Analyzing the Vols’ Recruiting Strategy Under Pruitt

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    When Jeremy Pruitt took over as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers’ football program, there came with him a shift in how Tennessee approached recruiting.

    Most fans have been able to pick up on the change from former head coach Butch Jones to current head coach Jeremy Pruitt when it comes to recruiting ideology, but does the hard data back up those suppositions?

    According to my research, there’s been a definite shift from Jones to Pruitt. Not only has Pruitt altered the overall approach to recruiting at UT, but his results thus far have been quite a bit different than the Butch Jones era as well.

    I dug around and looked at Jeremy Pruitt’s first two years of recruiting at Tennessee and how it compares to what Jones and his staffs did while at UT. I used data from 247Sports’ recruiting database to compile my information, and before I dive in to the specifics of what I found, I want to give a few disclaimers first.

    While 247Sports’ database is more accurate than any other database that tracks recruiting offers, it’s still not 100 percent spot on. I’ve noticed a few times just from covering recruiting over the last few years that Tennessee has offered a prospect but it doesn’t show up on that recruit’s profile on 247Sports’ site. Those instances are very uncommon, so I imagine it only affects about 3-6 offers per recruiting cycle. So, by and large the number of offers I tracked for each cycle from UT are largely accurate.

    Additionally, I know that from examining Tennessee’s recruiting classes that just because a player is listed at one position coming out of high school that they don’t always end up playing that position in college. Under Pruitt specifically, there are a lot of instances where a recruit listed as a defensive end could move to outside linebacker once in college, and there are multiple occasions where a defensive lineman has moved to offensive line or vice versa. I took the 247Sports’ position categories at face value for this research, however. So if a prospect was listed as a defensive end coming out of high school and signed with the Vols as a defensive end, I counted them as a defensive line offer/signee regardless of what they ended up playing at UT.

    Lastly, the data I looked up also doesn’t account for all the attrition that’s happened to Tennessee’s roster. A lot of UT’s 2014 and 2015 signees didn’t stick around for three or four years at Tennessee, but my research for this article wasn’t concerned with that. I merely wanted to look at how the recruiting approach has changed under Pruitt and how successful he and Jones both were at signing various prospects. What happened after those players signed is a topic for a different article.

    With that in mind, let’s get down to business.

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    Sheer Numbers

    It’s been talked about quite a bit so far this offseason that Tennessee has thrown around a ton of scholarship offers. The number of offers that UT has given out to recruits under Jeremy Pruitt is somewhat staggering, actually. In the 2019 class, Tennessee offered 448 total prospects. Some of those were offers from the previous coaching staff, but the large bulk of them came from Pruitt and his staff.

    In the 2020 cycle so far, the Vols have already given out 428 offers. That number will only continue to grow as Tennessee’s coaches attend and host camps and as senior seasons begin across the country in the fall.

    Butch Jones sent out the majority of offers in the 2018 cycle, so I didn’t count those numbers towards Pruitt’s recruiting stats at UT. But with the combined efforts of both Jones and Pruitt, Tennessee handed out 417 offers in the 2018 class.

    In the 2020 and 2019 classes combined, Pruitt and his staff have dished out 876 scholarship offers to recruits. That’s an average of 438 offers per cycle, and that average will only increase with the 2020 class.

    Under Jones, Tennessee didn’t give out nearly as many offers.

    The high water mark for scholarship offers under Jones (looking just at the 2014 through 2017 classes) was 377 offers in the 2017 cycle. Like with Pruitt, I don’t count the 2013 cycle towards Jones’ numbers because that class was primarily offered by Derek Dooley and his staff. But under Jones, the number of offers grew each and every year, but he never even approached 400 offers and certainly never got close to the 448 offers that Pruitt extended in his first full cycle at Tennessee.

    Jones sent out an average of 321.3 scholarship offers per cycle while at Tennessee. Pruitt is averaging well over 100 more offers per cycle already. Why?

    Pruitt and his staff are using a more scattershot approach because they have to. They send out offers to prospects to get them to come camp so they can watch them in person, and they also do so because Tennessee isn’t in a spot to be picky and choosy right now. Pruitt is having to recruit coming off of back-to-back losing seasons, and he’s having to recruit against programs recruiting at all-time levels in Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia. He has to give more offers than those programs, and he certainly is.

