Tennessee's recruiting success under Butch Jones has elevated the talent to a degree where true freshmen are no longer critical to team success.
The 2017 class of Vols signees includes a number of prized jewels, led by Scout five-star offensive lineman Trey Smith from University School of Jackson and four-star safety Maleik Gray of La Vergne (Tenn.) High School.
What Tennessee has returning for the Team 121 roster has quite a bit to do with how much playing time freshmen will receive.
The offensive line figures to be a strength of Tennessee football this fall with a number of experienced players returning and the same can be said about safety. Thus, Gray and Smith may need to be patient.
With questions encircling the health of Shy Tuttle, the opportunity for a newcomer at defensive tackle to come in and play immediately is real.
While the Big Orange returns a number of cornerbacks with experience, none will be preseason selections for All-SEC. Newly hired defensive backs coach Charlton Warren will be in charge of finding replacements for Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton.
Another key spot that the Vols will look to replace a great deal of production is at running back. John Kelly is the only returning ball carrier will more than 14 carries. This 2017 class includes three backs that will look to earn touches next season.
The following is a list of newcomers expected to play a significant role in filling these needs heading into next season.
No. 1 — Cheyenne Labruzza
The four-star cornerback joins the Vols program with high hopes of adding some production for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Labruzza ranks at No. 182 in the Scout 300 and the No. 5 cornerback in the South.
No. 2 — Ty Chandler
Chandler is a newcomer Vol fans will be excited to see. He is a four-star prospect and the No. 81 talent in the nation. He will have a hard time cracking the starting lineup barring an injury to Kelly but it is a safe bet that the Montgomery Bell Academy product will get significant carries on Team 121.
No. 3 — Eric Crosby
Crosby is the second-highest ranked Tennessee signee in the class behind Smith. Unlike Smith he plays a position of need at defensive tackle. If Tuttle is unable to be full strength as expected next season, Crosby should find a role quickly. The East's No. 1-ranked D-tackle has seen his weight balloon to 330 pounds but once he's in game shape, he could get into the rotation.
No. 4 — Mathew Butler
Butler is one of the more underrated players in this class. His production is eye-popping and he has a motor that is bound to make an impact. One key thing to follow regarding the possibility of Butler playing early is the position of former Scout five-star Jonathon Kongbo. Butler will need to put on weight as he currently list at 265 and will need to rely on quickness early in his career. That style is similar to that of Kongbo so if Kongbo remains inside that would limit the need of Butler to play early.
No. 5 — Shawn Shamburger
Shamburger was a shock to many when he committed. He truly was under the radar but after this season his skills are far from unknown. He is an extremely fundamental cornerback that has good size and skills. The comparisons to Sutton have already started and when fall camp starts we expect him to create a lot of buzz.