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Tennessee football defensive recruiting grades after 2023 early signing period

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Defense was widely considered a huge weakness for Tennessee football in 2022. Josh Heupel put an emphasis in his 2023 recruiting class on adding talent and depth to that side of the ball. 

The Vols’ pass defense ranked No. 126 out of 131 FBS teams. Heupel needed defensive help, and he went and got help in this class. 

Although Heupel will likely pick up several more prospects via the transfer portal, here is how the Off The Hook Sports staff grades defensive high school pickups for Tennessee football after the early signing period.. 


Daevin Hobbs: 6-foot-4 and 277-pound four-star, No. 51 prospect nationally, Jay M Robinson HS (Concord, NC) 

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Hobbs is a guy that could have an impact for Tennessee from day one. He had a lot of national buzz, choosing the Vols over Georgia and in state North Carolina. He projects as a mid-round draft pick and has a lot of tools for success in an SEC program, per 247Sports’ scouting report. 

Tyree Weathersby: 6-4 and 251-pound four-star, No. 311 prospect nationally, New Manchester (Douglasville, GA) 

Weathersby may not be a day-one player for Tennessee football, but he is very projectable. Rodney Garner has picked up a reputation for building defensive linemen, and Weathersby could be the next lineman that Garner coaches up. Right now, he would likely rush standing up. By the end of his college career, he could put on some weight and put his hand in the dirt. 


With the recent announcement that Omari Thomas will be returning for the 2023 season, the need for defensive linemen isn’t as immediate. However, building depth on a defense that gets very little rest is crucial every year. Heupel also went out and got a big-name prospect in Hobbs that will excite the fanbase. 


Jarreau: A 

Calhoun: B

Hooker: A


Chandavian Bradley: 6-4.5 and 209-pound four-star, No. 71 prospect nationally, Platte County HS (Platte City, MO) 

Bradley was a menace in high school, causing turnovers and racking up sacks. He is also another prospect that is very projectable. Tennessee football lacked a pass rush at times this season, and Bradley could change that on day one.

Bradley also showed in high school he could drop into coverage and play linebacker some. Tennessee’s defense needs depth and versatility, and Bradley can provide that. 

Caleb Herring: 6-5.5 and 206-pound four-star, No. 75 prospect nationally, Riverdale HS (Murfreesboro, TN)

Heupel locked down Tennessee’s borders and picked up the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee in Herring. During his three years in high school, he racked up 200 tackles, 56 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and three interceptions. He is another prospect that can drop in coverage in a 3-4 set, but also could rush from the defensive end spot. Herring could probably play day one with his speed, and provide depth for Tennessee’s defense.

Nathan Robinson: 6-5 and 272-pound three-star, No. 545 prospect nationally, Greenbrier HS (Greenbrier, TN)

Robinson is an in-state prospect who doesn’t rank super high, but he is a very projectable guy. He burst onto the scene his junior year, picking up 89 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, and six forced fumbles. 


Heupel needed to add depth and some more playmakers to his pass rush, a much-needed addition following the 2022 season. Of the three EDGE rushed Heupel got, two rank in the top-100 prospects nationally. Heupel also established the Vols’ recruiting prowess in the Tri-Star state with the pickup of Herring. All in all, there isn’t much to complain about from Tennessee’s 2023 EDGE group. 


Jarreau: A+

Calhoun: A

Hooker: A 


Arion Carter: 6-1 and 215-pound four-star, No. 158 prospect nationally, Smyrna HS (Smyrna, TN) 

Heupel further cemented Tennessee’s recruiting ground by keeping Carter in state. Carter was named Mr. Football in Tennessee’s 6A division his senior year, finishing with 92 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and a pick. He also was an offensive playmaker, finishing with 1,184 yards and 19 touchdowns on 185 carries. 

Jalen Smith: 6-foot and 213-pound three-star, No. 407 prospect nationally, Grayson HS (Loganville, GA) 

Smith runs a 12.17-second 100-meter dash, and had a lot of success in high school. He finished this season with a school-record 173 tackles. He also had 14.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and a forced fumble. He was also named an all-county linebacker, and linebacker of the year. 

Jeremiah Telander: 6-2 and 217-pound three-star, No. 728 prospect nationally, Gainesville HS (Gainesville, GA) 

The son of a football coach, Telander also was successful in high school. He picked up all-region honors in his sophomore and junior seasons. He finished his junior year with 137 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions on defense. On the offensive side, Telander finished with 381 yards of total offense. He may not jump off the page, but certainly a good pickup for Heupel. 


Aside from Carter, Tennessee’s 2023 linebacker class doesn’t rank very high. With Jeremy Banks on the way out and the rest of the Tennessee football linebackers still deciding on their futures, the Vols will need depth. 


Jarreau: B- 

Calhoun A-

Hooker: B-


Jordan Matthews: 6-1 and 184-pound four-star, No. 178 prospect nationally, Woodlawn HS (Baton Rouge, LA) 

Matthews is arguably one of the most ready-to-play prospects coming in the 2023 class. He surprised many with his commitment to Tennessee football over LSU and Texas. He also consistently ran a sub-11 100-meter dash.

Rickey Gibson: 6-foot and 171-pound four-star, No. 292 prospect nationally, Hewitt-Trussville HS (Trussville, AL)

Gibson was a playmaker in Alabama’s toughest high school division. He finished his senior year with 40 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and four picks. He may play in year one, but likely would need to put on weight before he saw the field in the SEC. 

Cristian Conyer: 6-1.5 and 170-pound three-star, No. 554 prospect nationally, South Warren HS (Bowling Green, KY)

Conyer is a projectable prospect that doesn’t jump off the page at you. He played both sides of the ball in high school, and he had a lot of success. He may have an impact on special teams in his first season. 


Tennessee needs help in the secondary, that is evident. Heupel’s 2023 cornerbacks can help immediately, and down the road. Matthews was a very big pickup for Tennessee football as part of rebuilding the national recruiting brand. Still, it would have been nice to see Heupel get another defensive back with freshman-year potential. 


Jarreau: B

Calhoun: B+

Hooker: A


John Slaughter: 6-1.5 and 194-pound three-star, No. 583 prospect nationally, Southaven HS (Southaven, MS) 

From barely outside of Memphis in Mississippi, Heupel picked up the ball hawk in June. Slaughter was named defensive player of the year in Mississippi’s 6A division, finishing with 30 tackles and six interceptions. He ran two interceptions back for touchdowns and had a pair of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. 

Jack Luttrell: 6-1 and 187-pound three-star, No. 949 prospect nationally, Colquitt County HS (Moultrie, GA) 

Luttrell is the son of a former Carson-Newman football player. He also is a guy who was a natural leader for his high school and never ran away from the competition. He finished the 2022 season with 103 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and an interception. 


Neither safety pickups in the 2023 class rank super high, but they add much-needed depth. Both prospects showed their versatility in high school, playing in man defenses and zone defenses. Both also show good ball skills and could impact Tennessee soon after arriving. 


Jarreau: C+

Calhoun: C

Hooker: C-

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