    Those are just the number of overall offers, though. Where and who have those offers been going to?

    Targeting the Trenches

    Under former head coach Butch Jones, Tennessee had a fairly different plan when it came to recruiting. The Vols targeted players along the lines of scrimmage, but they also tended to focus a little more on receivers and skill position players. That’s not to say the current staff doesn’t make it a priority on getting those types of players; Pruitt and his staff have just made the lines of scrimmage a bigger emphasis so far.

    Of the 1,285 total scholarship offers that Butch Jones and his staff sent out in the 2014-17 recruiting cycles, only 161 of those offers were to projected offensive linemen. That’s just 12.5 percent of UT’s total offers. Jones and his staff did do a decent job of targeting defensive linemen, as 22.4 percent of their total scholarship offers went out to projected defensive linemen.

    But one of the issues that plagued Tennessee the most under Jones was lack of depth at the offensive line. And that was due, in large part, to how UT approached that unit in recruiting.

    Under Pruitt, the Vols have put a bigger emphasis on both lines of scrimmage. Of the 876 offers that Pruitt and his staff have sent out in the 2019 and 2020 classes, 128 (14.6 percent) of those have gone to offensive linemen. They’ve also offered 201 defensive linemen, which comprises 23 percent of their total offers.

    Overall, 37.6 percent of Tennessee’s offers the last two recruiting cycles have gone to offensive and defensive linemen. Under Jones, that number was only 34.9 percent.

    Pruitt has also done a better job of landing offensive and defensive linemen so far.

    A quick caveat — I give credit to Pruitt for signing the 2018 class, and I give credit to Jones for signing the 2013 class. Both coaches weren’t responsible for the majority of the scholarship offers that were sent out in those cycles, but they’re responsible for the players they ended up signing in those classes. That’s why there’s a difference.

    With that in mind, let’s move on.

    Pruitt has signed nine offensive linemen and 10 projected defensive linemen in the 2018 and 2019 classes combined. That means that 20 percent of the Vols’ 45 signees (including both Anthony Harris and Kenney Solomon in the 2019 class) under Pruitt have been offensive linemen, and 22.2 percent have been defensive linemen. Almost half (42.2 percent) of UT’s signees under Pruitt have been players in the trenches.

    Under Jones, that wasn’t the case.

    Of the 133 players who signed under Butch Jones from 2013-17, only 18 (13.5 percent) were projected offensive linemen, and 26 (19.6 percent) were defensive linemen. That accounts for just 33.1 percent of Tennessee’s overall signees in that span.

    For comparison, of the 101 players Alabama has signed over the last four recruiting cycles (2016-19), 16.8 percent have been offensive linemen and 21.8 percent have been defensive linemen. Similarly, Georgia has signed 95 players in that same span, and 16.8 percent have been offensive linemen while 19 percent have been defensive linemen.

    Geographical Shifting

    Not only has Tennessee changed the positions they’re emphasizing under Pruitt, but the states they’re focusing on have also shifted.

    Under Jones, Tennessee had a tendency to target players from Florida quite a bit more than players from any other state. Of the 1,285 total offers put out from UT during the 2014-17 cycles, 266 of those (20.7 percent) went to prospects in the state of Florida.

    So far under Pruitt, the Vols haven’t targeted Florida as much.

    Tennessee has given out just 140 of their 876 offers in the 2019 and 2020 cycles to players from Florida. That’s a dip to 16 percent of UT’s total offers.

    Conversely, Pruitt has targeted more players in the state of Alabama than Jones and his staffs did. That largely has to do with the ties that Pruitt has to the high schools in Alabama, and he’s tried to make those pay off for him.

    In the 2019 and 2020 classes, Pruitt has extended scholarships to 57 players in the state of Alabama, constituting 6.5 percent of Tennessee’s total offers. Under Jones, Tennessee only offered 61 prospects from Alabama in four years, and that made up just 4.8 percent of their total offers.

    Of the other states I mapped in UT’s recruiting region, the offer totals were remarkably similar. Both staffs have targeted Georgia with the exact same amount of gusto (15 percent of their overall offers), and the same goes for Louisiana (5.5 percent of their overall offers). Additionally, there’s only been minor shifts in Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina when it comes to the percentage those states make up of the Vols’ total offer list.

