An early look at what Tennessee needs in 2018 signing class

Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA;  Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones during the first quarter against the Missouri Tigers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The final touches have been made to Team 121.

With signing day in the rear view, the focus shifts to the 2018 class, getting prospects to commit and filling expected (and unexpected) needs.

Butch Jones has two verbal commitments in the 2018 class, 5-star offensive lineman Cade Mays from Knoxville and 4-star corner back Alontae Taylor, also from Tennessee. It’s way too early for team rankings to matter, but for those who care, this class is No. 23 nationally.

Here’s a very look at what the Vols lose after the upcoming 2017 season and what Jones and his staff need to bring in to fill the roster.

Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt sophomore Sheriron Jones will all be in a quarterback race to replace Josh Dobbs starting this spring. Tennessee will only lose a quarterback if someone decides to transfer.

It is imperative, like in the recent 2017 class with Will McBride, to take at least one quarterback. Look for the Vols to take one or two quarterbacks in the 2018 class.

Running back: This position is in good shape following key losses of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Ty Chandler, Timothy Jordan and Trey Coleman signed in the 2017 class and will accompany junior John Kelly and sophomore Carlin Fils-aime.

With a steady running back unit as of now, the Vols could be looking at bringing in one or two more in the 2018 class for depth.

Wide receiver: This unit has more depth than known playmakers. There are 13 receivers on the roster, with seven returning players that will get the majority of playing time. Jordan Murphy, Josh Palmer, Jacquez Jones, Marquez Bembry and Princeton Fant will will be part of the mix as true freshman. Of the 13 receivers, Jeff George, Josh Smith, Jaye Rochell and Logan Fetzner are the seniors.

Ideally, the unit is not a top priority in the 2018 class, but look for two or three to be signed – a position Jones likes to address in each class.

Tight end: Ethan Wolf and Jakob Johnson are seniors in 2017, leaving Eli Wolf, Austin Pope, Andrew Craig and Will Jumper as the returning tight ends in 2018.

James Brown signed in the 2017 class, and also look for LaTrell Bumphus to experiment and become a factor at the position. Ideally, Tennessee will need to look at signing two tight ends with starter Ethan Wolf graduating at season’s end.

Offensive line: It might seem like Tennessee will be losing a lot after the 2017 season, but recent recruiting has established depth and ensured no dropoff in 2018.

Coleman Thomas, Jashon Robertson and Brett Kendrick all graduate after the 2017 season, leaving the Vols eyeing 4-5 offensive lineman from the recruiting trail in the 2018 class.

Tackles Drew Richmond, Chance Hall and Marcus Tatum all will be back in 2018. Venzell Boulware and Jack Jones return at the guard position for 2018. Ryan Johnson who redshirted in 2016, will join Riley Locklear, Trey Smith and K’Rojhn Calbert. Taking at least four offensive lineman – to maintain depth – will be expected in the 2018 class. Jones has already filled in one spot with 5-star Mays committing in July 2015.

Defensive line: Kendal Vickers, Dimayra Mixon and Alexis Johnson are the seniors this season.

Barring an early departure, defensive ends Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor and Austin Smith all return for the 2018 season, which will be Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, Quay Picou, and Charles Mosley’s senior season. Mykelle McDaniel, Deandre Johnson, Eric Crosby, Matthew Butler, Kivon Bennett and Ryan Thaxton will also be in the rotation. Like the offensive line, 4-5 defensive line commits should be expected in the 2018 class.

Linebacker: Cortez McDowell, Colton Jumper and Elliott Berry are the seniors.

Daniel Bituli, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Quart’e Sapp, Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant, Ja’Quain Blakely, Shanon Reid, Will Ignont and Solon Page III will all return in 2018. With Kirkland Jr., Bates and Bryant all being seniors in 2018, the Vols should look into taking 3-4 linebackers in the upcoming class.

Defensive back: Justin Martin, Emmanuel Moseley, Todd Kelly Jr., Evan Berry and D.J. Henderson are the seniors in the defensive backfield for the 2017 season. Jones brought in Terrell Bailey (cornerback), Cheyenne Labruzza (cornerback), Shawn Shamburger (cornerback), Maliek Gray (safety), and Theo Jackson (safety) in the 2017 class to complement Marquill Osborne, Rashaan Gaulden, Nigel Warrior, Micah Abernathy, Stephen Griffin, Baylen Buchanan and MaLeik Gatewood, who all return in 2018.

The Vols will need to look at signing four additional prospects to join 4-star verbal commit Alontae Taylor. Taylor is a corner back from Manchester, Tenn. (Coffee County Central).

Special Teams: Tennessee will field a pair of seniors in punter Trevor Daniel and kicker Aaron Medley. Grayson Linde is the only other punter on Tennessee’s roster. Jones signed kicker Brent Cimaglia in the 2017 class to go along with Laszlo Toser and Jackson Morris as the only other kickers on roster that will return in 2018.

Jones could sign one additional specialist in the 2018 class.

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  • Nice write-up, looks pretty darn thorough. Cupboard may have had a few big pieces removed after last season but it is far from bare going into a friendly schedule for 2017. Can’t wait to see how the QB competition pans out.

    • Friendly schedule? GT is probably a tougher matchup for us Han VT last year, especially considering how poorly our run defense was. Then we add LSU to go along w/Bama in the West. Being an odd year, we have to go to Gainesville and Tuscaloosa. No, we don’t have that brutal 4 game stretch we saw last year, but this schedule is far from friendly.

      • As someone that lives in Atlanta and goes to GT games on a consistent basis, let me just say that you should never underestimate them. Triple option may seem campy at times but damn if they haven’t torn up some serious asses with it in recent years.

        • Definitely agree that it is near impossible to fully prepare for the triple option, during the season, when you only have a week. However, playing GT first is a huge advantage, because you have the entire off-season to prepare. Its not a coincidence that teams tend to do better against GT in season-openers and bowl games.

      • Compared to this past season and the four game gauntlet that included Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama all in a row.

        • Agree. The schedule is more favorable than last years. Will be interesting to see how Coach O has progressed (or regressed) by the time UT plays LSU late in the season.

  • What Tennessee needs is more 5-star hearts, and they may get just that with Valentine’s Day coming up next week

  • Tennessee needs more home run threats. Someone that touchrs the ball and could go 100 yards in a blink of an eye. John Kelly is the only proven home run threat as of now. Jennings is a good go to WR but is not as consistant as we need. Tyler Byrd hasnt shown big play potential yet but has good hands. Until I see Chandler prove himself on the field, enough with the hype.

    • Byrd had 7.9 yards per rush and 13.9 per catch, not too shabby for a freshman. He just needs to get more touches and as long as he stays healthy he will.

      • Agree. Byrd might be the best athlete on the team, but you weren’t going to take carries or catches away from Kamara in order to get the ball to him. He will benefit greatly from more touches, and personally I hope we use him at slot and move on from Josh Smith. Kid has never been fully healthy for more than a few games and Byrd has worlds more potential.