An Honest Look at Butch Jones Recruiting Success

Butch Jones Recruiting

By: Mike Loveall, From LastWordOnCollegeFootball.com

An Honest Look at Butch Jones Recruiting Success

The measure of a coach’s ability to recruit doesn’t end on National Signing Day. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Sure, National Signing Day (NSD) has taken on Hollywood glamour and programs hype each fax that arrives into the football offices on the first Wednesday in February. But the true measure of a coach’s ability to recruit is realized only after entire classes have run their course in a program. Signing a five-star recruit does nothing if he never sees the playing field.

If there’s one thing Butch Jones does well, it’s public relations. No where is this more apparent than the Tennessee recruiting effort and the National Signing Day production from the Volunteer media department. After the last four years, one would think that a successful football program is built on plastic display bricks and pieces of paper spitting out from an ancient mode of data transmission. And for all of the criticism of Jones and his teams’ performances over the last two years, he is almost always lauded as a master recruiter.

But is this truly the case? Sure, the man seems like he could sell ice to an Eskimo, but how effective has his recruiting been one-, two-, three-, and four years later? Because that’s the real litmus test of a recruiter.

So, as we approach National Signing Day 2017, let’s take an honest look at Butch Jones’ recruiting success at Tennessee. Is he really as good as people think he is?

2013 Tennessee Signing Class

Recruit  Star Rating* Status
Marquez North 4  Starter (Entered Draft Early)
Joshua Dobbs 4  Starter
Jason Carr 4  Transfer (West Georgia)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin 4  Starter
Ryan Jenkins 3  Transfer (Arizona State)
Austin Sanders 3  Roster
Riley Ferguson 3  Transfer (Memphis: Starter)
Alphonso Carter 3  Transfer (Louisville)
Corey Vereen 3  Starter
Lemond Johnson 3  Transfer (Richmond)
Cameron Sutton 3  Starter
Jaylen Miller 3  Transfer (Duke)
A.J. Branisel 3  Transfer (Florida International)
Johnathon Johnson 3  Roster
Malik Brown 3  Transfer (Bowling Green State)
Dylan Wiesman 3  Starter
Brett Kendrick 3  Starter
Malik Foreman 3  Starter
Riyahd Jones 3  Disciplinary Dismissal
Josh Smith 3  Starter
Woody Quinn 3  Roster
Kendal Vickers 3  2D (Two-Deep)
Devaun Swafford 2 Injuried/Health Leave

*247Sports Consensus Rating

Assessment:

This was the 24th ranked class in the 247Sports rankings for 2013. Even with only 23 recruits, it still comes out to a mid-20s ranked class after looking at the “star averages”. Of these 23 recruits, A staggering total of nine (39.1%) did not make through their eligibility at Tennessee. Of those nine transfers or dismissals, eight of them came from the top 15 rated recruits. The good news for Jones for the 2013 class is the success at the very top and the very bottom. Joshua Dobbs and Jalen-Reeves Maybin were All-SEC caliber players and there were four eventual starters in the lowest seven rated recruits.

Like every class, there are some interesting stories in this class. Jason Carr was one of the most highly touted offensive linemen in the nation. Jones and company went head-to-head with favorite Alabama and won that recruiting battle. Most everyone is familiar with the Riley Ferguson story as well. Ferguson helped Memphis to another strong season this year. How different would this off-season feel if Dobbs’ redshirt hadn’t been burned?

All totaled, this recruiting class should be considered average to slightly above average. The high number of transfers hurts the depth, especially with only 23 signees. But getting nine starters out of the remaining 14 personnel is a strong statement on talent evaluation. Only one remaining player was considered a “Roster” only player.

2014 Tennessee Signing Class

Recruit  Star Rating* Status
Josh Malone 4  Starter (Left Early for NFL)
Jalen Hurd 4  Transfer (TBD)
Todd Kelly, Jr. 4  Starter
Dillon Bates 4  Roster
Dewayne Hendrix 4  Transfer (Pitt)
Derrell Scott 4  Transfer (East Carolina)
Von Pearson 4  Starter (Left Early for NFL)
Cortez McDowell 4  2D
Daniel Helm 4  Transfer (Duke)
Derek Barnett 4  Starter (Left Early for NFL)
Dontavious Blair 4  Transfer (West Alabama)
D’Andre Payne 4  Transfer (Iowa State)
Gavin Bryant 4  Roster
Chris Weatherd 4  2D
Charles Mosley 4  Roster
Evan Berry 4  Starter
Ethan Wolf 3  Starter
Michael Sawyers 3  Disciplinary Dismissal
Joe Henderson 3  Academic Dismissal
Rashaan Gaulden 3  Starter
Treyvon Paulk 3  Disciplinary Dismissal
Vic Wharton 3  Transfer (Cal)
Jashon Robertson 3  Starter
Dimarya Mixon 3  2D
Coleman Thomas 3  Starter
Neiko Creamer 3  Transfer (Eastern Kentucky)
Jakob Johnson 3  Roster
Elliott Berry 3  2D
Ray Raulerson 3  Transfer (West Virginia)
Emmanuel Moseley 3  Starter
Owen Williams 3  Starter
Aaron Medley 3  Starter

