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Tennessee football: Five signees in Vols’ 2023 recruiting class most likely to play immediately

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Their first top 10 composite class since 2020, Tennessee football is starting to get back on track in recruiting. Of course, the Vols hope to reach another level under Josh Heupel, but given when most of the work was done on this class and the NCAA investigation still looming, you can’t ask for much more.

The Vols filled key defensive needs and may have found the best quarterback possible to run Heupel’s system. There are still areas they clearly need to shore up despite going 11-2 and finishing No. 6. Combine that with a few key losses, and some of these prospects could play immediately. Here are the five most likely to start in 2023.

5. Nico Iamaleava – QB

Sure, Joe Milton III is still there, but Hendon Hooker did start most of the season. As a result, there’s obviously going to be some competition for the starting job. Nico Iamaleava is the highest-rated recruit in the Vols’ class, so him playing a position where there’s somewhat of an opening has to put him on this list.

Iamaleava isn’t just the highest rated recruit either. His style of play is a match made in heaven for Josh Heupel’s system. Combine that with the issues of Milton’s accuracy, which can’t be overlooked just because of one game, and Iamaleava has a great chance of starting next year.

4. Shamurad Umarov – OL

There are two departures on the offensive line that Tennessee football has to deal with: Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin. Josh Heupel brought in transfers John Campbell Jr. and Andrej Karic to offset the loss of Wright. However, Jerome Carvin on the inside is also a big loss, and Shamurad Umarov could address that.

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As the only composite four-star on the line for the Vols in this class, Umarov has the best chance of any of them to play on merit alone. Combine that with the fact that he’s an interior lineman and there’s a need there, and you could easily see him working his way into the rotation.

3. Jordan Matthews – CB

Obviously, secondary play was the biggest weakness for the Vols last year. They now lose safety Trevon Flowers. Although all of their key cornerbacks are returning, they just flat-out need an upgrade there. Warren Burrell getting healthy and Heupel bringing in BYU Cougars transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally should help. However, this position is still wide open.

Enter Jordan Matthews and Rickey Gibson III. Both are highly touted and should easily be able to make an impact. Matthews made it onto this list because he is slightly taller and slightly higher rated, but if there were a No. 6 on here, Gibson would take that spot.

2. Daevin Hobbs – DL

Probably the most versatile defensive lineman in this class and certainly the highest rated, Daevin Hobbs is set to join a unit that lost two key players, Byron Young and LaTrell Bumphus. Although Tennessee football did add Omarr Norman-Lott from the Arizona State Sun Devils, they still need more help up front.

Now, Nathan Robinson appeared to have an impact during bowl practices, and we speculated that he was the reason Jordan Phillips entered the transfer portal. Tyree Weathersby is another lineman. Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring could potentially play edge rusher. Hobbs, though, is the highest rated player who is actually a defensive lineman in the class, so he gets the nod.

1. Arion Carter – LB

Linebacker was where Tennessee football took the biggest hit in the transfer portal when Josh Heupel took over two years ago, and they are still recovering from that. We saw just how thin they were when the defense looked awful a the South Carolina Gamecocks without Jeremy Banks. Now, Banks is gone, and Juwan Mitchell entered the transfer portal. Solon Page III is gone too.

That leaves Aaron Beasley as the only rotational linebacker. Heupel did go out and add BYU transfer Keenan Pili, but he alone won’t offset production. Linebackers Arion Carter, Jalen Smith and Jeremiah Telander were all brought in to help out. Of those, Carter is by far the most highly rated. Landing him was a huge deal, and he goes to the thinnest position, so he’s easily most likely to play.

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