Tennessee’s No. 17 class might not wow fans, but it fills a lot of needs

Dec 30, 2016; Nashville , TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones is dumped with Gatorade after a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee won 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones’ lowest-ranked class in four years isn’t about the numbers.

It’s about filling needs. A lot of them.

The Vols will have to replace seniors Josh Dobbs (quarterback), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (linebacker), Cam Sutton (cornerback), LaTroy Lewis (defensive end), Corey Vereen (defensive end), Dylan Wiesman (center), Kenny Bynum (linebacker), Jason Croom (tight end), Malik Foreman (cornerback), and Charles Folger (defensive end) along with early departures of Derek Barnett (defensive end), Alvin Kamara (running back) and Josh Malone (wide receiver) to the NFL Draft.

The 2017 class, ranked No. 17 nationally, showcased a group of signees who were already in place coming into the day. That was a stark contrast to previous classes, which Jones finished building in the final seconds.

“We added Trey Smith up front as he chose to stay at home and could have gone anywhere,” Jones said of his headliner in the 2017 signing class. “We needed to add running backs and we did that. We also added skill on the perimeter with guys with size on the outside. It was imperative to take care of the kicker position for the future.

“Each year is different in how it goes. It’s good to fit your recruiting profile from a character standpoint. This group really formed a bond and they stayed true to their word. The dynamics of your roster is constantly changing. We want people that want to be here and to get a degree and to win championships. This was more of the positive years in recruiting for us. We knew we were going to take three linebackers, two tight ends, three corner backs, and two safeties. A lot of times we had to turn away more talented players more than any other time since we’ve been here.”

The biggest question of the day, and quite frankly the only question of the day, was if wide receiver Jordan Murphy, who visited Ole Miss last weekend, would reaffirm his commitment and sign with the Vols. Murphy did so.

With the 2017 class not providing any last minute theatrical commitment decisions like Drew Richmond and Jonathan Kongbo provided in past classes under Jones, it does provide fit, needs and depth going forward.

SEC class rank: 7
Overall class rank: 17

5-stars: 1
4-stars: 4
3-stars: 23

What I like about the 2017 class

While the day lacked drama, this class might actually be one of Jones’ best in terms of what it provides down the road. This class appears to be stable and promising for lack of attrition going forward, something previous classes have lacked.

Jones has signed (247Sports rankings) the 24th best class in 2013, No. 7 class in 2014, No. 4 class in 2015 and the No. 14 class a year ago. But all of his classes have experienced attrition that has affected the roster. The 2017 class appears to denounce attrition with a close-knit group of commits.

Trey Smith, Shanon Reid, Deandre Johnson, Riley Locklear and Will McBride are the early enrollees who will get a head start. Smith should be able to play right away at any position on the offensive line. Locklear has the potential to be ready right away if needed, but can also provide depth by redshirting. Reid can help a linebacker unit that needs more players and play-makers.

Ty Chandler, Timothy Jordan and Trey Coleman bring needed depth at running back with the departure of Hurd and Kamara. Jones addressed the differences in the three.

“When you take three running backs you want all of them to have versatility,” he said. “Chandler has break away speed and Tim Jordan is elusive. Trey Coleman is a bigger back that provides pass protection.”

The class also provides depth in the secondary with Maleik Gray, Cheyenne Labruzza, Terrell Bailey, Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger. The defensive line unit adds Deandre Johnson (early enrollee), Eric Crosby, Matthew Butler, Kivon Bennett and Ryan Thaxton. Will Ignont and Solon Page III join Reid in needed depth at linebacker.

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  • I think that this is a fair assessment of this class. It won’t wow anyone on paper, but there are some headliners who can contribute immediately and it provides quality depth across the board. I think the bottom line is that Butch won’t be bringing in any more top 10 classes until he proves that he can actually compete for championships, something he has consistently stated he would do but hasn’t delivered on. The biggest gripe is whiffing on most of the elite in-state talent (Higgins, Stevens, Rodgers, etc.) TN has to capitalize on those kinda players to be able to keep up with the pack, plain and simple. We don’t have the bevy of in-state talent like GA, FL, AL, and LA that we can fall back on, and it’s always tough to pull elite talent from those states to TN. That being said, I think most would agree that recruiting isn’t Butch’s problem; coaching is.

  • Team 121 will be ***3-star bUTch last season at Rocky Top. Fulmer AD will fire him after a 8-4 or 7-5 season and name himself HC. Juaan Jennings popped for drugs. BUTch kept lid on it until after signing day. Pillaged in state losing Stephens to LSU, Higgins to Clemson, and also lost battles outside state such as Ray to Bama, and Gibbs to Georgia. Only got Trey Smith cause he gave his sister a six figure secretary job to secure Trey for next 3 years. Hunter Johnson was also committed to UT and saw dumpster fire writing on way. Tee Martin son Amari Rodgers would boy did not give Vols a sniff. And Trevor Lawrence a Peyton lover also figured out the glory years of ’98 are forever gone. GONE!

