When Tennessee wrapped up their 2015 recruiting class, the second full-time class under Butch Jones, Vol fans were ecstatic. According to 247Sports, the Vols had just hauled in the No. 4 class in the nation. Tennessee’s 2015 class was headlined by a pair of five-stars in defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie and defensive end Kyle Phillips, and several other players — such as Drew Richmond, Alvin Kamara, Preston Williams, and Shy Tuttle — had five-star rankings on other recruiting services.
All in all, the Vols brought in two five-stars and 14 four-stars in their 2015 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The 30-man class had 18 of the top 500 players in the country in that class, and several of the Vols’ three-star prospects from the class looked like they could develop into starters down the line as well.
Fast forward to 2018, and Tennessee’s 2015 class looks like an utter failure compared to expectations.
Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. announced on Thursday night that he plans to transfer off Tennessee’s football team for his final two years of eligibility. He became the 13th Vol from the 2015 class to transfer before his eligibility ran out at Tennessee, and his departure leaves just 10 players from that 30-man class still on Tennessee’s roster.
Of the 30 players from the Vols’ 2015 class, over half of them didn’t finish out their career at Tennessee. Zach Stewart never suited up for the Vols because of the death of his mother, and Vincent Perry was dismissed from the team. Alvin Kamara, John Kelly, and Kahlil McKenzie declared early for the NFL Draft, and Jack Jones had to end his career due to health issues. Add those players to the 13 who have transferred over the years, and that’s almost two-thirds of Tennessee’s 2015 class who didn’t play a full career for the Vols.
Kamara was right to leave early, and time will tell about Kelly and McKenzie. But the rest? It’s an indictment on just how much of a train wreck Tennessee’s football program has been in the recent past.
Lane Kiffin’s lone 2009 recruiting class is remembered for its attrition. That class, which was ranked No. 8 in the country by 247Sports, may never be matched in terms of complete disappointment, but the Vols’ 2007 class would challenge that. Aside from Eric Berry, Tennessee’s 2007 recruiting class also had a large amount of attrition and players who failed to pan out for one reason or another.
And now it looks like Tennessee’s 2015 class can be lumped in with those two classes.
Of Tennessee’s 30 signees in their 2015 class, Kamara has been the only bonafide stud in the group (and he was misused while at Tennessee, negating a potentially bigger impact he could’ve made). Jauan Jennings had a great year in 2016, and most expect him to be a big contributor this season as well. Micah Abernathy has been a multi-year starter and could end up being an NFL draft pick after he graduates, and Quart’e Sapp contributed as a starter last year and looks to be ready to take on a big role this season. John Kelly out-performed his three-star rating and was a potential star last year before the Vols’ offensive line crashed and burned.
But the rest of Tennessee’s highly-rated players from that class either didn’t pan out or haven’t lived up to expectations thus far.
Injuries either ended or hampered the careers of Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle, Jack Jones, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Andrew Butcher, Darrell Taylor, and Chance Hall. Some of those, like Jones, Butcher, Tuttle, and Kirkland, have dealt with more serious injuries than others. But the injury bug bit all of them in a significant way for at least one season.
Other players, such as Preston Williams, Sheriron Jones, Justin Martin, Quinten Dormady, Quay Picou, and Venzell Boulware, just never found their stride at Tennessee. And all but Martin left Tennessee early and decided to finish their careers elsewhere.
Here’s a full list of the attrition from Tennessee’s 2015 class:
The players from the Vols’ 2015 class who are still on the roster are in bold.
That’s 13 of the 30 players who transferred, another one who was dismissed, and another who never signed due to family reasons. That’s half the class right there. pic.twitter.com/uqLfQur1b2
— Nathanael Rutherford (@Mr_Rutherford) May 25, 2018
Earlier this week, an opposing coach called Butch Jones’ recruiting prowess at Tennessee “fake news.” And that opposing coach has been proven right. The 2015 recruiting class is the most glaring example, but it’s far from the only one in Jones’ tenure at Tennessee.
Tennessee’s 2014 class also had a great deal of attrition and failed expectations. Of the 32 players Tennessee signed in that class, 11 ended up transferring (most notably running back Jalen Hurd) and three more were dismissed from the team. That class did have Derek Barnett, Josh Malone, Rashaan Gaulden, Todd Kelly Jr., Ethan Wolf, Evan Berry, Emmanuel Moseley, Jashon Robertson, Coleman Thomas, and Aaron Medley. But it also had Dillon Bates, Dontavius Blair, and a host of players who transferred elsewhere and had solid careers at their new schools like Daniel Helm, Vic Wharton, and others.
Butch Jones brought in a ton of highly-rated players at Tennessee. But far too many of them had shortened careers at Tennessee for one reason or another, and all those stars earned him just a 14-24 SEC record, two second-place finishes in the SEC East, and the worst season in program history in his five years at the helm.
The Vols’ 2015 class only has 10 players left who are still with Tennessee, and most of those 10 players either project to be starters or significant contributors for the Vols this season. But as a whole, the Vols’ highly-rated 2015 class has failed to deliver on the massive potential it had, and there’s no one person to blame. Some of that does fall on Jones and his coaches, but portions of the blame also fall on individual players or outside circumstances.
Whatever the reason, Tennessee’s 2015 class will likely go down as one of the most disappointing recruiting classes in modern Tennessee history.