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What to expect out of five-star Vol prospects at Tennessee

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In case you haven’t noticed, Tennessee’s recruiting hit another level recently. That tends to happen when the Vols pick up two five-star prospects in a day, which is what Tennessee did earlier this week.

When combined with the Vols’ other elite prospects, there’s every reason to believe that Tennessee has the star power to compete with the top teams in the nation and win a championship in foreseeable future, possibly even as early as 2024. 

Entering his fourth season as a Vol, coach Josh Heupel has landed eight players that are – or were – considered five-star prospects by most recruiting analysts. That’s not bad for a coach that was widely questioned as a recruiter when he was hired by Tennessee following the 2020 season. 

While any highly rated player could be a bust, here is a breakdown of what to expect out of Heupel’s best commitments, signees and current players that have warranted a five-star rating:

QB Nico Iamaleava

Ceiling: Heisman Trophy and National Championship

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Floor: Upper-level quarterback for the next four years

I seriously doubt Iamaleava will be around in 2027 when his eligibility will run out. If so, then he wouldn’t likely be the generational quarterback that so many believe he is. His upside is tremendous, both in terms of athletically and his approach to the game. Clearly, the redshirt freshman is expected to change the direction of the Vols’ program.

OT Lance Heard

Ceiling: Starter in 2024 and All-SEC player before his college eligibility has expired

Floor: Three-year offensive line contributor

There’s a reason the Vols chased after Heard, who announced his transfer from LSU to Tennessee on Sunday. The Vols need a starting offensive lineman immediately and the thought Heard could be plugged into left tackle very soon, considering he started a game for the Tigers last season and played in every game for LSU in 2023. If there’s one concern about Heard, it’s the fact that he transferred high schools and has now transferred in college. Will Tennessee make him happy?

DL Daevin Hobbs

Ceiling: Disrupting interior defensive line force who becomes an All-SEC player and a first-round NFL Draft pick

Floor: Part of the defensive line rotation for three seasons

Hobbs played extensively last season, which is no small feat for a freshman. Tennessee didn’t even try to redshirt him, which means he was far too good to stay on the sideline. Hobbs has a penchant for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s not an anchor-down defensive tackle; he’s a disrupter. That makes him valuable as long as he plays with gap discipline. 

QB George MacIntyre

Ceiling: Heisman Trophy and National Championship

Floor: Eventual transfer

No one truly knows what will happen with Tennessee’s quarterback situation after Iamaleava has wrapped up his college career. Remember, Tennessee has four-star quarterback Jake Merklinger on the roster and he’s not going to willingly give up the job after Iamaleava is done and MacIntyre is on campus, who is expected to enroll in December as part of the 2025 class.

WR Mike Matthews

Ceiling: Fred Biletnikoff Award Winner

Floor: Two-year starter

Matthews is as talented as any receiver the Vols have recruited out of high school. Heupel has proven he can produce the top receiver in the country. Former Vol Jalin Hyatt won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 2022. However, a starting job won’t be handed to Matthews or any other receiver. Like Hyatt had to, Matthews will have to earn it.

WR Bru McCoy

Ceiling: All-SEC and top team leader

Floor: Unfulfilled talent due to injury and transfers

McCoy has put plenty of pressure on himself. He only has one year of eligibility remaining after he transferred three times before finally landing at Tennessee. Then, he suffered a nasty, season-ending leg injury that cut his 2023 campaign short in September. McCoy is one of the most talented players on Tennessee’s roster. However, he’s running out of chances.

EDGE James Pearce, Jr.

Ceiling: All-American and Top Five NFL Draft Pick

Floor: Bust due to off-field issues

If Pearce reaches his potential this season, it could be his last at Tennessee as he’ll surely have the option to enter the NFL Draft after his junior season. However, Pearce has to mind himself. The All-SEC defensive end was arrested during a traffic stop in which he was charged with a variety of driving violations.

LB Jordan Ross

Ceiling: All-SEC, potentially All-American, performer

Floor: Four-year contributor, two-year starter

Ross hasn’t played college football so it’s hard to project just how good he can be. However, he has all the ability to be an outstanding, impact player at outside linebacker and, at times, as an EDGE rusher. 

Conclusion: In all likelihood, Tennessee won’t strike gold with every five-star it has signed. However, there’s good reason to be optimistic. Recruiting, player development and health are always unknowns. However, things are usually more positive when a player is loaded with talent, which all of the aforementioned players have in droves.

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