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Vols Face Plenty Of Challenge, Plenty Of Opportunity On 2018 National Signing Day

Photo by Ben Proffitt

National Signing Day is upon us again. Wednesday will be a promising glimpse of what the future holds for some programs, and the culmination of a frustrating yearlong cycle for others.

After the end of the Butch Jones and the transition between coaching regimes, new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was left the tall order of rescuing a desolate recruiting class and building toward the future. The Vols have plenty of talent and leadership to replace, plenty of holes to fill, but plenty of opportunities to land a solid class on Wednesday.

Who’s Gone?

Jauan Jennings — Every Vol fan knows the big-play wide receiver could help this young team. Known for his big plays in SEC play in 2016, Jennings was dismissed from the team following an expletive-laden rant aimed at the coaches at the end of the last season. While the dismissal itself is still up for debate, there is still hope that Jennings could be on the sidelines at the start of the the 2018 season following his enrollment in classes at Tennessee in the spring and meetings with Pruitt and athletic director Phillip Fulmer.

Kahlil McKenzie — Once the 5-Star crown jewel in Butch Jones’ 2015 recruiting class, McKenzie has elected to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft after a relatively disappointing three years at Tennessee. He recorded 36 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks as a junior last season.

John Kelly — Kelly is also heading to the draft after being the linchpin of Tennessee’s offense last year. He carried the team with 1,077 all-purpose yards on 226 touches last season.

Rashaan Gaulden — The third Vol to elect for the 2018 NFL Draft, Gaulden emerged as the top defensive back on last years team, if not Tennessee’s best defender. Although his main highlight from last season was flipping off Bama fans in a resounding 45-7 loss in Tuscaloosa, he also recorded 65 tackles and led the team with 3 fumble recoveries and 3 forced fumbles.

Quinten Dormady — With the new coaching staff coming to Knoxville, Dormady has decided his best option will be to transfer to a new school. After going 3-2 as a starter, he was benched after the 41-0 shutout loss to Georgia in Knoxville. He would eventually get shoulder surgery, finishing the season by completing 76 of 137 passes for 925 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Vols’ Needs

Defensive Back — In addition to the departure of Gaulden, Tennessee loses two other starters (Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley) from last year’s secondary to graduation. The lone returning starter, Todd Kelly Jr., has had a tumultuous offseason as well. After not signing any defensive backs during the early signing period, it is absolutely vital that Pruitt land at least one, if not many potential early contributors in the secondary for this defense to have any success in 2018.

Wide Receiver — Sure, top receivers Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson were limited by poor quarterback play last season. Even then, there are clearly no game-changing wide receivers on the Vols’ roster. While Tennessee’s unit (and the team as a whole) would improve with the return of Jauan Jennings, they could certainly benefit from more talent at the receiver position. Landing four-star athlete Alontae Taylor during the early signing period was certainly a good start.

Defensive Line — While you could certainly make the argument for the offensive line being in worse shape, the defensive line was arguably the most disappointing unit of all last season. They were expected to improve after a disappointing 2016 season, who’s only real bright spot was Derek Barnett. But, whether injuries or widespread underachievement slowed the progress of the unit, the progress was minimal nonetheless between seasons. Any and all immediate help is anticipated, and Pruitt may have found it in one (or many) of the four recruits locked down during the early signing period.

Names to Watch on National Signing Day

Jordan Young — Young’s story is well known among Vol fans that follow recruiting. After going almost the entire recruiting process without an FBS offer, Tennessee offered Young a scholarship in January, getting a commitment from the wide receiver almost a week later.

He flew up recruiting boards following Tennessee’s offer, drawing plenty of attention from Florida State, South Carolina and Georgia. Young visited Florida State last weekend, and the ‘Noles apparently made an impression. He is expected by some to flip his commitment on Wednesday to Florida State. It would be a huge win for Jeremy Pruitt and staff to haul in the talented 6-foot-2 receiver.

Quay Walker — The five-star outside linebacker from Georgia has remained a steady commitment to Alabama since committing in June of 2017. Committing to Jeremy Pruitt when he was defensive coordinator at Alabama was one of the main reasons he gave his favor to the Tide in the first place, so it makes sense that Walker could follow Pruitt to Knoxville.

The Georgia native also considered the Bulldogs while Kevin Sherrer was on Kirby Smart’s stuff, but now Sherrer, too, is in Knoxville on Tennessee’s staff. Walker could be an instant impact player, and it will be interesting to see if he flips to the Vols on Wednesday.

Olaijah Griffin — Griffin, a five-star cornerback from California, would potentially define this class. He’d give the Vols a signee at a position of need and fit the mold of defensive back that Pruitt prefers. While many think he will stay close to home and go to USC, his name is still worth watching on Wednesday.

Eddie Smith — The Vols have an outside chance to land athlete Eddie Smith, but if they do, he would be another immediate impact player in Knoxville. He can play receiver and corner, and would likely go with the latter if he chooses Tennessee over favored Alabama.

Taiyon Palmer — Yet another stud cornerback recruit, Palmer is considered by some to be a lock for NC State. Pruitt will do everything he can to convince Palmer to come to Knoxville instead of going to Raleigh.

Other Names to Watch For: No. 4 CB in the nation Isaac Taylor-Stuart, three-star defensive back Trevon Flowers, No. 54 defensive tackle nationally Otito Ogbonnia, No. 69 overall prospect and No. 12 WR Jacob Copeland.

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