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Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“I am loving the recruiting right now! Guys like Brooks and Lewis we haven’t got in years.. what do you guys credit this recruiting to? Between them 2 and the LB we may get Sunday seem like 3 of the best LB’s in country.” – Stevie
Nathanael: A lot of it has to do with how this staff approaches recruiting. It’s no coincidence that UT has three winners of the 247Sports National Recruiter of the Year award, and Derrick Ansley could very well win it for the 2021 cycle too. This staff does a great job with relationships, as they’ve proven at previous stops and are now proving at Tennessee. Throw in the fact that they’ve been able to absolutely hit home runs with the virtual recruiting going on right now, and that explains a lot of it. Plus, Pruitt and his staff can actually sell some on-field results from last year and point to the NFL Draft, too.
Ben: Great relationships that stem from being genuine and straight-forward. Jeremy Pruitt is comfortable in his own skin. So are the rest of the impactful recruiters on Tennessee’s staff — Brian Niedermeyer, Tee Martin, Derrick Ansley, and Tee Martin. They’re easy to get along with and do a great job of relating to the recruits, which leads to genuine relationships. Tennessee itself has plenty to sell, but the coaches push it over the top with their ability to develop relationships.
“Where do you think Tennessee’s football 2021 recruiting class will end up ranked when all is said and done?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: It’ll definitely at least by a top 10 class, in my opinion. If they hold on to their top commits and add a few more top-150 type of players — which they look bound to do — then it’ll be a top five class. That’s assuming, like I said, that they hold on to the five-stars and other elite guys they have now. And barring another disastrous start like last season or a disastrous finish to the 2020 season, I think they will.
Ben: Assuming that the current commitments remain on board, I believe the Vols remain in the top five. This current class has serious “staying power.” And on top of having the type of players committed that will keep a class at the top of the rankings, Tennessee isn’t close to being done in terms of adding high level recruits. I’d be stunned if the Vols don’t finish with a top five class.
“How many recruits can we take this year? And anything about Jeremy Banks being able to come back?” – Joey
Nathanael: Tennessee should be able to take a full allotment of 25 prospects in the 2021 class, though that could obviously change if there’s a transfer UT wants to take next offseason and have him count toward the class numbers like they did this past offseason with a couple transfers.
With Banks, there isn’t any new news there, but I’ll maintain that I think he ends up back on the roster before the start of the 2020 season.
Ben: Tennessee can take 25 recruits this season, which they are surprisingly close to with nine months to go until National Signing Day.
As for Jeremy Banks, there’s no update, but I’d be surprised if he isn’t back on the team at some point. Pruitt has been working with Banks to help him make the improvements he needs to. Not to get back on the football field, but because Pruitt truly cares about Banks as a person.
“I’ve seen a lot of rankings having Kentucky projected higher for next year in both power rankings and projected wins. I just can’t see that argument. Where does Tennessee stand with Kentucky?” – Eric
Nathanael: Part of it probably has to do with Kentucky’s 2020 schedule being a little easier than Tennessee’s. They have a pretty good chance to win all of their non-conference games, and I would think the only games they won’t be favored in will be against Florida, Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee. I still think the Vols are a better team than the Wildcats, and I wouldn’t put Kentucky ahead of Tennessee in the power rankings. The two teams could end up with an equal amount of wins by season’s end, but I think Tennessee would be the better team and will likely beat the Wildcats in Knoxville when the two teams play.
Ben: I’m assuming this is in regards to football, but I, as of the beginning of the summer, have split up in the SEC East into tiers for the 2020 season. Georgia and Florida are the two teams in tier one simply because they have more talent and depth. Then Tennessee and Kentucky are tier two. South Carolina is in their own tier, and then Vanderbilt and Missouri are at the bottom by themselves.
Now, I think Tennessee is better than Kentucky, but I don’t think it’s as big of a margin as many people would expect. Mark Stoops is going to have another strong football team, especially for Kentucky football standards. The Wildcats get Terry Wilson back at quarterback, return a strong rushing attack, a really good offensive line, and a stout defensive front. I expect Kentucky to be in the thick of things come November, especially if they can pull off an upset over Florida in September.
Tennessee and Kentucky will be a fun match-up in Neyland Stadium come November assuming both teams remain healthy.
“Here’s one: if TN football is so irrelevant on a national basis then why are all these schools so salty about our recent recruiting success?” – Garrison
Nathanael: Exactly. With Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama all mentioning Tennessee on social media this past week or so, all it does it let Vol fans, coaches, and players know that those teams are thinking about the Vols. I think Brian Niedermeyer said it best, so I’ll let his answer be my answer:
Fellas if all these schools verified accounts keep posting about us continuously what’s the one school they’re all focused on……..yet we’re just over here focused on our team. #PruittEra #GBO #NewVolsWhoThis
— Brian Niedermeyer (@NiedermeyerB) May 7, 2020
Ben: I haven’t understood why schools such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, etc. have decided to take shots at Tennessee on social media. The previous match-ups have nothing to do with the current recruiting class, and all those schools are doing by positing different tweets is acknowledging that the Vols are hot on the recruiting trail.
“Any update on JT Daniels or Zach Evans?” – Logan
Nathanael: Nope. Evans has disappeared off the face of the planet it feels like, and I have no idea when he’ll make any sort of public announcement. As for Daniels, his situation could be very interesting to monitor over the next few months. If the NCAA decides not to pass the one-time transfer rule, I think it’s highly like he remains at USC. If they do go ahead and pass it, then Tennessee should definitely continue to pursue him.
Ben: Not really, but the buzz is that Zach Evans is headed to Texas. Either to TCU or Texas. As for JT Daniels, seems to be a Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan, and LSU battle. Returning to USC is also a possibility.
“Does this 2021 football recruiting class remind you of the Lane Kiffin class?” – @LewisStickey
Nathanael: Not at all, really. That class had almost no staying power, and there were a lot of…character issues in that class. I don’t see that with the kids Tennessee is getting in the 2021 class. I mean I could be proven wrong, but that’s just not the vibe I get. I don’t see half of this class no longer being on campus by 2023.
Ben: No, because by all indications, Tennessee is not only recruiting great football players, but they’re great people off the field as well. That 2009 class was filled with some very interesting characters. I doubt we’ll see the 2021 class in as much trouble as Kiffin’s boys were back in the day. In terms of star power, it’s close, but this year’s class has the edge there as well.
“Who is the break out men’s basketball player in 2020?” – Casey
Nathanael: I really like Ben’s answer down below, but I’m going to go with Josiah-Jordan James. I think he’ll finally get healthy and really show what he’s all about. He has such immense potential to be really, really good, and I think if he’s healthy, he’ll come into his own on offense. He’s a great rebounder, elite defender, and is very versatile. With Santiago Vescovi having a full offseason to get used to point guard duties, that should allow James to play more off the ball and not have to focus on being in control of the offense as much. That should free him up a lot.
Ben: Victor Bailey Jr., the transfer from Oregon who had to sit out last season due to transfer rules. You can’t replicate Lamonte Turner’s mentality on the basketball court, but Bailey is as close as you’re going to find. He’s hungry on both ends of the floor and plays with physicality. Everyone mentions Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah-Jordan James when talking about the guard position, but they need to start talking about Bailey more often.