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No. 1 OLB in 2020 Class Sees Opportunity with Vols

(Photo via Kevin Wade/247Sports)

The nation’s highest-rated outside linebacker in the 2020 class has been a big fan of the Vols for several months now, and he’s still high on what Tennessee can offer him despite UT’s rough start to the 2019 season.

Sav’ell Smalls, a five-star linebacker from Washington, recently spoke with Brandon Huffman of 247Sports on the “West of the Rest” podcast. Huffman asked Smalls about his top six schools — Alabama, Washington, Oregon, Florida State, Tennessee, and Washington State — and to give an update on all those schools.

Smalls — who called Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt an “outside linebacker master” and “defensive guru” in the past — doubled down on his praise of the Vols’ head coach and said Tennessee would give him a “good opportunity” as well.

“Coach Pruitt, I’ve said it before, he’s a mastermind with outside linebackers,” Smalls told Huffman. “He knows how to develop them like no other. (He’s a) defensive mastermind. And Tennessee will give me an opportunity to come right away and play, just number-wise. Not based off of talent, but they need somebody coming in and rush the passer, so that’d be a good opportunity.”

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According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Smalls is the No. 9 overall prospect, No. 1 outside linebacker, and No. 1 player in the state of Washington. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker from Burlen, Washington holds offers from over two dozen programs, but he’s ready to focus on just a select few now.

Smalls released a top 12 back in February that didn’t include the Vols, but UT has made significant progress since then. His original top 12 was comprised of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington, Texas A&M, Florida, Miami, Oregon, Texas, Florida State, and Washington State.

Now, the Vols are one of the top teams left in his recruitment.

Jeremy Pruitt isn’t the only Tennessee coach with whom Smalls has formed a strong relationship, though. Tennessee tight ends coach and reigning National Recruiter of the Year Brian Niedermeyer is Smalls’ main recruiter with the Vols, and he traveled to Parkland, Washington back in mid-June for the Pacific Lutheran University 11-on-11 high school football tournament and worked with Smalls there.

Tennessee’s relationships with Smalls are a big reason why the Vols became a contender for him, as was his recent visit to Knoxville. Smalls made an unofficial visit to UT’s campus back on July 29th, visiting the Vols on the final weekend before the dead period began heading into August. That trip followed up an unofficial visit to Florida State on July 25th. It also marked the first time he had been to Knoxville.

As a high school player, Smalls does a little bit of everything. Not only is he a phenomenal defender, but he plays wide receiver, too. Smalls has exceptional awareness and physicality, and he has good speed, especially for his size. He plays both as an edge rusher with his hand in the dirt and as a stand-up linebacker. Smalls has great burst off the line and has superb instincts as a defensive player. He’s not bad in pass coverage, either. He will play either as a stand-up outside linebacker or as a down lineman in college, or maybe a combo of both.

In his junior season, Smalls had 21 tackles for loss and seven sacks on defense and totaled 33 receptions for 673 yards and seven touchdowns on offense.

Smalls has been invited to participate in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame World Bowl and the Polynesian Bowl in the 2020 cycle.

As of right now, Smalls says he’s likely to commit sometime “in the next few months.” He doesn’t have a date set yet, nor does he have his five official visits figured out at the moment. But he added he’s “pretty close to a decision” and will use the next few months to gauge where his top teams are.

“I’m going to just use these next couple months and games just to see and see who’s really putting all the talk on the field and who’s really developing their guys, and who’s refining their players and who’s really making the most out of everything they’ve got,” Smalls explained. “Because, at this point, I really have all the information I could need. I know who has a good business school. I know what coach is where.

“So I’m really just excited to just get this over with, because it has been a long process.”

Our Take:

Teams like Tennessee and Florida State likely need to show improvement in 2019 in order to continue to be major factors in Smalls’ recruitment. That makes the Vols’ ability to bounce back after their season-opening loss to Georgia State even more vital. It’s clear that Smalls likes UT and likes the coaches on Tennessee’s staff, but unless the Vols show improvement on defense and real development from players at his position, Smalls is likely to look elsewhere.

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