needs and depth going forward.
SEC class rank: 7
Overall class rank: 17
What I like about the 2017 class
While the day lacked drama, this class might actually be one of Jones’ best in terms of what it provides down the road. This class appears to be stable and promising for lack of attrition going forward, something previous classes have lacked.
Jones has signed (247Sports rankings) the 24th best class in 2013, No. 7 class in 2014, No. 4 class in 2015 and the No. 14 class a year ago. But all of his classes have experienced attrition that has affected the roster. The 2017 class appears to denounce attrition with a close-knit group of commits.
Trey Smith, Shanon Reid, Deandre Johnson, Riley Locklear and Will McBride are the early enrollees who will get a head start. Smith should be able to play right away at any position on the offensive line. Locklear has the potential to be ready right away if needed, but can also provide depth by redshirting. Reid can help a linebacker unit that needs more players and play-makers.
Ty Chandler, Timothy Jordan and Trey Coleman bring needed depth at running back with the departure of Hurd and Kamara. Jones addressed the differences in the three.
— #ArmyBowl (@ArmyAllAmerican) November 3, 2016
“When you take three running backs you want all of them to have versatility,” he said. “Chandler has break away speed and Tim Jordan is elusive. Trey Coleman is a bigger back that provides pass protection.”
The class also provides depth in the secondary with Maleik Gray, Cheyenne Labruzza, Terrell Bailey, Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger. The defensive line unit adds Deandre Johnson (early enrollee), Eric Crosby, Matthew Butler, Kivon Bennett and Ryan Thaxton. Will Ignont and Solon Page III join Reid in needed depth at linebacker.
— Jarrett Guarantano✞ (@Guarantano2) February 1, 2017