After viewing camps, combines, games, film study and following the recruitment of so many, InsideTennessee provides a premium look at the shiny new prospects arriving in Knoxville.
Dontavius Blair | OT | Anniston (Ala.)
The Scout four-star was offered immediate starting jobs at offensive tackle from several prominent programs outside of Tennessee, including Southeastern Conference champion Auburn. Getting him to stick with his pledge was immense for the staff and confidence was high throughout the fall after Blair's late-summer visit. Blair shared talks with Antonio Richardson during his July trip and knew the opportunity in Knoxville long before it came to fruition. He more closely resembles the type of tackle that assistant coach Don Mahoney covets. While he has good punch and aids positively in creating a pocket for his passer, what I need to see is him him downfield and clear a lane for playmakers with coordinator Mike Bajakian's scheme relying on the scheme game.
Neiko Creamer | OT | Wilmington (Del.)
Creamer is not only a fascinating story considering he's one of several legacies with this class but also because he re-classified from the 2013 class to 2014. He was both young enough to do it and the move was mostly necessary after tearing an ACL in November 2011 at Eastern Christian Academy. He figures to open up his career in Knoxville at wide receiver but could very well slide in to tight end or flip to defense. At 6-3, 223, he shows up with solid size and a frame for coach Dave Lawson to pack muscle upon.
Daniel Helm | TE | Chatham (Ill.)
Speaking with Helm on several occasions, his intelligence sticks out to you. That had to be a factor in his recruitment. Tennessee coaches, including Mark Elder, spent hours with Helm and his father in the summer and that time — paired with Michigan filling up — was paramount in getting the best tight end in Illinois. Hated not seeing him get the football at Offense-Defense All-American week, but I see him as a tight end that can stay on the field for all downs.
Jalen Hurd | RB | Hendersonville (Tenn.)
The four-star simply needs to stay on the football field and play at close to 90-95 percent. No physical back will enter a season or stay at 100 percent. Hurd has suffered a pair of shoulder injuries already. If those surgeries were successful and he can build muscle to protect that shoulder, the sky is truly the limit. I've been asked incessantly what position Hurd will switch to once he got to college. As a Vol, I have to think he's a running back all the way and will push Marlin Lane for the starting spot right out of the gates. What the state champion and Mr. Football winner finally gives Tennessee is a short-yardage back with both the lower body and want-to to move a pile and grind games away in the fourth quarter. However, when right, he also has breakaway speed. It's a combination that could lead to huge things for the former Beech High standout. Butch Jones needed a Top 100 player to pledge to the Orange & White early in the process and Hurd came through in spite of previously wanting to see how things played out in the fall. That decision by Hurd brought momentum to the program and played a key role in Tennessee having a double-digit number of commits before the current team played one game with its new staff.
Jakob Johnson | LB | Jacksonville (Fla.)
Putting on the film, you see Johnson play both linebacker and offensive tackle, which is an odd combination at some levels of football. As a youngster that's only been in the states for about 10 months, he's nowhere close to approaching the football player he can be. He looks stiff moving in space at 'backer but some improvements done to his body from a flex-and-stretch standpoint could help. Johnson speaks fondly of building his body through weights and took exception to his GPA being listed by Ribault High at 3.0 with the German academic standards being higher than what's in the United States. So, Johnson keeps himself accountable both in the gym and in the classroom. He speaks English, German and Spanish. Curiosity got Johnson to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium less than two weeks after he committed to Tennessee but he held firm with his orange-clad decision.
Josh Malone | WR | Gallatin (Tenn.)
The top player in the 2014 class for the Vols, the Gallatin native gives coach Zach Azzanni's voice a chance to rest when he's banging his head against the wall trying to teach athletes how to play receiver. Malone high points the football as well as any wideout I've seen on the prep level. He's silky smooth with his actions and is a quarterback's best friend as he combines those skills with football intelligence having played the sport and his position since a young age. Malone's skill set could see him being handed or pitched the football on top of getting the rock through the air. He immediately makes the four Vols signal-callers better. Nudging out Clemson and Georgia in the final weeks shows the type of closers the Vols have on staff with Azzanni, Jones and Tommy Thigpen. Malone comes from a mother who's a basketball coach and a father who's an ATF agent.
Dimarya Mixon | DE | Compton (Calif.)
Much intrigue around this Texan that signed 11 months ago with Nebraska. Things didn't work out for the Cornhuskers and assistant coach Steve Stripling certainly hopes he got a steal with Mixon as production from defensive end isn't something Vols fans have seen too terribly much of in recent years, which is a key contributor to the fall of the program. No film from 2013 exists on Mixon because he didn't play football. Thus, expect some rust to exist there that wouldn't otherwise. However, Mixon assured me he was both working out in the gym and on his fundamentals and not just sitting on his can taking phone calls from college coaches.
Emmanuel Moseley | CB | Greensboro (N.C.)