    The biggest shift geographically has come from the states that Tennessee actually lands recruits from.

    Pruitt and his staff so far have done a much better job of picking up prospects from the state of Georgia than Jones and his staffs did. In the 2018 and 2019 signing classes, the Vols have hauled in 13 players from the state of Georgia. That makes up 28.9 percent of UT’s 45 signees the last two years. Jones only managed to sign 26 players from Georgia in five recruiting cycles, constituting 19.6 percent of Tennessee’s signing classes.

    Another big shift comes in the Vols’ focus on Florida. Just like with the amount of offers to the Sunshine State, Pruitt and his staff haven’t signed as many prospects from Florida as the previous UT regime. Tennessee has signed just three players from Florida under Pruitt, making up 6.7 percent of their overall signees. Under Jones, Tennessee signed 18 players from Florida, which comprised 13.5 percent of UT’s signing classes.

    Pruitt has focused slightly more on South Carolina as well, with 6.7 percent of his signees coming from the Palmetto State compared to 2.3 percent under Jones.

    Otherwise, there hasn’t been a massive shift in the main southern region of UT’s recruiting.

    Tennessee has brought in 13 players from within their own borders under Pruitt, which makes up 28.9 percent of their signees. That’s right on par with what Jones and his staff did at UT (28.6 percent). Both staffs have brought in just under seven percent of their classes from North Carolina, and neither have had much success in Louisiana (2.2 percent under Pruitt, 3 percent under Jones).

    The biggest surprise might be just how little success Pruitt has had in Alabama so far.

    For all his increased efforts he’s made in the state he’s coached most of his life in, Pruitt has yet to sign a player from the state of Alabama while at Tennessee. The Vols haven’t had much success in that state regardless over the years, though, as Jones and his staff only signed three prospects from Alabama in five years.

    Still, with the connections that Pruitt has to Alabama, it’s a little shocking to see that he hasn’t signed a single recruit from that state.

    Better “Blue Chip Ratio”

    According to SB Nation recruiting expert Bud Elliot, teams that reach the “Blue Chip Ratio” threshold in college football are usually the only teams that can compete and win national titles. The Blue Chip Ratio essentially means this: A team’s roster must consist of more four-and-five-star talent than three-and-two-star talent. The teams that are right around or above a 50 percent mark in that regard are usually the ones that are in the playoff picture every year.

    So far under Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee has been hitting that standard much better than UT did under Jones.

    In Pruitt’s two recruiting classes so far, 21 of the Vols’ 45 signees have been rated as four-or-five-star prospects according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. That means 46.7 percent of Tennessee’s signees under Pruitt have been four-stars or better.

    Under Jones, that number was significantly lower.

    While Jones’ 2014 and 2015 classes hit that 50 percent mark and the 2016 class came close, the rest of UT’s signing classes under Jones were nowhere near that standard. Of UT’s 32 signees in the 2014 class, 16 were rated as four-stars or better. Tennessee signed 29 players in the 2015 class, and 16 of them were four-or-five-stars. The 2016 class saw 10 of Tennessee’s 22 signees rated as four-stars or higher.

    But the 2013 and 2017 classes were devoid of high quality depth.

    Tennessee signed just four players rated as four-stars in their 2013 class (out of 23 signees), and they only managed five players in the four-or-five-star range in the 2017 class (out of 27 signees).

    Those two classes severely brought down UT’s Blue Chip Ratio under Jones. All in all, only 38.3 percent of the 133 players Tennessee signed under Jones were rated as four-or-five-star prospects. In just two classes, Pruitt has nearly a 10 percent increase in that regard compared to Jones’ five years.

    Conclusion

    Only time will tell if Pruitt can get the job done at Tennessee and help rebuild the Vols back to a championship contender. His recruiting efforts, however, look more like the type of recruiting efforts that have had success in the SEC when compared to what Butch Jones and his staffs did at UT.

    Overall, Pruitt is bringing in a higher ratio of four-and-five-star players, and he and his staff are targeting offensive and defensive linemen with more ferocity as well as recruiting the state of Georgia harder.

    Again, time will be the ultimate judge of how successful Pruitt’s recruiting ideology will be at Tennessee. But right now, he’s projecting better than the previous staff.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    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.