  • The one thing no coach can comment on is when a highly rated player is not recruited hard because of possible character issues. Not saying I know anything wrong with any of Tennessee’s “misses” this year… just putting that caveat out there.

  • So disappointing to be a Tennessee fan these days; a lame duck administration, incapable of addressing the needs of the athletic department, a coaching staff that should be leading a MAC school–or an FCS team–and a fanbase so caught up in self-delusion and denial they’re completely happy with all of it.

    Late in Dooley’s last year we had a late lead over an underwhelming Missouri team. Of course, we all know that same team came back to beat Tennessee 52-50 in 4 overtimes but the point is that Tennessee fans KNEW at that point–without the additional shame of a loss to Kentucky–that Dooley needed to go; for some unfathomable reason, the same fans are incapable of applying the same deductive reasoning to Butch Jones and we’re going to have to continue to watch Jones bumble his way through another season with the knowledge that HE’S NOT THE MAN FOR THE JOB.

    • The ignorance of you comment is appalling. First the final score of that Missouri game was 51-48. Check your facts. And secondly, there is a stark difference between Dooley and Jones. Dooley was getting ready to finish 1-7 in the conference for the second straight year with a ton of playmakers on offense (Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Cordarralle Patterson) and Jones has only regressed this past season (in conference record). He has won three straight bowl games the first time that has happened since Manning was there (94-96) and is competing in the East. Not to mention all of the injuries and pre-Madonnas we had to deal with all of last season. So stop spewing your delusional non-sense and go study the facts

      • What an idiotic response. So I misremembered the score being 51-48 instead of 52-50 which means… What?? You are flat out stupid if you really believe Butch Jones is an even average football coach. I understand that our fanbase is starved for success and as a result, willing to drink the Kool-aid, but if you’re sincerely making an argument for this bum based on 3 bowl wins–over 3 very flawed Big 10 teams–then YOU’RE the delusional one in the room.

        Comparing these bargain basement bowl wins to Peyton’s wins over Northwestern, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech is apples to oranges. The Northwestern team that we stomped was possibly the best team they ever had and was no comparison to the one we beat in Tampa; OSU was ranked #4 ib the country and had Eddie George, and Virginia Tech was playing as competitive as they ever have. Ridiculous comparison.

        And since you’re such a stickler for the facts, “nonsense” does not require a hyphen.

  • 13 decommittments for Vols during recruiting cycle lead SEC. Finished 17th according to 247 Sports and CBJ “declares Tennessee is back”. This clown is dilirius. Check out Georgias signing class and tell me how bUTch is ever gonna win SEC East?

  • Wasn’t it just a couple years ago that all you guys were like me and wished we could at least get to bowl games consistently and have 8-9 wins every season? He’s 5 years in with 3 straight bowls appearances and wins and back to back 9 win seasons. Yeah we could have been better both in 2015 and 2016. Honestly though we beat Georgia and Florida this year. We lost to USC but Mushchamp seems to just have Butch’s number. Yeah lost Vanderbilt again under Butch. That all sucks but to say we haven’t made and that we stopped making progress is entirely untrue. Stop being Debbie Downers. We won’t find a better head coach right now that would actually want to risk our coaching carousel and rabid fan base like you guys. We competed then fell flat but had more injuries by far than anyone else while under the first year of a new coordinator. Should we be upset that it got as bad as it did. Yes we should but honestly this is unfortunately still at as a program and firing Butch now would be stupid. He’s earned the right to at least finish his contract. Hey if another atom Hermin type pops up and actually wants to risk his reputation on UT’s fire first ask questions later approach then sure take him and fire Butch. That however is not going to happen. There is still progress that needs to be made and instead up being impatient and firing another coach and sending the message again that it may not be a good idea to come here if you have any decent options, we should instead let him finish it out. He’ll keep bringing in good talent and that’s what you want. No fan with any intelligence ever believed Butch could or would be the coach to bring us a Natty. His purpose has always been to make us attractive and competitive again. He’s doing that and has done a pretty good job of that. For now he’s the best we can/are going to get. Don’t be stupid. Be patient. Not every coach can be Nick Sabah or even Neyland or Fulmer. Butch is actually keeping UT where it has Historically always been. The 90’s and the days of Neyland are actually times UT was better than usual. We’re not Bana or USC or Miami. We have 2 true Nattys out of how many years that the school has played football? He’s doing as good as we can hope for and in general doesn’t do a bad job. Could do better but he’s what we got. So pull for him to do better and get us to where we can attract the next Tom Herman or Davi Sweeney. Stop hoping for Saban. Plus UT would never spend the money on a Saban or Meyer.

    • Also, sorry about any typos. Did this on a phone in a waiting room.

    • He’s a bum. That so many fans can’t see this is a shame, but just because we’ve been slightly above average isn’t an argument to keep him.

      He’s made ridiculous coaching decisions that cost us games and he’s already losing the recruiting momentum we had when he got here.

      And for all you people claiming he’s such an awesome recruiter, the reality is that these kids WANT TO COME TO TENNESSEE.

  • I love head coach butch jones. Even for a yankee.