Aggressiveness, mass and strength are all preventing Moseley from being a guy that could contribute immediately. If there's a Class of 2014 member that needed to enroll early it's this Offense-Defense All-American and state champion. The staff is doing quite a bit of projection on the three-star as he's not currently built to bring down SEC wideouts and few other FBS program's Tennessee's size showed any interest. Moseley is a quiet and humble young man that went from being Charlotte-bound to the fast track to Rocky Top. The Tar Heel State native is a great example of why prospects that have any chance of playing college football need to hit the summer camp circuit at universities where they could see themselves. You never know. If Moseley develops into a starter, the Vols owe a major assist to defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who loved Moseley from the start.
D'Andre Payne | CB | Washington (D.C.)
A dramatic start to his senior season with prep eligibility concerns in Washington, D.C., never seemed to get the four-star down cornerback down. Payne plays an aggressive brand of football out on the island and that style could rub off positively on Moseley. His being a true cornerback should allow him to contribute sooner rather than later. He isn't blessed with tremendous height and length, so shutting down Dorial Green-Beckham on Nov. 22. Payne needs to evolve into the neutralizer to opposing slot receivers that feast in space.
LaVon Pearson | WR | Newport News (Va.)
Speaking with a Vol off the record about the 2014 season, Pearson was the one newcomer singled out. At 6 feet 3 and the tremendous ability to adjust to footballs already in flight make him a key signing for the staff. He's another reason why Azzanni might not look as stressed after practices and camp. Fans want to compare him to Cordarrelle Patterson because of the JUCO route and long hair but Pearson doesn't have the stick-and-cut moves of NFL All-Pro (maybe two other receivers on the planet actually do). However, the Virginia native that caught 93 balls in 2013 has a skill set that should make it extremely hard to keep him out of the starting lineup from the 2014 onset. He should see single coverage often enough to torch secondaries if Malone lives up to the billing and Marquez North continues progressing.
Ray Raulerson | OL | Tampa (Fla.)
As a product of a great high school program like Plant High in Tampa and competing in FHSAA Class 8A, adjusting to college football shouldn't be as big of a deal as it might eventually be for a prospect like junior lineman commit Zach Stewart. That cerebral side of Raulerson's should allow him to make a seamless transition from tackle to possibly guard or most likely center. With the graduation of James Stone, Mack Crowder moves up to the starting center job and Crowder will need others pushing him. Raulerson and perhaps Kyler Kerbyson could do some of that, although Don Mahoney cross trains all of his hogs as much as possible.
Coleman Thomas | OL | Max Meadows (Va.)
Expectations from IT are for Thomas to slide outside to tackle at some point as Raulerson slides in. At 6-6 and being extremely athletic (also played baseball and basketball), Thomas has the credentials to lock up relentless pass rushers, which are commonplace in the SEC. He doesn't have an SEC body and could use a redshirt toward getting there physically. Vic Wharton may have been the first 2014 class member to hop on board but Thomas was that high-rated prospect with a single digit on his positional ranking to pledge to Jones & Co. He was also the first out-of-state recruit to commit to Tennessee and figures to join Pearson in a pipeline from Virginia to The Hill.
Owen Williams | DT | Macon (Ga.)
Toss out Scout's two-star rating and pay closer attention to Williams' being the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and an NCJCAA second-team All-America. When I see clips of the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder, I see a blend of former Vols standouts Jesse Mahelona and Dan Williams. What Owen Williams lacks in extreme upside and length, he makes up for in get-off and lower body strength. He's fantastic at shedding blocks of slower centers and getting a push versus guards. Tennessee won't face quite as much foot speed with opposing quarterbacks this fall as the season prior, so Williams could cause some errant throws and rack up a solid number of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. With Davonte Lambert signing with Auburn in the 11th hour, Williams' decision to flip from Texas Tech became essential for the Big Orange.
Ethan Wolf | TE | Minster (Ohio)
As Azzanni will be thrilled to have toys like Malone and Pearson at his disposal, tight ends coach Mark Elder looks to be giddy to simply have more healthy bodies with which to work. Last season, Brendan Downs was slowed by a knee, Alex Ellis missed the entire season with a knee and A.J. Branisel went down late with a knee. That opens the door wide open for Helm and Wolf to get reps and contribute in the spring and subsequently their first season on campus. Wolf is the larger of the two (6-5, 243) but don't sleep on his ball skills. Wolf enjoys contact and figures to provide double duty as a blocker and a pass-catcher with his head on a swivel looking to lower a shoulder into a defensive back like a runaway bull hoping to gore a rodeo clown. Wolf carries his 243 pounds well and has room to add at least 20-25 pounds to his frame. When Vols quarterbacks don't sight a WMD streaking downfield and the pressure is coming, Wolf figures to be a playmaking dump-off valve. With Elder leading the charge, the Vols pushed Michigan State out of the picture quickly to get the Ohio native to only see orange and the four-star never wavered.