Tennessee is trending toward greatness, rising from bad to mediocre to good in the last three seasons.

While we wait a few more months to find out just how close the Vols are to returning to their usual status as a national player, let’s take a look at the class that could help the program bridge that tricky final chasm between good and great.

After evaluating the current roster and projecting the Volunteers’ on-field needs in ’16 and ’17, here are Tennessee’s top three positions of priority for the current recruiting cycle.


Losing after 2015: None

Tennessee’s current roster includes just two scholarship running backs — Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Due to the nature of the position, it wouldn’t be surprising if one or both of them shipped out from Knoxville after the 2016 season (technically, Kamara will be eligible for the NFL draft after this fall, but shouldn’t be good enough to make the jump).

The Vols are painfully thin at the position, and it’s a bad year to need a running back. As of mid-May, on a national level, this may be the worst crop of running backs in years. Still, UT must grab two capable scholarship backs in this recruiting cycle. The running back position will continue to be too thin for years to come otherwise.


Losing after 2015: Curt Maggitt

The Volunteers will be just fine at defensive end for the 2016 season, even despite losing Maggitt. But if the team doesn’t address the position now, it could face a steep decline in 2017. Corey Vereen? Gone. LaTroy Lewis? Gone. If he continues playing like he did last year, don’t expect Derek Barnett to remain in college beyond his third season.

If Barnett heads to the NFL early, that leaves Kyle Phillips and Andrew Butcher for ’17 … and not much else. It’s imperative that UT gets more ammo at defensive end here and now so that a position of such strength remains so.


Losing after 2015: Kyler Kerbyson, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder

Tennessee’s offensive line hasn’t been great regardless of its decent returning experience. But most of that will stream out of Knoxville after this fall.

The three projected starters at left tackle, left guard and center all are seniors. Dontavius Blair is a redshirt junior. Even if Drew Richmond excels as advertised, the Vols need plenty of other bodies with which to stock the left side of the line.

Other positions Tennessee should target: WR, TE, S


Tennessee’s 2016 recruiting class currently stands at 10 verbal commitments, which slots the Vols near the top of the SEC.

The team’s five players with a composite rating of four or five stars ranks fourth in the SEC behind only Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU.

Among the 10 pledges are a pair of high school offensive tackles in 6-foot-6, 277-pound Ryan Johnson and 6-foot-5, 320-pound Brodarious Hamm. The team also has landed Chidi Okonya, a three-star defensive lineman with some upside, and Jarrett Guarantano, the nation’s sixth-ranked pro-style quarterback.


Several boxes remain unchecked for coach Butch Jones and Tennessee’s coaching staff.

But the Vols have an excellent short-run recruiting resume under Jones, and already have made a push to fill needs along the offensive line and at defensive end.

Okonya, who has played football for just four years and needs to add some weight to his frame, is a great candidate to spend 2016 adjusting to SEC football and bulking up before contributing in ’17 and beyond.

The team seems to be making headway, or at least part of the conversation, with three more targets at positions of need in guard Chandler Tuitt, defensive end Emmit Gooden and running back Elijah Holyfield.

Running back remains a big question mark because of the paucity of national talent. Both five-star players already have committed, as have 11 of the 14 four-star players, per 247Sports. There aren’t any overwhelming JUCO options yet, and UT probably prefers to land someone who could be in Knoxville three to five years.


Tennessee’s lack of depth at certain positions should vanish in a significant way after this class.

Jones and the staff can’t offer as much immediate playing time as the team could two years ago. And there are some positions where the team is stacked and won’t want any more players — like quarterback outside of Guarantano. So the team no longer can chase after any touted player who will listen, regardless of position.

But if the Vols can land yet another Top 10 or Top 15 class, with several early enrollees who may contribute to the team right away in 2016, UT could be in position to legitimately compete for an SEC and national championship.