The Tennessee Volunteers limped home to a 5-7 record last season under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Despite the Vols’ overall lack of success on the field during the 2018 campaign, Pruitt and company did achieve great success in selling the future of the program on the recruiting trail. Those efforts resulted in the nation’s No. 12-ranked signing class (according to 247Sports).
More importantly, Tennessee’s 2019 signing class provides an influx of young SEC-caliber talent that should go a long way in bolstering a roster that has been lacking over the last couple of seasons. In fact, several of these newcomers have the potential to make a significant impact during their first year on Rocky Top. Here are five such candidates that could pay big dividends for the Vols in 2019.
Darnell Wright, OL
If there is one position group that Tennessee needed to address more than any other on the recruiting trail, it was the offensive line. And the Vols did just that, securing one of the top offensive line classes in the nation for 2019. That group is headlined by Wright, the nation’s No. 2-ranked offensive tackle prospect. At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, the five-star product out of Huntington, West Virginia, possesses a combination of size and strength rarely seen in a freshman, making him a prime candidate to lock down a significant role at a position of need for the Vols in 2019. Wright won’t arrive on campus until summer, but it shouldn’t take long for him to make his presence felt.
Wanya Morris, OL
Darnell Wright isn’t the only prized offensive lineman in Tennessee’s 2019 signing class. The Vols also struck gold in landing fellow five-star Morris out of Loganville, Georgia. Much like Wright, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Morris possesses the rare combination of size, athleticism and strength necessary to make an immediate impact as a true freshman. Unlike Wright, Morris is already on campus, giving the nation’s No. 28 overall prospect a nice head start. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if Morris exits spring practice with a starting job already intact.
Savion Williams, DL
With Tennessee losing four of its top defensive linemen from last season, including all three starters, it was a no brainer for the coaching staff to turn to the junior college ranks for immediate help. It appears they found it in 6-foot-4, 315-pound Williams, the top-ranked JUCO defensive tackle prospect in the nation. The four-star defensive lineman, originally from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, spent the 2018 season at Lackawanna (Pa.) Community College, where he racked up 33 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. Williams has three seasons of eligibility remaining, and while he won’t arrive in Knoxville until the summer, he shouldn’t have any trouble carving out a major role in short order. Williams is expected to play defensive end in the Vols’ three-man base front, but he has the size and strength to slide inside when necessary.
Quavaris Crouch, LB
Prior to suffering an ankle injury that would ultimately derail his senior season, Crouch was widely considered the top high school prospect in America regardless of position. And for good reason, as the two-way star out of Charlotte, North Carolina, had a wildly successful junior season, rushing for a ridiculous 3,283 yards and 33 touchdowns at running back, while racking up 48 tackles and 14 sacks in a part-time role on defense. He will begin his career at Tennessee at outside linebacker, where the early enrollee will make a push for playing time this spring. He brings a level of athleticism to the position that the Vols have been sorely lacking. That should aid in his bid to see the field early and often in 2019. And it won’t come as a shock to see the versatile playmaker line up at running back from time to time.
Eric Gray, RB
Gray not only holds the record for the most touchdowns (138) in the history of Tennessee high school football, he is the only player in the history of the state to take home Mr. Football honors three times. And while the Vols return their top two rushers from last season in Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan, there should be plenty of room in the rotation for the talented freshman to make his mark as well. At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, the four-star prospect out of Memphis isn’t exactly a bruiser, but he does bring elite playmaking ability to the table, along with a knack for making defenders miss. He also has plenty of potential as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Gray should prove to be a major asset to the Tennessee ground attack in 2019 and beyond. An early enrollee, he will have a golden opportunity to showcase his abilities during spring drills.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.