National Signing Day 2017: Grading the Tennessee Vols Recruiting Class

Nov 22, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; A general view of Neyland Stadium home of theTennessee Volunteers following the game against the Missouri Tigers. Missouri won 29-21.  Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 22, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; A general view of Neyland Stadium home of theTennessee Volunteers following the game against the Missouri Tigers. Missouri won 29-21. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee football’s 2017 recruiting class on National Signing Day included 27 commitments and a Top 20 ranking. Here are the grades for the units.

The rankings are in, the commitments are signed, and the focus toward the future has begun with National Signing Day over.

Butch Jones secured a Top 20 class for Tennessee football, which was not what many fans were hoping for, but it still had plenty of solid players.

Now comes the report card for that class.

Although it may not be the class that fans in Knoxville wanted to see, there were still plenty of things to be happy about with it.

And considering the fact that the Vols had to put the class together amidst a ton of turnover on the staff and after a disappointing season, they have a lot to be happy about.

They also had to weather a storm of 13 decommitments.

So there were a lot of things working against Tennessee football this year, which made it harder to secure an elite class. But they still got a class that was in the top half in the SEC.

And it’s time to look forward at what this class brings to the table.

As we get set to grade the Vols’ class from National Signing Day, we will do the grades the same way we grade performers in games.

So that includes an offensive grade, a defensive grade, and a grade for specialists. Specialists include kickers, punters, and athletes. Oh, and we’ll also finish with an overall grade.

Here are the official National Signing Day grades for the 2017 Tennessee football recruiting class.

Feb 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Montgomery Bell Academy football player Ty Chandler hands out cake to his classmates after signing his letter of intent to attend the University of Tennessee at a ceremony during National Signing Day. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV / The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK

Feb 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Montgomery Bell Academy football player Ty Chandler hands out cake to his classmates after signing his letter of intent to attend the University of Tennessee at a ceremony during National Signing Day. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV / The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee Football National Signing Day Offensive Grades

Quarterback: C

Butch Jones secured one quarterback for the Vols in this recruiting class, a three-star in Will McBride who committed back in December. McBride is not as elite as guys he was pursuing. However, the League City, Texas prospect does have talent. And it’s not a terrible loss because he is joining a competition this spring that includes three four-star quarterbacks. So Jones was good just to get a quarterback in this draft.

Running Backs: C-

With Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd gone, Butch Jones had a responsibility to bring in an elite running backs class. He did not do that. However, he did bring in another in-state superstar in Ty Chandler, a four-star. And he secured a three-star in Trey Coleman while also bringing in an overlooked two-star in Tim Jordan. With John Kelly on the roster, one of these guys is bound to work out. Still, he didn’t recruit to the level he needed to recruit here, so we can’t give it a B.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+

Tennessee football didn’t need to secure too many elite players at this position either due to the fact that the Vols already have four four-star receivers and two proven tight ends along with two they brought in last year. However, these are positions where you consistently want as many bodies as possible, and with Josh Malone gone, Butch Jones needed to bring in star power. He got one four-star in Jordan Murphy, but that was it. The unit simply wasn’t up to where it needed to be, especially when you consider what the roster currently looks like.

Offensive Line: B+

This is the one unit that was solid for this recruiting class. Butch Jones’s offensive line is already loaded, and here he brought in three more guys. One was a national star in Trey Smith, and he also secured a four-star in Riley Locklear. Adding two four-star recruits to an already loaded offensive line warrants a B+ here, even if the raw star power on its own is not enough to give this an A.

Overall Offensive Grade: C+

Butch Jones needed to shore up his situation at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. He didn’t do that. However, football games are won in the trenches, and he certainly added to an already deep offensive line, so that unit alone along with a couple of four-star skill players makes this a C+.

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers Vol Walk stadium entrance prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers Vol Walk stadium entrance prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Football National Signing Day Defensive Grades

Defensive Line: B+

The Vols were one more commitment away from an A here. After all, they brought in five defensive ends and two defensive tackles. And two of those seven players were four-stars, bringing in lots of depth to a unit that already has a ton of talent. However, Butch Jones was hoping to make this class historically great, and by suffering the decommitment of the Gaddy twins while also missing out on Elijah Conliffe, he failed in that regard. So the unit was docked down to a B+.

