Tennessee football: Key takeaways from the Vols' 2020 recruiting class
National Signing Day certainly has changed, hasn’t it? The Early Signing Period has had a profound effect on what was for years an unofficial holiday on the 1st Wednesday in February. Now, most classes are signed before the ball has dropped in Times Square.
Tennessee, with 21 recruits, sits 14th nationally and 7th in the SEC for the Class of 2020. Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols aren’t where they need to be in terms of roster talent, and the 6 SEC teams above them are rolling in recruiting, but this class does fill most of their needs nicely.
Let’s take a look at the keys to this class, shall we?
Quarterback of the future secured
This is going to come as quite the hot take, but Tennessee’s quarterback situation is not ideal. I know, I know, this is a bold call on my part, but I’m not scared of the pressure.
Jarrett Guarantano returns for his 5th year in the program. He is what he is. A tough kid who battles but also makes a couple of head-shaking decisions in almost every game. The elite teams all have top level quarterbacks and Guarantano hasn’t proven that he will ascend to that level. Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout each started games in 2019, but their performances were shaky. It’s possible one this spring as well.
The Vols needed help at the most important position, and feel they got it with Marietta, Ga., standout Harrison Bailey. He committed to the Vols in November 2018 and stayed true to his word despite offers from top programs like Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Bailey already is on campus as one of the Vols 4 early-enrollees. Those extra months learning the playbook and getting in the weight room could prove crucial to his development. Blessed with good size (6-5), he will likely bulk up from his 211 pounds with time in the strength and conditioning program.
The Vols would love to redshirt Bailey in 2020, but that might not be possible. Still, he’s the pro-style quarterback they’ve coveted.
Secured the borders
High school football in Tennessee isn’t at the Texas or Florida level, but it has improved a great deal over the past decade. The programs they are competing against have taken notice. The 2 areas with the most talent are in Memphis and Nashville, which produce top FBS talent every year.
In the Class of 2019, the Vols only secured 2 of the top 15 recruits in the state. There was certainly more of an emphasis on recruiting within the state this cycle. That hard work paid off with 6 of the top 10 high school prospects choosing to stay in-state. That list includes 3 of the top 4 from Tennessee: No. 1 (safety Keshawn Lawrence of Nashville) No. 2 (defensive tackle Omari Thomas of Memphis) and No. 4 (Tyler Baron, a defensive end from Knoxville Catholic).
In all, 10 of the Vols’ 21 signees are from Tennessee. We’ll see if they can maintain this level of success in the future.
Wide receiver help
Tennessee must replace 2 of its best players in senior wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings. Josh Palmer is the top returning receiver with 34 catches last season. Otherwise that room lacks experience. There isn’t another receiver who had more than 4 catches in 2019.
In this class, the Vols welcome 4-star WRs Jimmy Calloway and Jalin Hyatt. They also have 3-star athlete Jimmy Holiday, who wants to play quarterback but likely ends up at receiver. Hyatt and Holiday in particular each run blazing sub-4.4 40s. Callaway and Jennings will not be easy to replace, but the Vols have made some necessary moves to start that process.
Cade Mays comes home
Should the transfer of former Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays count in the keys to the Class of 2020 since … you know, he technically isn’t part of that class? Well, that’s for historians to decide, so I’ll just present the information anyway.
That said, Mays was an East Tennessee native, a long-time commitment and a Vol legacy, but he decommitted shortly before Butch Jones was fired in November 2017. Mays chose Georgia and became a constant presence on the Bulldogs’ offensive line. He played each position and started 11 games in 2019. Mays (and his lawyer) are confident that he won’t have to sit out a year and will be suiting up for the Vols in September.
Mays didn’t chose the Vols in late 2017 because the program was a complete mess. His transfer is a sign that the Vols finally appear to be moving in the right direction.