The Early Signing Period has changed recruiting immensely. No longer do we wait for the fax machine to hum on the first Wednesday in February. Now, we find out in mid-December whether an institute of higher learning will be welcoming a quality group of student-athletes.

At Tennessee, the Class of 2020 is pretty much filled up. The Vols have 22 commitments (20 signed) and are ranked 16th nationally and 7th in the SEC. This is pretty much on par with the 2019 class, which was ranked 13th and 7th, respectively. We’ll find out in the years to come if this coaching staff will be able to get the most out of these players. They haven’t even arrived on campus yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some snap judgments.

1.  Our state

Coaches always talk about protecting the borders in an effort to keep top talent from leaving the state. The Class of 2020 shows that Tennessee has done just that. Six of the top 10 prep prospects in the state have signed with the Vols, including the top overall recruit, safety Keshawn Lawrence of Nashville.

Yes, it would have been nice to bring in Brentwood defensive end Reggie Grimes (Oklahoma) or Chattanooga defensive tackle Jay Hardy (Auburn), who are ranked 2nd and 3rd. But Memphis defensive tackle Omari Thomas (4th) and Knoxville defensive end Tyler Baron (5th) lessen that blow considerably.

Tennessee isn’t the easiest state to recruit due to its geography. Recruiting hotbeds in Memphis and Nashville are hours from Knoxville, and the Vols’ rivals do all they can to poach top talent. But head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s staff is improving when it comes to recruiting in-state.

2. Quarterback of the future

Tennessee needed a quarterback in this class. Jarrett Guarantano has 1 year of eligibility remaining. Backup Brian Maurer is a question mark due to concussion issues, and 3rd-stringer J.T. Shrout hasn’t proven he can be trusted to take control of the offense.

The long-time commitment of Harrison Bailey (Marietta, Ga.) was a crucial piece to the Class of 2020. Bailey has good size (6-4 1/2, 224 pounds) and is a solid fit in Jim Chaney’s offense. Bailey is the 4th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the nation. The Vols would love to be able to redshirt him in 2020, but they’ve had to start 3 different quarterbacks in 2 of the past 3 seasons, so there’s a decent chance that Bailey will be called upon next fall.

3. Offensive line depth

Back in 2012, former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley famously brought in a recruiting class without a single offensive lineman. That is almost unheard of, and it cost the Vols for years to come. Depth at offensive tackle, guard and center is of vital importance for a program, and the Vols will bring in 4 reinforcements. The key get is a local product, Knoxville Catholic’s Cooper Mays. He’s listed at center but told me that he’d be fine playing anyplace they’d need him.

JUCO center Javontez Spraggins comes to the Vols from East St. Louis. Three-star guard James Robinson (Montgomery, Ala.) picked the Vols over Auburn and Texas A&M, among others. Three-star guard Kyree Miller (West Mesquite, Texas) has yet to sign but will complete that very important group.

4. Playmakers needed and acquired

With wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings each completing his eligibility, the Vols had to find some pass catchers. They hope that 4-star athlete Jimmy Calloway (Morrow, Ga.) can help fill those rather large cleats. Four-star receiver Jalin Hyatt (Irmo, S.C.), who ran a 4.31 40 at The Opening, is also a player whom the Vols are hoping can contribute sooner rather than later. Neither is listed over 175 pounds, so getting them to campus and through a top-level strength and conditioning program will be necessary over the next 9 months for them to be ready for the rigors of SEC play.

The Vols also got 3-star quarterback Jimmy Holiday to flip from TCU on Wednesday morning. Like Hyatt, Holiday runs a sub-4.4 40. He is listed as an “athlete,” so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up in the wide receiver room.

5. Closing well

The Vols’ late-season success might have had a positive impact on the recruiting trail. Thomas  turned to the Vols in the final few weeks of this cycle. Baron chose the Vols over Kentucky and Ohio State on the first day of the Early Signing Period.

Tennessee is still holding out hope that 5-star tight end Darnell Washington (Las Vegas) picks the Vols over Georgia and Alabama. He is scheduled to make his plans known on Jan. 2.