-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
No. 20: Tennessee Volunteers (22 total signees)
SEC Rank: 8th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 0
National Signees: 4
Where They Got 'Em:
The state-by-state breakdown of this Tennessee class is exactly what a quality Volunteer class should look like. Derek Dooley used a heavy Southeastern focus mixed with talent-rich states like Ohio (2), Texas and Michigan to round out his class. Tennessee (4), Florida (5), Georgia (4), Louisiana (2), South Carolina (2) and North Carolina (1) provided the bulk of this haul. Without an elite naturally talented in-state recruiting base, the Vols have to be competitive in the thoroughly combed SEC states.
With a loaded (relatively speaking) in-state year in 2013 looming, new defensive coordinator and ace recruiter Sal Sunseri should make his presence felt more in the next cycle than in 2012.
Areas of Focus:
2012 will be a make or break season for Dooley, and all of Vol Nation knows it. Landing a top 25 class was imperative to keep the barking dogs at bay, and Dooley was able to accomplish that. And he did so in the face of massive coaching turnover. Dooley used elite level junior college talent — which can be a double-edged sword — and excellent coaching hires to ink the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation.
The hiring of Sunseri and former Vol Jay Graham have brought some excellent rising clout to the Big Orange recruiting trail. While a few names defected from this class following the coaching departures, undoubtedly these two deserve a lot of credit for not only holding the class together but also landing some big names down the stretch.
The biggest, both literally and figuratively, names to commit to Tennessee come from the JUCO ranks with the 6-6, 380-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and five-star wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. A two-time NJCAA All-American, Patterson excelled as a wideout (61 rec., 924 yards, 15 TD), a return man (48.2 yards per kick return on 10 attempts) and in the ground game (32 att., 379 yards, 6 TD). These two are joined by former Alabama Crimson Tider Darrington Sentimore — who played 11 games as a freshman for Nick Saban back in 2010. McCullers and Sentimore are high-quality prospects who can contribute immediately to a D-Line that needs help.
Patterson leads a wide receiving class that is one of the best in the nation, and combined with Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, will form arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Three of the four nationally ranked players in this class are headed to the WR position and each brings a different skillset to the offense. Alton "Pig" Howard is a smallish speedster who can be used in a variety of unique ways. He posted 2,630 yards receiving and a 1,000-yard season (2010) as a wideout with 2,147 yards rushing and a 1,000-yard season (2009) over his final three prep campaigns. He scored 48 times over that span. The 6-5, 220-pound Jason Croom brings a long frame and big-time deep threat ability. He also ran track and played basketball and should be a fantastic vertical threat. In-stater Drae Bowles is the highest-rated of the bunch and might be the most complete. He finished his high school career with 171 receptions, 2,569 yards and 23 touchdowns — all while playing linebacker and defensive back on the other side of the ball. Add in tight end Justin Meredith to the mix, a guy who averaged 25 yards per catch as a junior, and the Vols boast the top pass-catching unit in the SEC.
With Tauren Poole graduating, the Vols needed to replenish their backfield, and three new faces come to campus in this class. Louisiana tailback Davante Bourque is the highest-rated of the bunch after rushing for 3,368 yards (8.4 ypc) and 57 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Crowley. Bourque has the most upside as a true three-down back, but smaller back Qeunshaun Watson and bruiser Alden Hill offer excellent complimentary pieces. Hill, who is already enrolled in class, finished as his school's all-time leading rusher (4,745 yards, Marlington, Alliance, Ohio) while Watson posted his own school record with a 1,790-yard senior year (Clarke Central, Athens, Ga.).
The big JUCO talents along the defensive line are joined by two true freshmen — 310-pound Michigan product Danny O'Brien and Lakeland, Fla., talent Trent Taylor. But make no mistake — Sentimore and McCullers are the likeliest to contribute early on the D-line.
Three linebackers signed with the Vols in this class with an oustide chance of a few other converts. The lengthy tandem of Justin King and LaTroy Lewis add tremendous athletic ability to the middle level of the Tennessee defense. Lewis, at 6-4 and 235 pounds, has some serious upside as an edge rusher but missed most of his senior season with a broken bone in his foot. If he fully recovers, he could easily outperform his recruiting rankings. King, who played quarterback and running back on offense as well as LB, brings a serious speed-size combination. Additionally, the Vols signed Florida linebacker Kenneth Bynum two weeks after National Signing Day. The 6-3, 213-pounder was formerly committed to Cincinnati, and Dooley's patience with him further indicates the issues at linebacker for Tennessee. Where and how these three end up will be key to how Dooley and Sunseri attack the potentially loaded 2013 class to fill a major area of need.
The defensive backfield got an excellent boost as well from a four-man defensive back class. Future safety LaDarrell McNeil is the top-rated player in this class and was once an AC100 talent. He led his team in tackles with 124 stops in 2011 and will likely make an immediate impact in the secondary. Cornerback Deion Bonner is the top coverman of the bunch after back-to-back all-state selections at Georgia powerhouse Columbus-Carver. He was named 2011 Co-MVP of the Georgia All-Star game. Bonner is joined on the outside by Sunshine State speedster Daniel Gray.
Even though quarterback is the least of Dooley's concerns at the moment, the Vols still landed a good one in Florida product Nathan Peterman. Offense-Defense named the Florida 6A first-teamer as the National Scholar-Athlete of the Year. His 36 passing touchdowns in 2011 rank second all-time in St. Johns County to that guy who wore No. 15 for the Gators.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 3, WR: 4, TE: 1, OL: 0, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 3, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 1
Other National Signees:
112. LaDarrell McNeil, DB (6-1, 195), Dallas (Texas) Wilmer-Hutchins
180. Drae Bowles, WR (6-1, 198), Jackon (Tenn.) Christian
219. Alton Howard, WR (5-9, 180), Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater
240. Jason Croom, WR (6-5, 200), Norcross (Ga.) High
Cody Blanc, ATH (6-1, 200), Knoxville (Tenn.) Central
Alden Hill, RB (5-11, 180), Alliance (Ohio) Marlington
Justin Meredith, TE (6-5, 225), Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna
Nathan Peterman, QB (6-3, 210), Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail
Darrington Sentimore, DL (6-2, 273), Norco (La.) Destrehan (Gulf Coast C.C.)
Trent Taylor, DL (6-2, 271), Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson
Tino Thomas, DB (5-11, 195), Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose
Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4