With 25 commitments already on board in the 2017 class, Tennessee’s commitment list is notably missing any prospects from the junior college ranks.
The start the JUCO signing period came and went on Wednesday with no commitments or signatures for the Vols. Arizona Western cornerback Keisean Nixon chose Will Muschamp and South Carolina over Butch Jones and the Vols after putting those two programs in his final two in the last days of his recruitment.
Based on 247Sports’ list of top JUCO players, it doesn’t appear that the Vols are in great shape with any of the top 100 or so prospects. That could certainly change, or there could be some diamonds in the rough that the Vols find.
But based on where Tennessee sits on Dec. 15, it doesn’t look like junior college players are going to be a huge part of this class – at least not many highly-ranked ones.
And that isn’t inherently a bad thing. JUCO players, while often more college ready in their first season on campus, also come with their own downsides and risk factors. Some got booted from a previous institute for academic or legal issues. Some simply couldn’t cut it and are looking for a second chance. And they can also be more rentals than investments. They come in, help fill a need, but don’t necessarily grow and develop in the system the way that four and five years players do.
So while there’s nothing wrong with UT’s lack of a JUCO presence in this class so far, it is a bit surprising.
With Jones facing a potential win-or-else season in 2017, the Vols have several spots that need immediate upgrades and instant depth. Tennessee will be relying on younger players and true freshmen to do that if the trajectory of this class continues. That’s especially true at cornerback and on the defensive line – two spots where Tennessee struggled in 2016 and will have to replace important pieces in 2017.
It’s also surprising because of Jones’ recent history with junior college players. It’s been a mixed bag in terms of results, but Jones has had a fair amount of JUCO flavor in his past few classes.
Running back Alvin Kamara, one of the most dynamic players on the team the past couple seasons, came from Hutchinson Community College in the 2015 class after a prior stint at Alabama. Tennessee also brought corner Justin Martin (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M) in that class. He was an important piece in 2015, but struggled to take the next step in 2016.
In 2015, Tennessee went three-for-four in picking up Von Pearson, Owen Williams, Chris Weatherd and Dontavius Blair. All but Blair went on to play pretty significant roles for the Vols over the next couple years. Jones’ first class at UT also featured a handful of players from the JUCO ranks.
Jones brought in four junior college players in 2016 – cornerback D.J. Henderson, receiver Jeff George, defensive tackle Alexis Johnson and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo.
The early returns weren’t great. Henderson was a non-factor. George provided some depth at receiver, but had just one catch on the season. Johnson, after a tumultuous offseason, wasn’t a factor either. Kongbo, a five-star recruit, had his moments, but completely didn’t completely live up to the hype. All still have time to develop, but in the help-us-now element of junior college recruiting, UT came up fairly short in 2016.
And perhaps that plays into this year’s class construction, though it seems to be a bit of a gamble with Jones entering 2017 with plenty of pressure mounting.
Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia and Mississippi State all have top-30 junior college players coming their way in 2017.
The Vols, whether by choice or because of the choices of some of the top-ranked players, appear to be going primarily the high school route this year.