National Signing Day came and went this week. There were no surprises, which is mostly good for the Vols, but Tennessee coach Josh Heupel wouldn’t have turned down a late commitment. Nevertheless, that’s just not the fruits that the new recruiting calendar bears out.
Therefore, the Vols 2024 signing class was ranked 12th in the nation and sixth in the SEC. In recent history, that simply wouldn’t have been good enough. However, with the ability of retaining current players with NIL instead of promising cash to high school students, 12th-best in the nation feels considerably better than it did just a few short years ago. Moreover, the Vols are thinking they need to win now, not later. Tennessee wants players who can contribute to the great Nico Iamaleava-campaign of 2024. All recruiting efforts have been focused on the 2024 season.
While it’s extremely difficult to contribute as a freshman, especially on the offensive and defensive lines in the SEC, here are the four (maybe more) signed high school prospects I believe have the greatest chance to contribute this fall:
S Boo Carter
From all I’ve been told, Tennessee has Carter slated to start at strong safety and he’ll get that opportunity when he first steps on the practice field. Carter, a four-star prospect, is a special athlete and the Vols need help in the secondary, so this seems like a natural fit for a four-star prospect to be an immediate impact player.
WRs Mike Matthews and Braylon Staley
Admittedly, I cheated a bit here and chose two receivers. However, both are four-star prospects, and the Vols could use some more explosive players at slot receiver and wideout. Matthews and Staley should be able to contribute. However, Heupel has shown over his career that receivers had better impress him quickly or his short-receiver rotation might not include any new comers.
RB Peyton Lewis
The Vols lost two key running backs from last year’s team. Only Dylan Sampson returns from a team that was running back heavy last season. The Vols will look for Cameron Seldon to play a major role this fall after a strong spring camp last season. However, even if Seldon is ready to play and Sampson can fine-tune his pass protection skills, there’s room for a third tailback like Peyton Lewis. Also, not to overhype Seldon, but he’s shown some spectacular flashes since being on campus.
BONUS – QB Jake Merklinger
Jake Merklinger won’t do much this season as long as things go as planned. Iamaleava will man the ship at quarterback, but what if the Vols have to play without Iamaleava at any point? The Vols don’t have another quarterback on their roster than can scare defenses as much as Merklinger can.
DOUBLE BONUS – Max Anderson
The Vols have had to rely on the transfer portal to fill several holes on their offensive line. Eventually, Tennessee needs to get past all that. Max Anderson, if he can just play sparingly, could be a strong sign that things are headed in that direction.
Tennessee might not have the best class in the nation as NIL funds had to be used to retain players as much as recruit new ones. That’s fine. The Vols landed a respectable class that can contribute to Iamaleava 2024. Isn’t that what it’s all about?