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.
“If Kylin Hill goes and transfers do you think we will go after him?” – @AlwaysVol
Nathanael: Well, first of all, I don’t think he’ll transfer. I think the state of Mississippi will either change the flag or do enough for him to feel like he’s fine with staying at MSU. But if he does transfer, Tennessee would be foolish not to go after him. Hill is one of the best running backs in the SEC right now. He might be the best back in the conference. He would certainly fit in better with UT’s offense than Mike Leach’s new offense with the Bulldogs.
Ben: No, because Tennessee doesn’t have any room. Now, he’s the type of talent that you make room for if he wants to come. He’d be the No. 1 back the moment he stepped foot on campus as he’s arguably the best running back in the SEC. I don’t believe Kylin Hill is going to be transferring, however. Especially after coaches from both Mississippi State and Ole Miss made their way to Capitol Hill in Mississippi on Thursday afternoon to advocate to change the state flag.
“Who is RB3 now that Jordan is off the team?” – Geoff
Nathanael: I think it has to be one of the freshmen. I think Eric Gray and Ty Chandler are the dual backs who will carry most of the load, but I don’t think Carlin Fils-aime is cut out to be the third back. He can be used as a gadget player and a change-of-pace type of back, but I don’t see him being a true RB3. I think it’s much more likely either Len’Neth Whitehead or Tee Hodge is that third back.
Ben: Whichever of the three freshmen backs that has positioned himself to play right away. A vague answer, but it’s that simple. I’d be surprised to see Carlin Fils-aime as a member of the team by the time the season-opener rolls around on Sep. 5th. With Tim Jordan gone, that leaves the door wide open for Jabari Smalls, Len’Neth Whitehead, and Tee Hodge. I’d place my money on Whitehead or Hodge, as they both have the body type to exceed in pass protection as freshmen.
“What is your over/under for the number of 4/5 stars the Vols end up signing and does it matter at this point? It seems like a number of the 3 star committed are 4 star quality and/or good fit for Pruitt’s system.” – Greg
Nathanael: Right now, the Vols have 10 players rated as four-stars or higher on 247Sports. I would expect a few of UT’s current commits — like Tiyon Evans, Miles Campbell, and possibly Walker Merrill or De’Shawn Rucker — to be consensus four-stars by the end of the 2021 cycle. I also see the Vols getting commits from at least three or four more players in the four-or-five-star range, and there’s always the chance Tennessee loses one or two of their higher-rated commits, too. So I’ll estimate somewhere between 14-17 four-stars or higher end up in UT’s class.
As for your second question, yes and no. Stars don’t always matter from an individual perspective, but from a team perspective, history has shown that teams that stockpile a lot of four-and-five-star players have the most success and challenge for titles more often than those that don’t. So while Pruitt has (rightfully) earned the reputation of being a good talent evaluator, and several of UT’s three-stars could out-perform their rankings, I think it’s still better to sign as many elite recruits as possible.
Ben: I would guess that Tennessee ends up with 18-or-so four-stars or higher. The Vols already have quite a few, and as Nathanael pointed out, a couple of guys are likely to be four-stars when it’s all said and done. Plus, most of the recruits Tennessee is pursuing are four-star players.
I completely agree that the three-stars that the Vols are bringing in fit well with what Pruitt and his staff are looking for. Which makes sense, because why would Pruitt bring in somebody he didn’t think fit in? The more important aspect of each of the three-stars that are currently committed is that they all have an aspect to their game they are really good at.
“What are our chances with Page? When do you expect us to get another commit? I got spoiled a month or so ago.” – @BlazeKeylon
Nathanael: From everything I’ve heard, it’s down to Tennessee and Clemson for Payton Page. I think the Vols have positioned themselves well, but the Tigers still worry me and are probably the slight favorites at the moment. I wouldn’t be shocked if Page picked either UT or Clemson, though. North Carolina is trying to get some more momentum, too.
I’d say Page is probably the most likely candidate for a commitment for the Vols in the coming weeks since he’s set to announce in July. Maybe Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins will do something soon, but I’m not sure about that.
Ben: Tennessee is in great position to land Page. It’s essentially down to Clemson and Tennessee, though North Carolina is scratching and crawing to land his services. I’d expect an announcement before the end of the summer.
“We need another safety type in this class. Besides Rucker, who could it be?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: I’d actually argue that Tennessee more needs a cornerback than a safety in this class, but the Vols have a ton of options at defensive back right now. Terrion Arnold, Isaiah Johnson, Nyland Green, and Damarius McGhee are the top names to know, and I think the Vols can land at least one of them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get two of that group, though. Junior college CB De’Jahn Warren is also one to watch.
Ben: There really isn’t a true safety option remaining on Tennessee’s board. The common theme in the defensive backs Pruitt brought in last recruiting cycle, and are targeting this cycle, is versatility. Look at Key Lawerence and Doneiko Slaughter. Lawrence is starting at corner while Slaughter is starting at nickle, but the staff plans to move them around in the secondary by the time they’re upperclassmen. We’ve seen that same approach in the guys Tennessee is pursuing this cycle. Defensive backs to watch for are Terrion Arnold, Damarius McGhee, De’Jahn Warren, Dylan Merrell, Javon Bullard, and Christian Charles.
“What are the remaining linebacker options in the class besides Mondon? And where are we with them?” – Tom
Nathanael: In terms of outside linebacker/pass rushing options, Naquan Brown and Khristian Zachary are the two names I’d zero-in on the most. I like where the Vols are with both of them, but that doesn’t mean they’re the leaders. Landyn Watson is also an edge rusher/OLB who is an option. I think the Vols have an outside shot at someone like Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Greg Penn III, and Chris Paul Jr., too.
Ben: There aren’t a ton at the moment with Terrence Lewis and Aaron Willis already on board. Smael Mondon is without a doubt the third and final backer Tennessee is targeting in the 2021 class. If not Mondon, the Vols will continue to swing with Junior Colson, who is committed to Michigan. Naquan Brown is a name consistently brought up, but I think Tennessee has quite a bit of ground to make up in that department. The Vols are pursuing more of a hybrid pass rusher than a true linebacker at the moment.
“IF Kennedy Chandler commits to Tennessee are there potentially other highly rated guys in 21 class that want to play with him?” – Adam
Nathanael: Absolutely. Tennessee is concentrating all their firepower on a number of five-stars in the 2021 cycle, and Chandler is just one of them. If the Vols land the top PG in the 2021 class, there’s a good chance one of Paolo Banchero, Harrison Ingram, or Jabari Smith end up joining him. All three of those players are five-stars.
Ben: Without a doubt. I believe Paolo Banchero stays out on the west coast and attends Washington, but he is good friends with Chandler, and the two have talked about playing together. Kim English has done a great job of making sure Tennessee is firmly in the mix with Banchero.
Jabari Smith and Harrison Ingram are the two other highly-rated recruits to watch for. Smith has already taken an official visit to Knoxville, and Ingram has ties to Tennessee.