Linebackers: C

Tennessee football has suffered massively inconsistent play at linebacker for a while now, and they need another reliable player outside of Darrin Kirkland Jr. Kirkland has to be healthy anyway. As a result, Butch Jones needed a star-studded linebacker class. He didn’t get it. Jones secured two three-stars and a four-star at linebacker, which keeps the unit very thin and unproven for the future unless all three guys work out.

Secondary: B+

With the departure of Cameron Sutton and a new secondary coach, Tennessee football needed a solid class here for 2017. They did pretty well with bringing in five guys, two of whom are four-star recruits. There is already talent in the secondary, but it needs more depth and a couple more talented guys to be able to step in for Sutton. Butch Jones filled that void with this class, so even though it wasn’t star-studded, it still gets recognition.

Overall Defensive Grade: B

Butch Jones did very well up front and in the back end, but he really needed to shore up the linebacker corps. as well, and his lack of heavy recruiting there is what sets this grade down to a B instead of a B+.

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans tailgate prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans tailgate prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Football National Signing Day Specialist Grades

Place Kicker: A

It’s always a huge plus when you sign a three-star kicker or punter in recruiting, and Tennessee football did just that when they got place-kicker Brent Cimaglia to commit. With Aaron Medley entering his senior year, the Vols are now in perfect position to replace him immediately.

In fact, given Medley’s inconsistencies over the years, do not be surprised if the Vols actually replace him this year. After all, he has struggled in unacceptable ways, still not being able to be consistent from beyond 40 yards. Cimaglia gives Jones options, and that’s what makes this an A grade.

Punter: D

Butch Jones needed to find a punter for Tennessee football in this class, as Trevor Daniel will be a senior this year as well. And all they got was a preferred in-state walk-on in Adam Williams. That’s not enough to cut it to make sure the Vols are set for the future. Sure, Daniel was a walk-on, but what are the chances that happens again?

So this was a very bad move, and the Vols absolutely have to find a punter in their class for next year now unless they can get a fifth-year senior to transfer or Williams works out. That is not okay, and so since there was a need here, we give this a D. The only reason it isn’t an F is because Jones has another year to find a punter, and he did get Williams.

Athletes: N/A

Princeton Fant was the only athlete in the class, and he actually didn’t sign with the Vols on National Signing Day, so while he’s still committed, there’s no way to judge this spot right now. And since it’s not a needed spot, it doesn’t warrant a grade.

Overall specialists grade: B-

Butch Jones got at least a star kicker to set the Vols up for the future there, but not getting a punter docked this grade to a B-. It could have been an A otherwise.

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans outside Neyland Stadium prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans outside Neyland Stadium prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Tennessee Football National Signing Day Grade: B-

On the surface, Tennessee football fans are definitely disappointed. With 27 commitments, Butch Jones brought in no five-stars on Rivals, and the Vols finished No. 15 or No. 17 in all of their classes.

Last year, that was forgivable because of how stacked the roster was.

This year, he needed things to return to normal. They didn’t. A disappointing finish to the football season and staff changes probably committed to it, and the Vols had a record number of decommitments with 13.

That makes it difficult to secure a top class.

But when you bring in 27 guys and can’t get into the Top 10, you have a problem.

On the other hand, looking deeper into the class, let’s not pretend like it didn’t have some positives. Butch Jones has set up the offensive and defensive lines to be completely loaded for the next two years with depth.

He’s got an exciting quarterback battle coming up on his hands, and he made sure to have four guys on the roster at that position.

Meanwhile, he still has elite skill players all over the field and found enough in this class to make a solid impact.

So while the class isn’t great, it still made the top half of the SEC, and it’s still a Top 20 class. That certainly warrants at least B- grade by Tennessee football standards.

We’re going to stick with that grade for now, but remember, it’s not what happens on National Signing Day. To use one of Derek Dooley’s memorable quotes, the victory is what happens with these players two to three years down the road.

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