Tennessee needed a football facelift. The Vols had holes all over and need the Class of 2018 to fill some gaps.
Yes, they missed out on a couple prospects who could have come in and helped right away. But the signing class does feature a few players who likely will make a difference on the field next season.
Here are five newcomers who can make the biggest impact next season.
Alontae Taylor might not get as much playing time from the start as some other names on this list. He could play a big role in the offense by the end of the season.
Taylor has the most big-play ability of any wide receiver on the roster. He was one of the most sought-after athletes in the country this past recruiting cycle.
The question will be how quickly can he learn the ins and outs of the wide receiver position. Taylor played quarterback most of his high school career. He spent some time at wideout this season, but not much.
Wide receivers coach David Johnson will have a good project with Taylor, who has told Johnson he wants to do whatever it takes to get on the field. Taylor has one of the highest ceilings in the class.
Taylor could see playing time as a punt or kick returner this season, too.
The junior college product figures to be a starter on Day 1. The Vols don’t have a tight end on their roster who can block as well as Dominick Wood-Anderson. This is an important trait in offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s pro-style scheme.
Tennessee wants to shift toward a power-running scheme. That will feature more tight end sets as down linemen.
Wood-Anderson will get plenty of opportunities this fall in the role. It likely will be similar to the one O.J. Howard played for Alabama from 2013-16.
Coaches sign junior college prospects to address immediate needs. Expect Wood-Anderson to get plenty of chances to prove what he can do next season.
DE Greg Emerson
It isn’t totally clear how much playing time will be readily available for Greg Emerson next season. The Vols defense is shifting from a 4-2-5 scheme to a 3-4. Players will change positions so the depth chart won’t be settled until after spring practices.
Emerson is an intriguing piece in the defense, though. He is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds and runs a 4.5 40. He’s already on campus working out with the team.
Emerson can make an immediate impact if he builds up enough strength through the workout program. His size and athleticism alone should warrant early playing time.
Emerson has first-round NFL draft potential if he pushes himself. He has the potential to be the best player in Tennessee’s 2018 class.
DT Emmit Gooden
Much like Wood-Anderson, Emmit Gooden comes to Tennessee as a junior college transfer. He will be expected to make a difference early.
The change to a 3-4 obviously left the coaching staff with some doubts about who will play defensive tackle. They pursued a few options and Gooden was the take.
He is a Brownsville, Tenn., native who was committed to Arkansas before its coaching change.
Gooden has SEC talent. He’ll be expected to use it, likely beginning in the season opener against West Virginia.
LB JJ Peterson
Tennessee survived a late push by Alabama to sign JJ Peterson. The coaching staff might already have him penciled in as a starter.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt has praised Peterson’s ability to play every linebacker position in his defense. The flexibility will allow the coaching staff to move Peterson and keep him on the field.
Pruitt’s defense puts an emphasis on good linebacker play. Peterson might be the second-best linebacker on the roster behind a healthy Darrin Kirkland Jr.
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