Need for Speed Drives UT

NFL Drafts over the last four years have underscored UT's appalling lack of play makers at quarterback, wide receiver and running back along with a disturbing lack of development of offensive linemen.

Obviously any return to gridiron glory at Tennessee will depend on a resurrection of high-octane offense that was once regularly populated by future NFL caliber players i.e. Jamal Lewis, Peyton Manning and Peerless Price who headed the 1997 SEC Championship team.

The key to accomplishing that feat is recruiting and the Vols are clearly chasing some prospects that can stretch defenses and exploit creases. A trio of big-play artists to keep an eye on in this recruiting class are Joe McKnight, Armando Allen and Brandon Paul.

McKnight of John Curtis Christian in River Ridge, La., is the best known of these and the biggest prize. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound back runs a 4.40 and uses that blazing speed, along with an impressive assortment of open field moves, as a runner, receiver and return specialist.

As a junior, the mercurial McKnight rushed for 502 yards and nine touchdowns in 36 attempts, and average of nearly 14 yards per attempt and a touchdown per every four carries. He caught 20 passes for another 497 yards and five touchdowns. That's an average of nearly 25 yards per reception and one TD for every four catches. On special teams he averaged 38 yards per kick return and 29 yards per punt return while scoring another five touchdowns. Oh yeah, he also intercepted five passes from his cornerback position and took three of those the distance. Little wonder he was named first-team All-State or that he is rated a five-star prospect by Scout.com.

McKnight could play anywhere in the secondary, but his ability to cover real estate and break on the ball gives him the potential to be an outstanding next level free safety. On offense, he could play either wide receiver or running back, or both. He prefers running back, but he could well become a hybrid slot-back or a single back in a spread formation, where he poses a parallel threat as a runner or receiver. He would also be afforded more opportunities to see the field and find daylight against defenses stretched to the breaking point. A nice weapon to have and similar in size, speed and skill set as former Vol, Charlie Garner.

John Curtis has been producing premium pigskin prospects for decades and the River Ridge high school is a regular stop for D-I recruiters during the May evaluation period. McKnight could name his school at this point but appears to favor LSU, Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas and Tennessee at this point.

Getting McKnight figures to a formidable task for the Vols, but it's worth the time and energy because he's a transformative talent and most wanted weapon.

In the four-star category of offensive difference makers is Hialeah, Fla., prospect Armando Allen. At 5-10, 185, he matches McKnight's size and runs a shade faster with a 4.35 time recorded at the Scout.com National Combine. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in nine games as a junior playing a schedule loaded with Sunshine State super powers. We've featured Allen in this space before and will continue to monitor his recruitment. Miami, Georgia, USC and Tennessee are his current favorites.

The third member of our intrepid trio isn't nearly as highly regarded as McKnight or Allen, but he's virtually identical in terms of size and speed, plus he has plenty of the same abilities. Brandon Paul, 5-10, 185, plays for legendary Lincoln High School located at the other end of Florida in Tallahassee.

Like McKnight, he runs a 4.40 and his production is on a par with five-star standout. As a junior he rushed for 586 yards and eight touchdowns, added 583 yards receiving with six touchdowns. He had 564 return yards and three more touchdowns. He also played part-time in the secondary , recording 21 tackles, six pass breakups, one tackle for a loss and a pair of INTs.

The competition again will be tough for Paul's signature with FSU holding a hometown advantage. Miami and Florida have also offered him as has Texas, Auburn and Tennessee.

After the Seminoles plucked Brandon Warren out of nearby Alcoa High School, it would nice to see the Vols return the favor with Paul.


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