Vols' best class of the Scout era?

InsideTennessee provides daily proof that Vol football coverage can be in-depth, insightful and entertaining at the same time. Check out this article analyzing the finest signing classes during the Scout era:

The recruiting analysts at Scout ranked Tennessee’s 2014 football signing class one of the five best in America, and that assessment proved to be on the money.

In fact, that class stands as the best the Vols have signed since Scout began publishing recruit rankings in 2002. During that 13-year span (2002-2014) the Big Orange signed 288 prospects. Not all of the five-stars panned out and not all of the two-stars petered out, of course. In general, though, the Scout rankings generally provided an accurate barometer of success: Good signing classes usually produce good results on the field. Mediocre signing classes typically produce mediocre results on the field.

After scouring Scout’s database, InsideTennessee has concluded that the Vols’ three best signing classes of the Scout era are Butch Jones’ 2014 class, Lane Kiffin’s 2009 class and Phillip Fulmer’s 2003 class. Please note that these rankings are based more on Signing Day star power than college production, although production was a consideration.

The ’14 class featured both quantity (32 signees) and quality (15 players accorded four-star rankings by Scout). Eleven of the 32 graced Scout’s top 300. They were wide receiver Josh Malone (66), running back Jalen Hurd (75), safety Todd Kelly Junior (121), running back Derrell Scott (142), defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix (149), tight end Daniel Helm (158), safety Cortez McDowell (185), tight end Daniel Wolf (192), linebacker Dillon Bates (217), defensive lineman Derek Barnett (279) and safety Evan Berry (293).

For what it’s worth: Malone lived up to his billing by starting six games as a true freshman. Hurd started nine, Kelly two, Helm two, Wolf 11 and Barnett 10. The Vols also got seven starts from four-star junior college signee Von Pearson at wide receiver. Additionally, the Big Orange received key contributions from several three-star signees. Jashon Robertson started all 13 games at right guard. Coleman Thomas started five games at right tackle, Vic Wharton two at wide receiver, Jakob Johnson two at middle linebacker, Emmanuel Moseley two at cornerback and JUCO transfer Chris Weatherd one at linebacker.

(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

There can be little doubt that the 2014 signing class was Tennessee’s finest of the Scout era. Likewise, there can be little doubt that the 2009 class was second best – on paper, at least. It was topped by America’s No. 1 overall prospect, running back Bryce Brown. Other top-300 members of that class were receiver Nu’Keese Richardson (61), running back David Oku (78), linebacker Jerod Askew (110), safety Darren Myles (112), cornerback Janzen Jackson (144), cornerback Marsalis Teague (184), cornerback Mike Edwards (212), defensive lineman Arthur Jeffery (235), running back Toney Williams (240), cornerback Nyshier Oliver (266) and cornerback Eric Gordon (282).

Tennessee’s third-best signing class of the Scout era was Phillip Fulmer’s 2003 haul. Even with just 22 signees, it featured five of Scout’s top 65 prospects – offensive lineman Eric Young (12), wide receiver Robert Meachem (37), defensive lineman Turk McBride (42), linebacker Daniel Brooks (58) and wide receiver Jayson Swain (65). Young and Meachem were five-star recruits.

After a detailed tour of Scout’s database, here are some more interesting facts InsideTennessee uncovered:

-Fulmer’s recruiting slipped dramatically in the mid-2000s, no doubt playing a key role in his dismissal following the 2008 season. His final signing class was his worst, featuring just two players who made Scout’s top 300 – receiver E.J. Abrams-Ward (123) and tight end Aaron Douglas (295).

-Kiffin’s 2009 class featured an even dozen members of Scout’s top 300. Like Kiffin, however, most left Knoxville in short order.

-Tennessee has not signed a five-star quarterback in the Scout era but landed a pair of four-stars – Jonathan Crompton (2005) and Joshua Dobbs (2013).

-The Vols have mopped up at wide receiver – landing five-stars Meachem (2003), Da’Rick Rogers (2010) and Cordarrelle Patterson (2012), plus four-stars Swain (2003), Ahmad Paige and Gerald Jones (2007), Richardson (2009), Justin Hunter (2010), DeAnthony Arnett (2011), Marquez North (2013), Malone and Pearson (2014).

-The Big Orange has signed 10 high-ranking running backs during the Scout era but few have panned out as ball-carriers to date. The rushers included five-stars LaMarcus Coker (2005) and Bryce Brown (2009), four-stars Jason Allen and Gerald Riggs (2002), Ja’Kouri Williams (2004), Lennon Creer (2007), Oku (2009), Marlin Lane (2011), Hurd and Scott (2014). Allen wound up starting four years in the secondary and being a first-round NFL Draft pick.

-Except for Eric Berry, the high-ranking defensive backs Tennessee signed during the past 12 years have proven to be duds. Berry, a five-star recruit tabbed Scout’s top-rated cornerback in 2007, lived up to the hype by being a three-year starter safety and first-round NFL Draft pick. Five-star Demetrice Morley, Scout’s No. 1 cornerback of 2005, was done in by disciplinary issues. Kiffin signed six DBs in 2009 – Myles, Jackson, Teague, Edwards, Oliver and Gordon. None of the six distinguished himself, although Teague and Gordon started several games each during their time on The Hill.

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