*247 Consensus Rating

Assessment:

This was the class that vaulted Butch Jones’ reputation. Coming off their fourth consecutive seven-loss season, Jones assembled the seventh ranked recruiting class in the nation. Even with the volume of 32 signees, Tennessee’s average star rating was higher than two of the top five classes. This class is a perfect example of the “recruiting doesn’t end at NSD” mantra. Of the 32 signees, 12 (37.5%) left the program. That includes six players to other FBS schools, on top of five FBS transfers from 2013. Many — if not most — of the transfers aren’t talent-based decisions, but more personality or right-fit issues. Should Jones do a better job of finding the “right fit” and not just the talent on the recruiting trail?

More importantly, six of those transfers were in the top 12 rated recruits. Here’s an even worse statistic, though: of the top 15 rated recruits, there were only four starters compared to two two-deep players and three roster players. However, we again see excellent talent evaluation at the lower end, with five starters coming out of the lowest nine rated recruits, including three starters in the lowest three rated recruits.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Which brings us to the interesting total of 32 signees. Jones has liberally used emerging recruiting techniques like the greyshirt and the blueshirt. Backdating initial counts is nothing new, but that factors in as well. He’ll have to to some of his recruiting math this week if any of the top name recruits decide to commit to Tennessee on signing day. The Volunteers are already at the technical limit of 28 for the 2017 class.

The 2014 class, even with the talent of Malone and Barnett, already seems to be average to slightly below-average due to the instability of the class, particularly at the top. The book isn’t quite closed on this class, though.

2015 Tennessee Signing Class

Recruit  Star Rating Status
Kahlil McKenzie 5  Starter
Kyle Phillips 4  Roster (Injuries)
Alvin Kamara 4  Starter (Left Early for NFL)
Preston Williams 4  Transfer (Colorado State)
Drew Richmond 4  Starter
Shy Tuttle 4  Starter
Jack Jones 4  Starter
Darrin Kirkland, Jr. 4  Starter
Jauan Jennings 4  Starter
Micah Abernathy 4  2D
Sheriron Jones 4  Roster
Quart’e Sapp 4  Roster
Justin Martin 4  2D
Quinten Dormady 4  2D
Darrell Taylor 4  Roster
Andrew Butcher 4  Roster
Venzell Boulware 3  Starter
Quay Picou 3  Roster
John Kelly 3  Starter
Austin Smith 3  Roster
Kyle Oliver 3  Transfer (Memphis)
Chance Hall 3  Starter
Stephen Griffin 3  Roster
Darrell Miller 3  Transfer (TBD)
Vincent Perry 3  Academic Dismissal
Jocquez Bruce 3  Transfer / Suspended (MTSU)
Tommy Townsend 3  Transfer (Florida)
Joe Young 2  Injured/Student Coach
Riley Lovingood 2  Roster

*247 Consensus Rating
**Doesn’t include Zach Stewart

Assessment:

Coming off a promising 7-6 campaign, highlighted by a beat-down of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Butch Jones pulled off his best recruiting effort to date. Jones assembled a fourth ranked recruiting class after only a seven win season. This class included Jones’ only consensus five-star recruit in Kahlil McKenzie, ranked number one overall by some services.

The statistics on this class — while still early in the class’ career — are much better. Five transfers and one academic dismissal thus far. But of those six, five of them were in the bottom nine rated recruits. Seven of the top nine players have already started multiple games for the Vols. And if you look at those top nine players, the evaluation of their talent has panned out on the football field. Only Kyle Phillips (mostly due to injury) and Drew Richmond haven’t quite lived up to their billing. Moreover, of the 21 remaining players out of this recruiting class, nine of them (42%) have started a significant amount of games.

That type of production from that highly rated of a class means Jones gets excellent marks for the 2015 class.

