One of the most pivotal lines from the most recent Star Wars film, Rogue One, is “Rebellions are built on hope.” The Vols, apparently, are taking a page out of that blockbuster’s script because their 2017 signing class is one that’s built on hope as well.
The headliners of Tennessee’s most recent recruiting haul are on par with every other recruiting class Butch Jones has pulled in while at Tennessee. Five-star offensive tackle Trey Smith is the highest-rated player Tennessee has brought in since former All-American safety Eric Berry, and the Vols pulled in two other top-100 players and another three top-350 players according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Those highly-rated prospects fit right in to the top 10 and top 5 classes Jones and his staffs have brought in over the last few seasons. It’s the players below them, however, that leave some cause for concern.
From a national perspective, Tennessee’s 2017 signing class isn’t mediocre. Not by any means. That class finished in the top 20 by every recruiting service and in the top 15, according to most. What’s concerning, however, is that a class can still finish around the 15-20 range nationally and still be middle of the pack in the SEC in recruiting. According to the 247Sports Composite ranking, the Vols finished with the No. 17 recruiting class in the country but placed 7th in the SEC.
Throw in the fact that the previous three signing classes under Butch Jones (2014, 2015, 2016) finished 7th, 4th, and 14th according to the 247Sports Composite rankings respectively, and it’s easy to see why this class was a bit underwhelming to Vol fans.
The Vols had 27 official signees in their 2017 class. Clemson, the team that finished a spot ahead of them at No. 16, had just 14 signees. Stanford also had 14 signees and finished 14th. Tennessee’s sheer numbers alone were part of the reason they finished as high as they did. If not for that, this class could’ve been outside of the top 20.
This class isn’t all bad, though. There’s plenty to like about the class, but most of that is built off hope and wishes.
To be fair, all recruiting classes are built off hope to some extent. It’s impossible to predict how any player will perform in college, even if they’re the No. 1 overall player in the country in their class. But based on the evaluations available, Tennessee’s 2017 class is based more on hope and potential than their previous ones.
Of the 27 players the Vols signed in their 2017 class, 22 are rated as three-stars according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. One of those three-stars is a kicker, and the vast majority of kickers are rated as three-stars or lower. So excluding kicker Brent Cimaglia, the Vols added 21 three-star prospects to their roster in this recruiting class.
In the last three recruiting classes prior to the 2017 class, the Vols brought in an average of just 13 three-star recruits per class.
Yes, many of these incoming freshmen have high ceilings and have the potential to out-play their ranking. But fans are banking their hopes on the large majority of this class surpassing expectations. In the last few classes the Vols have brought in, fans banked on most of the players living up to the hype, not having to overcome a lack of it.
In this class, the Vols brought in three players ranked 100 or worse at their respective position and six more players ranked outside the top 50 at their position. Only six of the Vols’ 27 signees were ranked in the top 20 at their position.
It’s one thing to find a diamond or two in the rough in a single recruiting class, but the Vols are hoping they’ve found at least a handful in this class.
Recruiting in the SEC isn’t for the weak-willed. Butch Jones has learned this, and one lower-than-average class isn’t going to sink the Vols. Putting together a string of less-than-stellar classes, however, will push the Vols below their competition. So Tennessee must learn from this season and bounce back in the 2018 class. Because Tennessee, and especially Jones, cannot afford another disappointing class like this one.