There are several new faces on Rocky Top that could make their presence felt in 2018
Jeremy Pruitt’s first-ever signing class as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is officially in the books. According to 247Sports Composite Team Rankings, the Vols inked the No. 20-ranked signing class in the nation and the eighth-best class in the SEC for 2018. That left plenty to be desired for many Tennessee fans on National Signing Day.
But considering that the Volunteers are coming off a season in which they were 0-8 in conference play, combined with Pruitt’s short time on the job, compiling a top-20 class was no small feat. Sure, Tennessee missed out on a few elite prospects on signing day, but the 2018 signing class has no shortage of potential talent. That includes several top prospects that could have a major impact in just their first year in Knoxville. Here are five such players.
JJ Peterson, LB
The linebacker position will be an integral part of Tennessee’s new-look 3-4 defense under Jeremy Pruitt. And with the program’s struggles at the position over each of the last two seasons, it was paramount for Pruitt to land a top prospect at linebacker in this signing class. He did just that, holding off a late push from Alabama to secure the crown jewel of the Volunteers’ 2018 class. According to ESPN, Peterson is the No. 1-ranked outside linebacker prospect in the nation. And while the Army All-American is projected to play outside, his size and versatility allow him to play any of the four linebacker positions for the Vols. Peterson is expected to make an immediate impact and will be a front-runner to land a starting role as soon as he arrives in Knoxville later this summer.
Dominick Wood-Anderson, TE
The loss of four-year starter Ethan Wolf made tight end a priority position for Tennessee’s 2018 signing class. That prompted Pruitt to dip into the junior college ranks. And the first-year head coach came up big, once again beating out Alabama for a high-level prospect in Wood-Anderson. The No. 1-ranked JUCO tight end in the country possesses an outstanding combination of size (6-5 245), speed and athleticism that should allow him to excel as both a blocker and receiver in new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s system. The junior-to-be was unable to enroll at Tennessee in January as expected. Regardless, the door should be wide open for the West Coast product to lock down the starting job upon his arrival this summer. Wood-Anderson’s impact could be significant in 2018.
Jordan Allen, LB
The Volunteers are in desperate need at linebacker with the anticipated switch to a 3-4 defense in 2018. And the four-star, junior college prospect from City College of San Francisco should fit the bill nicely. Allen was ranked as the No. 2 JUCO weak-side defensive end prospect in the nation, but projects as an outside linebacker (i.e., pass-rush specialist) in Tennessee’s new-look scheme. He’s already added 16 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame since enrolling at Tennessee in January and should be able to carve out a prominent role for himself in the spring. The redshirt sophomore might even find himself in the starting lineup when Tennessee opens the 2018 season against West Virginia.
Alontae Taylor, WR
The Vols return most of their key contributors at wide receiver from 2017. But the opportunity to find the field early should be readily available for a newcomer with the skill set of Taylor, a homegrown product from Manchester. The Under Armour All-American primarily played quarterback in high school, but like Jauan Jennings before him, the transition to wide receiver should be fairly seamless for the gifted four-star athlete. Taylor will have a nice head start as an early enrollee, and he is expected to make a strong push for playing time in the slot this spring. His ability to stretch the field could make him a difference-maker for the Tennessee offense this fall.
Emmit Gooden, DT
Tennessee needs all the immediate help it can get along the defensive line. And that is why Pruitt once again turned to the junior college ranks to land Gooden. The former Tennessee native won’t arrive on Rocky Top until summer, but with good size (6-4, 3-5) and two years of football already under his belt at Independence (Kan.) Community College, Gooden should be well-equipped to handle the rigors of SEC football. The NJCAA All-American appears poised for a major role in the Vols’ defensive line rotation in 2018. Greg Emerson is another talented defensive line prospect to keep an eye on this season. Emerson’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the Vols’ 2018 signing class.
5 Additional Tennessee Newcomers to Watch in 2018
Greg Emerson, DL
Paxton Brooks, P
Jerome Carvin, OL
Jeremy Banks, RB
Jahmir Johnson, OL
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.