Grading the Vols’ 2020 Signing Class

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    Tennessee closed out the 2020 recruiting cycle with a bang on National Signing Day last week, adding two four-stars to their class and finishing with a top-10 class on 247Sports and Rivals both.

    The Vols signed 23 prospects in their 2020 class, and over half of them are rated as four-stars or better. Tennessee may not be done either, as five-star running back Zach Evans has still yet to choose a school and likely won’t till at least sometime in March. The Vols are heavily in play for the elite running back, as are Ole Miss, Florida, and others.

    But as Tennessee’s class currently stands, what grade does it deserve?

    Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their grades for Tennessee’s 2020 signing class below. Take a look at their thoughts on the Vols’ haul of 2020 prospects.

    Nathanael’s Grade: A-

    My grade will be bumped if Tennessee lands five-star running back Zach Evans. As it stands, however, I think this is an “A-” worthy class. I think it’s a very, very solid class that has a lot of depth, but I don’t give it a full “A” because of the lack of a true eye-catching prospect outside of Harrison Bailey.

    I do think Bailey has the potential to be a great quarterback, and he’s clearly the crown jewel of UT’s 2020 class. I also think both Keshawn Lawrence and Omari Thomas are stud players who will contribute as freshmen (Lawrence could be a starter as a freshman, in fact). But when you consider that Tennessee had someone like BJ Ojulari committed to them and couldn’t hang on and were right in the thick of things with Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington, that makes me hesitant to give this class a full-blown “A.” And that’s all because of how the 2019 season started, more or less. The Vols lost a lot of good will with their brutal start to the year, but their recovery to still land a top 10 class is nothing short of astounding, honestly.

    That’s essentially my only knock against this class, though. Otherwise, I think this is definitely Pruitt’s best class at Tennessee so far, and I see a number of future contributors in this class for the Vols, especially on defense.

    Bailey has the potential to be UT’s star quarterback of the future, and the wide receiver haul that Tennessee brought in during this cycle is one of the best group of wideouts the Vols have signed in the last 15-20 years (at least on paper). You could argue that Tennessee missed on bringing in a tight end, but Dee Beckwith could eventually play there, and the Vols are in on a number of quality TEs in the 2021 cycle, so I’m not counting it as a huge miss.

    Along the lines of scrimmage, Tennessee continued to get better in this class. Last cycle, the Vols landed two five-star offensive linemen and an eventual starter on the defensive line in Darel Middleton. This cycle, UT added two high-quality defensive linemen in Omari Thomas and Dominic Bailey, and they addressed the interior of their offensive line in a big way with Cooper Mays, Javontez Spraggins, and James Robinson.

    One knock against Pruitt so far during his time at UT has been his inability to land a premier pass rusher. And while the Vols lost out on BJ Ojulari and a few others, landing Morven Joseph is nothing to scoff at. Joseph is a dynamic athlete who looks like a great fit for Tennessee’s defense. Tyler Baron will also start out at outside linebacker, and he has an exceptionally high ceiling as well.

    At inside linebacker, both Bryson Eason and Martavius French have a ton of potential. Eason could even continue to bulk up and add more weight and play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive lineman. He’s already around 270 pounds, and he moves exceptionally well for that size.

    This class goes beyond just the four-stars, though; I really like some of the three-stars in this group, too.

    I think Doneiko Slaughter is the most underrated prospect in UT’s 2020 class, and I like the potential Tee Hodge brings to this team. The aforementioned Javontez Spraggins is ridiculously strong, and he could be Tennessee’s future center. Jimmy Holiday, Jabari Small, and Tamarion McDonald are all intriguing and versatile athletes, too, especially Holiday.

    When you throw in the fact hat Tennessee also landed Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays and USC wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. as transfers in this cycle, then I think you could convince me to give this class an “A.” If you count those two as part of the class, then I could be swayed. Even if you don’t, then I think this is a very strong class.

    If UT ends up landing Zach Evans, I’ll change my overall grade to an “A” for sure. But even without him, this class should be a difference-maker for Pruitt in the coming years.

    Ben’s Grade: A

    I’m giving Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class an “A” for one reason and one reason only: a team that started 1-4 with a loss to Georgia State, and a program who is two years removed from the worst season in program history shouldn’t finish with a top 10 recruiting class. But that’s what Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols just did.

    Who knows if Tennessee’s class will ultimately prove to be a success, but I believe it will be. Pruitt and his staff don’t care about recruiting rankings, and they shouldn’t. Rather, they have their own rankings, identity recruits that fit best for them, and they went out and landed those recruits.

    Aside from that, the Vols addressed needs. Again, only time will tell if Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class pans out, but nobody walks away from this cycle saying that Tennessee failed to add to their positions of need.

    Tennessee needed a quarterback, as it will in every class, and landed five-star Harrison Bailey out of Georgia who has as good of a resume as any high school quarterback in the country.

    The Vols needed to add a bigger back and did so by bringing in local product Tee Hodge and then four-star Len’Neth Whitehead. They even added a third running back in the class in Jabari Small. Even with Small, they still may not be done, with five-star running back Zach Evans on the board. If the Vols were to add Evans, they’ll have an A+ grade in my grading book.

    At wide receiver, Tennessee needed to add speed, and boy did they. Four-star Jalin Hyatt possess elite speed, as does Jimmy Holiday — though he will begin at quarterback, but could end up ultimately playing wide receiver. Even four-star Jimmy Calloway was timed at a 4.42 forty during the recruiting process.

    And then there’s the addition of Dee Beckwith and Malachi Wideman. Beckwith is going to serve as a Swiss Army knife for Jim Chaney’s offense, but he will start out at wide receiver. Wideman is a freak athlete playing receiver who could have a similar career to Justin Hunter thanks to his insane leaping ability.

    You always need to add to the offensive line and defensive line, and Tennessee did just that in this class, too.

    Along the O-line, there wasn’t a ton of star power, but Will Friend added promising football players to his unit. Javontez Spraggins, Cooper Mays, and James Robinson are all promising young linemen who, if developed properly, are future starters in the SEC.

    On the D-line, the talent in the room was upgraded with the addition of Omari Thomas, Dominic Bailey, and Reginald Perry. And there’s also Tyler Baron and Morven Jospeh, who have the potential to be great pass-rushers off of the edge.

    Tennessee got better in the trenches, which was a huge task in this recruiting cycle.

    At inside linebacker, the Vols needed to add bodies. They did exactly that with the Whitehaven trio. Bryson Eason is the key prize from the trio, but Martavius French could develop into a solid SEC linebacker, and Tamarion McDonald could turn out to be a nice player at the STAR position.

    In the secondary, Tennessee added one of the best talents in the country in Keshawn Lawrence, who is a freak athlete and has a chance to compete for a starting safety spot from day one. Fellow defensive back Doneiko Slaughter will out-play his recruiting ranking.

    All in all, Tennessee still lacks elite talent that will help compete for a National Championship. But considering where the state of the program was midway through the season, it’s a minor miracle Pruitt and his staff ended up with as much talent as they did.