Tennessee football: Depth chart shows Vols can challenge anybody on paper

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 5: The Tennessee Volunteers mascot Smokey runs through the end zone after a score against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 5: The Tennessee Volunteers mascot Smokey runs through the end zone after a score against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Tennessee football’s depth chart may surprise fans Jeremy Pruitt’s first year. On paper, the first team should be able to compete with anybody.

The noticeable part of the Tennessee football depth chart released Monday was its lack of clarity. Of the 25 positions listed, 10 had multiple people as potential starters, including seven on offense, three of which came down to three guys, not just two. And the Vols didn’t even list kickoff and punt returners.

So it’s clear. Things are wide open, as we predicted. But another quick look at the depth chart, which the Volquest staff tweeted out here, shows something else as well. It actually shows how good Tennessee football may be, even if it is on paper.

Okay, so yes, the Vols did go 4-8 last year and were the worst team in the SEC. They are undergoing a coaching change and a brutal transition to the 3-4 defense and pro-style offense. All of this is reason to have them unranked to start the year and wonder if they can reach six wins.

However, if you just looked at the players and their recruiting rankings, there is plenty of reason to believe that this team could be much better. Of the 34 guys listed to be one of the potential 22 starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, only nine were ranked lower than a four-star on Rivals as recruits, spread out across seven different positions.

That means at the absolute worst, 15 of the 22 first-teamers will have been at least four-star recruits. Three were five-star recruits. And only two spots right now, safety and one of the cornerback positions, are actually locked in for former three-star recruits. Every other spot on defense, though, goes to a four-star or five-star. Whichever quarterback starts will be a four-star as well.

So up to 20 of 22 starters could be four-star or five-star recruits. And adding the special teams roles, Brent Cimaglia and Paxton Brooks both have a ton of potential as kicker and punter respectively. As three-star recruits on Rivals, they were about as highly rated as you could be at those position. I

The point here is clear: if recruiting services mean anything, Tennessee football has more than enough talent to compete with anybody on their schedule. In fact, the only two teams on the roster that are out of the Vols’ league when it comes to recruiting are the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide, and Georgia is so young this year on defense that they are still vulnerable.

Now yes, it is true that the Vols were even deeper last year to start the season and still managed to go 4-8. But we know about the massive amount of injuries they suffered. We also know that Larry Scott was a terrible play-caller as an offensive coordinator.

And, finally, we know that Butch Jones had a history of doing very little with the talent he brought in, often times forcing them into a system that didn’t fit their style. So while he couldn’t win with the talent, he was still able to bring it in.

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By going back to the pro-style with Tyson Helton, Pruitt assures that players will have their talents maximized, at least on offense. With his new practice style, strength coach and medical staff, he’s clearly got a healthier team going into the season than Jones ever had as well. So taking all that into account, why should we just write the Vols off in big games this year?

This is not to say you should go around picking Tennessee football to win the SEC East or beat Georgia, Alabama or the Auburn Tigers. It’s not even to say that they won’t be awful this year, perhaps as bad as 3-9.

However, it is to say that they could probably go anywhere in between that. Billy Williford had a post recently that noted the program’s best and worst case scenarios. He said they can range from 4-8 to 9-3. I would’ve gone further and said it can range from 3-9 to 9-3. What’s clear, though, with this talent is that this team is much closer to that 9-3 record than it is to 3-9 or 4-8.

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Of course, splitting the baby and saying six or seven wins is the right compromise. As you can see in our predictions, we all have Tennessee football going 7-6 this year. But recruiting services can’t be wrong about all these guys, right? There is more than enough reason to believe that the Vols could be very good.