Will the Vols Get Another National Signing Day Surprise?

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    For the last two recruiting cycles, the Vols have had some good drama on and around National Signing Day. In 2015, Tennessee got five-star offensive lineman Drew Richmond to flip from Ole Miss, and in 2016 the Vols were able to secure the commitment of highly-touted junior college defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo despite him decommitting from the Vols just months before.

    After two drama-filled National Signing Days back-to-back, a little surprise on the final day of the recruiting calendar has become the expectation for Tennessee fans. So will the Vols get another National Signing Day surprise this year?

    Unlike the last two years, it doesn’t appear as though the Vols are in line to flip any highly-rated players away from another school or gain a highly unlikely pledge from an uncommitted recruit. Tennessee is, however, still in on a number of solid players and could still manage to pick up a little surprise for the 2017 National Signing Day.

    The biggest name that’s still a viable option for the Vols to land at this point is five-star defensive lineman LaBryan Ray. Nabbing Ray would certainly qualify as a surprise and would add another headliner to a Vols’ class that has five-star offensive tackle Trey Smith and four-star running back Ty Chandler.

    Ray, however, appears to be heading to Alabama. If Tennessee was able to pick up Ray’s signature on National Signing Day, it might just be the biggest recruiting surprise of the Butch Jones era at Tennessee.

    Aaron Sterling, another defensive lineman, would also be a surprise pick-up if the Vols were able to secure his commitment. Sterling is a three-star defensive end out of Tucker, Georgia who has been pursued heavily by the Vols over the last few weeks. Sterling visited Tennessee on January 21st and has been receiving increased attention by Tennessee’s staff.

    Sterling, however, is a heavy South Carolina lean, and it would certainly be a surprise if he chose the Vols over the Gamecocks at this point.

    A more likely scenario would be the Vols picking up a commitment and signature from four-star defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe.

    Conliffe is a much more likely target, and while he wouldn’t be flipped from another school, adding him to the class would still be a surprise considering who the Vols are going up against to try and get him. The Florida Gators are considered the favorites to land Conliffe, and other schools like Alabama and Penn State have made an invested effort to add him to their classes as well.

    Tennessee could end up picking up a signature from Conliffe, but it is far from a foregone conclusion at this point.

    Another surprise would be picking up a pledge from three-star wide receiver Jordan Pouncey. While not the highest-rated prospect left on Tennessee’s board, Pouncey isn’t your typical three-star. One look at his offer list and it’s apparent Pouncey has something most colleges want.

    Pouncey currently has offers from 47 different schools. And those aren’t just offers from mostly mid-level football schools; no, Pouncey has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Texas, Miami, Georgia, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State, Florida, South Carolina, and others.

    The Vols have gained a lot of ground on Pouncey and were able to get him to visit campus on January 27th. Right now, Pouncey is considered a Texas lean with Miami considered a strong second team behind the Longhorns. Tennessee is the underdog in his recruitment and would be a surprising place for him to end up.

    And finally, one of the most intriguing situations to watch is that of top junior college athlete Octavius Matthews.

    Matthews’ recruitment recently took an unexpected turn when he announced his decision to decommit from Auburn on January 26th. The day after that, he was on Tennessee’s campus on an official visit.

    Despite being the No. 1 JUCO athlete, Matthews is just a three-star according to 247Sports. And his offer list is an odd one for a highly thought of athlete/running back out of the junior college ranks. Aside from Auburn, Matthews has offers from Purdue, Mississippi State, Louisville, and UAB. Tennessee, the team he just visited, hasn’t even offered him.

    Matthews’ commitment would be a surprise if for no other reason than he didn’t even look like an option just a week ago. If Tennessee picks him up in their 2017 class, that would be a big addition very late in this recruiting cycle.

    Tennessee still has a few potential surprises up their sleeve when it comes to National Signing Day. Most of these scenarios are unlikely, but that’s what would make them “surprises” if they happened, after all.

    But unlike the last two National Signing Days, the Vols are’t trending positively towards a nice surprise. So expecting a big get this year may only leave Vol fans in disappointment.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.