2016 Tennessee Signing Class

Recruit  Star Rating* Status
Nigel Warrior 4  2D
Jarrett Guarantano 4  2D
Jonathan Kongbo 4  2D
Tyler Byrd 4  Starter
Marquez Callaway 4  2D
Marquill Osborne 4  2D
Daniel Bituli 4  2D
Ryan Johnson 4  Roster
Carlin Fils-aime 4  2D
Alexis Johnson 4  2D
Jeff George 3  Roster
D.J. Henderson 3  Roster
Marcus Tatum 3  Roster
Mykelle McDaniel 3  Roster
Brandon Johnson 3  Roster
Ja’Quain Blakely 3  Roster
Austin Pope 3  Roster
Devante Brooks 3  Roster
Baylen Buchanan 3  2D
Latrell Williams 3  Roster
Nathan Niehaus 3  Roster
Jeremy Lewis 3  Transfer (TBD)

*247 Consensus Rating

Assessment:

Tennessee’s 2016 class was ranked 14th nationally overall, which represented the first slip in the Jones era as far as recruiting rankings. The star rating average, however, made this class really a top twelve class. This was the first class coming off a nine win season at Tennessee since the 2008 recruiting class — which of course would be Phillip Fulmer’s last recruiting class (that class was ranked 34th, for what it’s worth).

While it’s still early for this class, the numbers are promising. Only one transfer. One starter and nine on the two-deep. That’s not bad considering the amount of young talent in front of this class this past year. And the talent dispersion again indicated quality evaluation. Most of the early contribution of this class is in the top ten rated recruits. The biggest take away from this class was the late close with Jonathan Kongbo and Tyler Byrd.

Even early, this class currently ranks as slightly above average.

Butch Jones Recruiting: Overall Assessment

As with everything Butch Jones, there’s some good and there’s some bad.

Attrition

The first thing that people will notice is the 28 transfers over the last four recruiting classes. That’s 26.4% of all the recruits that signed a Letter of Intent with Tennessee leaving the program. That’s an entire recruiting class gone. Some will argue that this is due to valuing talent and rankings over getting the fight fit. Others will say that we simply leave in the era of college free agency and these numbers aren’t a big deal. Others will point to the locker room climate. Whatever it is, you certainly cannot ignore the sheer numbers. And this doesn’t include the 14 transfers out of 22 recruits (63%) from the 2012 class that Jones inherited in his first season. That’s 32.8% of the recruits from one full recruiting cycle (five-year period) that left the program due to transfer, disciplinary dismissal, or academic dismissal.

Recruiting Rainbow

Another aspect of Jones’ recruiting that sticks out is his liberal use of greyshirts and blueshirts. He’s proven to be a deft manager of numbers, and this hasn’t come back to bite him quite yet. The numbers have always worked out in the end, with transfers and the ability to back-count initial counts. But there’s going to come a time when a recruit gets a bad deal due to the numbers. It might be this year, it might be next year, or it might be the year after that (assuming Jones is still around). And when it does, expect Jones to take serious criticism for his revolving door approach to recruiting.

And while that criticism might be warranted, remember that Jones’ job is to get the 85 best guys on scholarship he can get. The use of delayed entrance tactics, pulling offers at the last minute, and encouraging rising upperclassman to transfer is fraught with moral implications. Those can be argued in other forums. Jones is simply doing what he thinks is best for the program.

Recruiting In-Roads

The best thing Jones and his staff have done with recruiting is make new in-roads into areas Tennessee has previously not recruited well. With last season’s hire of Larry Scott, Tennessee’s presence in Florida is much improved. Jones has also been successful in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North Carolina areas when he’s went after a player in those areas. Even Tennessee’s new-found success in the Memphis area is promising. Establishing a program presence in key areas is crucial to repeated success in the recruiting game. That’s an area that will help Jones when his seat gets really, really warm.

Protecting the Home Turf (And Atlanta)

Jones’ first order of business with recruiting was to shore-up the in-state talent. He had success early on with Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. He continued it with Kyle Phillips, Drew Richmond, Jack Jones, and Jauan Jennings. He’s also continued Tennessee’s trend of success in the Atlanta and Georgia area. The value of Atlanta is obvious as its one of the top metro areas in the nation for recruits, along with Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Dade, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and L.A. The importance of the in-state is growing as well, as Middle Tennessee is becoming a fertile national recruiting ground as well. However, there are some warning signs in the upcoming class. While Tennessee landed the top overall Tennessee recruit, they will likely miss out on three of the top five and seven of the top ten.

The Verdict?

National Signing Day 2013 is now a distant memory. But we’re only now able to see just how good — or how poorly — Tennessee’s 2013 recruiting class panned out. And while it’s still early in Jones’ tenure at Tennessee (in recruiting cycle time, not in head coach job expectancy time), we can start to make some assessments on Jones’ recruiting abilities.

While he probably hasn’t lived up to the hype, he has recruited successfully over the past four recruiting classes.

As we enter National Signing Day 2017, remember that the true measure of success of this class will be on the field, and over the next five years, and not when you wake up on Thursday morning.

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