Tennessee fans are buzzing about their team’s 2014 recruiting class. Despite a 5-7 record, Butch Jones managed to put together a top-10 class during his first full season in Knoxville, leaving many fans optimistic about the future.

But the future may be sooner than most expect as the Vols have many openings for true freshmen to make an immediate impact. With several open positions lacking talent,  some first-year players could see plenty of playing time and become full-time starters in 2014.

Jalen Hurd, RB


Prior to a season-ending shoulder injury, Jalen Hurd was the unanimous No.1 high school prospect in the state of Tennessee. Hurd bulldozed through Tennessee 6A high school defenses to win a 2012 state championship and Mr. Football honors. The 6-3, 227-pound athlete will compete with senior Marlin Lane for rushing attempts early in his first season. But its only a matter of time before Hurd becomes the featured running back in Mike Bajakian’s offense. Hurd possess a combination of great size and speed, but is coming off major surgery. Tennessee will make Hurd a major part of its offense, but could use him sparingly out of the gate. The experienced Lane will likely see more carries early, however, Hurd should make a major splash during his first season.

Related article: Is Marlin Lane ready to carry the full load, or will Jalen Hurd emerge and steal carries?

Josh Malone, WR


Josh Malone’s impressive senior season helped him surpass the injured Hurd as Tennessee’s top in-state prospect. The former Station Camp standout progressed during each season of his high school career, originally gaining interest from scouts as a raw prospect with great intangibles. As a senior, Malone improved his route-running and pass catching skills and led the Bison to the second round of the 6A state championship. Malone may be the best natural athlete in Tennessee’s recruiting class and will likely make an immediate impact if given enough playing time. Last season, Tennessee relied heavily on freshman Marquez North. Although he was the Vols most productive receiver, North did show his inexperience at times as the focal point of a receiving corps with far less depth. This season, Tennessee will have a more experienced North, a top JUCO wideout in Von Pearson and the talented Malone to give quarterback Justin Worley plenty of options. If talent outweighs inexperience, Malone has a serious chance to compete with North as the team’s top pass catcher.

Coleman Thomas, OL

Tennessee will field a completely revamped offensive line in 2014. The entire line from the previous season is gone and the Vols face big questions with their biggest offensive players. Of the projected starters, Coleman Thomas is the only freshman listed. Thomas enters the season at 6-6, 328 lbs and ranked as a 3-star center. However, Thomas will compete for the role of starting offensive tackle and is projected to win. If so, Thomas is likely to have one of the biggest roles of any freshman on Tennessee’s roster.

Dillon Bates, LB

NCAA Football: Under Armour-All America Football

Dillon Bates was a key component to Tennessee’s legacy class. A second-generation Vol, Bates is the son of former Dallas Cowboys safety Bill Bates, who played at Tennessee from 1979-82. The younger Bates ranked as a 4-star linebacker, who received offers from other major programs, before deciding to commit to his father’s alma matter. If defensive coordinator John Jancek sticks to the idea of moving a healthy Curt Maggitt over to defensive end, Bates will be a strong candidate to start alongside senior A.J. Johnson and sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker.

Emmanuel Moseley, CB

Emmanuel Moseley has made major strides this offseason. Entering camp as a lanky prospect with impressive speed, Moseley emerged into a projected Week 1 starter. As a North Carolina state champion prospect, Moseley weighed in at 148 pound. In August, Moseley reached 178 pounds and is aiming to begin the season at 185, while keeping his speed intact. Moseley will play alongside senior Justin Coleman and sophomore Cameron Sutton in a cornerback group that is otherwise completely made up of freshmen. If his progress continues, Moseley will be a key contributer to the Tennessee pass defense in 2014.

Todd Kelly Jr., S

NCAA Football: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Todd Kelly Jr. is likely the most talked about Tennessee defensive back prospect since Eric Berry (and likely more so than Janzen Jackson). Like Bates, Kelly is the son of a former Vol standout and a 4-star recruit. Currently on both the strong and free safety depth charts, Kelly is not yet listed as a starter. However, Kelly was one of Tennessee’s top recruits and has the size and speed to compete early for a starting position. Whether Week One or a later date, Kelly will see playing time for the Vols this season.

Honorable Mention

Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett, DE

Much like the offense, Tennessee will look to revamp its defensive line in 2014. Former OLB Curt Maggitt will provide a pass rushing threat at defensive end and is the most experienced player in the trenches. Sophomore Corey Vereen is also currently listed as a starting defensive end. But Tennessee has two 4-star prospects in Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett, who are currently listed as third-stringers at separate end positions. There is a chance that both players could see some playing time, even if limited. However, their roles entering the season are less predictable than the players listed above.