That leaves Nyshier Oliver, 5-10, 175, of Jersey City, N.J., as the lone fully projectable defensive prospect. Ranked the nation's No. 19 safety, this four-star talent has 4.4 speed augmented by a predatory style that portends INT and instant TD — an Eric Berry type of big-time crowd-pleaser.
Expect most of the rest of Tennessee's Class of 2009 to be comprised of more fast DBs along with some quick LBs, athletic DEs and formidable DTs. Three such prospects are profiled below that would make anybody's Most Wanted List and also make a lot of sense for Coach Chavis' charges and schemes.
• No. 1 (with a bullet) JELANI JENKINS, 6-1, 205, 4.45, of Wheaton, Md. is an entity unto himself. The five-star, prime-time prospect is rated the nation's No. 2 Will linebacker, a role which makes him a sure bet to give every defensive coordinator on the schedule night sweats. Heck, he might end up giving all defensive coordinators night sweats. That speaks volumes for his Vol Value competing in the SEC where sub 4.5 is the gold standard and virtually unheard of in a linebacker. Throw in his 4.1 GPA and needless to say the line of college suitors stretches back to Kentucky, a condition exacerbated by his "wide open" status. The early contenders include Boston College, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers, Stanford, Tennessee and Virginia, but he has three dozen, or so, offers and hasn't eliminated many. schools. As a junior, he posted 60 tackles, four sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Jelani Jenkins, also rushed for 791 yards and 16 touchdowns. He could reprise that role at the next level, but not to the critical acclaim he has the potential to receive at linebacker, where he could well become a transcendent talent.
• No. 2, BARKEVIOUS MINGO, 6-foot-5, 210, 4.75, of West Monroe, La., will be hard to lure from the bayou, but the reward is well worth the effort. No he's not as highly rated as some of the other defensive prospects UT's pursuing, but he presents an array possibilities from Sam linebacker to defensive end to a hybrid LB/DE, who could excel off the edge and be more than competent in coverage. Has the frame to play at 240 pounds and still look very lean. Barkevious Mingo is quick off the line, relentless in pursuit and physical at the point of attack. As a junior, in what was his first season of high school football, he compiled 66 tackles, 12 for loss with a six-pack of sacks to earn LSWA Class 5A All-State honors. Rated the nation's No. 11 strong-side linebacker by Scout.com, he has the wing span and athleticism to pose problems as a strong-side end and could be slotted into several roles in a 3-4 scheme. In short: he has towering upside with marginal risk and maximum versatility. Mingo's game should improve exponentially as he logs reps and learns to anticipate as well as react. By 2011, he could become a force in the SEC where he's likely to land at either LSU, Alabama, Arkansas or Tennessee.
• No. 3, TRAVIS HAWKINS, 5-11, 185, 4.42, of Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md., is a top tier cover corner and the second of IT's top 3 defensive targets from the State of Maryland. Naturally, the Terps are going to be involved, but Hawkins has actually expressed a longtime affinity for the Volunteers. Normally one of these three spots would go to a defensive tackle or an end who could slide inside, but Travis Hawkins is too good to be excluded from this top-target trio. Ranked No. 6 at corner by Scout.com, Hawkins shares traits in common with former Vol and current NFL standout Mark Jones, including the ability to play receiver and return specialist in addition to DB. However, he has more skills and potential as a cover corner. Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State and Virginia Tech are among the early favorites along with Tennessee. If you were projecting the 2012 NFL Draft today, Hawkins would be one of the favorites to go in the first round. He's simply that good, or can be.