When it was all said and done Wednesday evening, Tennessee's 2016 class was ranked No. 17 by Scout — twelve spots lower than 2015's No. 5 finish. However, the aggregate star rating of this year's haul, a 3.62, is higher than both of Butch Jones' top five classes at Tennessee. Thus describes the 2016 version of the Vols' recruiting class. The 21 players who inked their National Letter of Intent on Wednesday represent the smallest class of Jones' tenure in Knoxville, but they also represent his most complete to date.
"It's been a round-the-clock process," Jones said. "We've had very few hours of sleep, whether it's traveling and finishing up the contact period and the last chance to get in front of these young men and their families, or working the phones and finding out what's important to the young man and following up on everything, whether it's an academic question, whether it's a program question, an athletic question ... there's a lot that went into it. This class went right down to the wire."
Jones is known as a closer in the recruiting world, and he earned that title in the final 48 hours before signing day. Tennessee was able to flip two solid Miami commitments in Scout four-star cornerback Tyler Byrd and Scout three-star wide receiver Latrell Williams. The Vols also won the four-program battle for Scout five-star junior college defensive end Jonathan Kongbo and sealed the deal with Scout five-star defensive back Nigel Warrior, who announced his decision at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Warrior, who joins Byrd, Scout four-star D.J. Henderson, Scout three-star Baylen Buchanan and Under Armour All-American Marquill Osborne, completes a defensive back class that could be one of the best in modern Tennessee recruiting history.
"Marquill Osborne and DJ Henderson being on campus already, they're really working hard to fit in and be really good teammates right now," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told InsideTennessee. "Baylen Buchanan is long, he's athletic and I feel like his best game is ahead of him ... Nigel Warrior is a great player who's had a great career and is a Vol legacy. Tyler Byrd, when we all watched his film, we all thought he could play offense, defense and be a great contributor on special teams."
The biggest splash of the class came with the addition of Kongbo, who chose Tennessee over Florida State, Ole Miss and USC. The Arizona Western College star from the Congo has an opportunity to make an immediate impact on the defensive line opposite fellow edge rusher Derek Barnett and decimates his opponents with a powerful first burst.
"He passes the eye test right away when you see him," Shoop said. "He's big and he's athletic, and he's certainly going to take the pressure off Derek Barnett because if you have guys coming off both sides, they can't slide in protection one way or the other. He's very dynamic as a pass rusher, a very explosive athlete and clearly his best football is ahead of him."
On the other end of the field, Mike DeBord's offense added serious speed at the skill position with players like Scout four-star running back Carlin Fils-Aime and Scout four-star athlete Marquez Callaway.
"We were looking for length and speed and we signed an offensive line that was 6-foot-6 or taller," DeBord said. "We got speed at the skill positions, so we were able to accomplish those two goals."
Those three offensive linemen include Florida's No. 1-ranked offensive tackle, Scout four-star Marcus Tatum. The Daytona Beach native represents the long and athletic frame DeBord and company were searching for during the recruiting process, one who can develop mightily in Tennessee's strength and conditioning program while he waits his turn on the field.
"We've been on him for quite a while now. We just looked at his tape and just said he has all the intangibles to be a great one," DeBord said. "He's tough, he's got quick feet, very flexible and he's just going to do nothing but get bigger and stronger."
Tennessee also found its potential quarterback of the future in Scout four-star Jarrett Guarantano, who committed to Jones in April and never wavered. Guarantano's deep skill set that boasts blazing speed, an ability to throw on the run and wide-ranging football acumen combined with a natural leadership style endeared the staff to him early.
"You talk about the quarterback position, and one of the intangible traits that you look for are the leadership qualities," Jones said. "Jarrett Guarantano has those leadership qualities, and he was able to build relationships with his future teammates, with his peers. That helped, but also the commitment level. Here's a young man that could've went anywhere in the country, and had everyone pulling on him, even the last week in recruiting. He didn't take one other call."
The 2016 class was a developmental one that helps fill needs for the future and allowed Tennessee the opportunity to take players they can mold as opposed to playing right away. No matter what aspect of the process you look at — stars, ability or potential — Tennessee's staff believes the 2016 recruiting class continues the foundation they've been building in Knoxville as perennial SEC East contenders, one brick at a time.
"We got what we needed, to be honest with you," director of player personnel Bob Welton told InsideTennessee. "We needed speed and we got speed. You can never take enough D-linemen, and this year we took two who are really good players, and we got a quarterback, so we checked off all the boxes."