Tennessee football has the best player in the country

Connecticut v Tennessee
Connecticut v Tennessee / Donald Page/GettyImages

We are less than 100 days from the college football season, and On3Sports ranked the top 100 players in the country to celebrate its inching closer. Tennessee football only has one player who made the list, but he's at the top. 

"If the 2023 class was all about stout offensive tackles, 2024 will be about the return of the big uglies on defense," said On3's Clark Brooks. "A quarter of the initial Top 100 Impact Players are defensive linemen, with six of the nine five-stars on the interior. In April's draft, half the first round went by before a defender went off the board. That will not happen next spring with  terrific edge, headlining the crop, and a half-dozen impact four-stars at these spots also have first-round upside."

Tennessee edge rusher James Pearce Jr. is the only Vol in On3's top 100, and he comes into the 2024 college football season as the No. 1 player in the country. Pearce had a breakout season in 2023 as a sophomore, dominating on the edge. He finished his sophomore campaign with 28.0 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 10.0 sacks, and one interception for a touchdown. 

Clark Brooks: "James Pearce is simply a defender who you need to know where he aligns on any given snap. He launches like a rocket and has great B-gap rip/swim counters to keep tackles stressing. Coming off a season where he tallied 10 sacks, no returning defender is better at snatching impact plays (17.1%)."

The 2023 First Team All-SEC player brings an explosive playmaker to Tennessee's pass and run defense. His disruptive athleticism gives him the upper hand against opposing offensive tackles, which is why he grades as the highest-graded SEC defensive end last season with an 86.7 Pro Football Focus grade. 

His 92.4 pass-rush grade and 21.3% pressure rate is one of the best in the country and ranks third among all edge rushers in college football. It's also why Pearce is getting projections at the top of the 2025 NFL draft board. 

Pearce has received projections in the top ten of next year's NFL Draft, with projections all the way up to the No. 1 overall draft pick. On3Sports believes he could be the top pick based on their rankings. If this year does end up being the year of defense, we could see Pearce have another great season and earn All-American status before being one of the top picks in the 2025 NFL Draft. 

The sophomore's 21.3% pressure rate ranked third among college football edge defenders, as did his 92.4 pass-rush grade. The scariest part is that he won almost exclusively off athleticism against SEC tackles. If Pearce develops more pass-rushing moves, watch out.

Here’s how the rest of the top ten ranks in On3’s rankings. 

2. Luther Burden, WR, Missouri

3. Kelvin Banks, OT, Texas

4. Carson Beck, QB, Georgia

5. Will Campbell, OT, LSU

6. Mason Graham, DL, Michigan

7. Deone Walker, DL, Kentucky

8 Will Johnson, CB, Michigan

9. Malaki Starks, S, Georgia

10. Tetairoa McMillan, WR, Arizona