Another signing day gone, and another class entering Knoxville for Butch Jones and Tennessee.
UT’s 2017 class ranks No. 7 in the SEC and third in the SEC East according to the 247sports composite. The Vols’ 28 newcomers include one five star, four four stars and 23 three-stars.
When we asked fans on twitter what they thought about Tennessee’s signing class, the answers were underwhelming, with the majority of fans giving UT a “C.”
How would you grade Tennessee's 2017 signing class?
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 1, 2017
And while it’s not the dream class some were hoping for, there’s a lot to like about this class, a group that will provide depth to multiple positions where Tennessee was thin last season. Here are three things that Tennessee fans should be excited about in the 2017 class.
Offensive Line Depth
The headliner is Trey Smith, obviously, but there are more reinforcements on the way to the offensive line room. Early enrollee Riley Locklear and K’Rojhn Calbert will join Smith in a growing group that Tennessee should feel confident about.
Just ask Derek Dooley, you can never sign too many offensive linemen. Tennessee is in a place where its newcomers won’t be thrown right into the fire. That’s something to love about UT’s new crop of linemen.
Calbert feels like a steal for Tennessee. The Tennessee native did not play much football in his first three years of high school due to knee injuries. But Calbert impressed scouts at recruiting camps by, for example, running a 4.9 40-yard dash. Like Chance Hall, Calbert also played basketball in high school.
A look at new Tennessee O-line commitment K'Rojhn Calbert pic.twitter.com/YCS9peJw30
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 16, 2016
Riley Locklear chose Tennessee over Florida State and South Carolina among others, and brings size to complement Calbert’s athleticism.
Smith, the headliner of the class, has the ability to play right away. But the best thing about Smith’s initial contribution is his versatility. Smith could plug in at guard or tackle for UT, which the Vols certainly could’ve used last season as injuries piled up in the middle of the season. Jones has looked for quick offensive linemen in recruiting, allowing this group to grow for a year in the weight room in order to complement their speed. This trio fits the mold Jones wanted, and will provide immediate depth.
Shoop’s First Full Class
While Tennessee’s new offensive linemen will marinade in the weight room before seeing the field, the new defensive backs may get a quicker opportunity for playing time. Jones was very pleased in his staff’s ability to bring in secondary help, calling it “paramount” that Tennessee brought in two safeties and three cornerbacks.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was a key part of that. In Shoop’s first full year on the recruiting trail for Tennessee, he brings in five players he likes. Tennessee fans should be excited about Shoop’s first full class, not only because of its depth but also due to its quality.
The secondary class is highlighted by Maleik Gray. Gray is one of three four-star prospects in this class, and will join a veteran group of safeties. Gray can have a Jalen Reeves-Maybin-like contribution on special teams, but he will be a key player in the 2018 season once Todd Kelly graduates. Gray and Nigel Warrior are the future at the safety positions, a spot that Tennessee fans should feel great about down the road.
Not to mention the fact that Gray picked Tennessee over Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.
Cornerback was certainly a weak spot for Tennessee’s defense in 2016. But Tennessee’s newcomers at corner are Shoop’s own guys. That’s the best thing to like about Tennessee’s defensive signing class as a whole: It’s hand-picked by Shoop. This is the second crop of players who will start their career under Shoop’s direction, but the first group completely selected by UT’s defensive coordinator.
Tennessee fans should feel a little more comfortable with these newcomers since they have Shoop’s stamp of approval.
Instant Impact Skill Players
With Josh Malone leaving the program early for the NFL draft, Tennessee has a need for a young player to step up at wide receiver. Three newcomers will have the opportunity to vie for that spot.
Jones said he is “ecstatic” about three-star wideout Jordan Palmer. The Florida native brings a deep threat to the Tennessee offense that the Vols will need in Malone’s absence. After moving to Florida from Canada, where he got limited exposure, Palmer was a part of St. Thomas Aquinas’ 7A state championship this past season.
Behind Smith, Ty Chandler might end up being the next most talented player in this class. The Nashville native has showcased speed and strength in a pro-style offense at the highest level of Tennessee high school football in Division II-AA. Against elite teams, Chandler rushed for 2,225 yards and 39 touchdowns, earning him Mr. Football for the second consecutive season.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) August 16, 2016
Chandler’s speed will complement John Kelly’s angry running style. I expect Chandler to have an instant impact in Tennessee’s offense as a change-of-pace back in the no-huddle offense. You can take a look at his highlight film here.
Joining Chandler in the running backs room is Timothy Jordan and Trey Coleman, who will provide much-needed depth. Jones compared Jordan to fan-favorite John Kelly on Wednesday.
Although the 2017 doesn’t have as much splash as past years, it was smartly crafted to filling open spots. Fans should be happy about the job Butch Jones did in meeting the needs of Team 121, and also the standouts who could make an impact on day one.