Alright, we can all take a breath now.

I don’t know about you but I was nervous about December 15th. Early Signing Day was absolutely crucial for Josh Heupel and Tennessee football and I genuinely wasn’t sure what would happen.

The Vols’ recruiting class prior to the signing deadline was decent but still had plenty of room for additions and improvement. Thankfully, Heupel and his crew of recruiters hit the trail hard and pulled a few last-minute surprises out of their collective hat. The class currently ranks No. 14 in the nation and No. 6 in the SEC, according to 247Sports.

With that said, let’s take a closer look and put letter grades on the staff’s recruiting efforts to see how impressed we should or shouldn’t be…

Offense: A- 

Maurice Clipper Jr. – OL – 3-star 

Brian Grant – OL – 3-star 

Tayven Jackson – QB – 4-star 

Cameron Miller – WR – 3-star

Addison Nichols – OL – 4-star

Chas Nimrod – WR – 3-star

Masai Reddick – OL – 3-star 

Dylan Sampson – RB – 3-star 

Kaleb Webb – WR – 4-star 

Marquarius (Squirrel) White – WR – 3-star 

Justin Williams – RB – 4-star 

It probably isn’t all that surprising but Heupel did well recruiting on the offensive side of the ball. It makes sense for a guy who is clearly an offensive specialist, but still, I really like the set of guys coming in on offense in the 2022 class. The offensive line is getting reloaded with four signees and the future at quarterback is set with a highly sought-after kid in Tayven Jackson.

But the haul at the skill positions is what’s really notable, to me. Heupel kept stud running back Justin Williams safe from Auburn’s late advances and I think he’s found some weapons in guys like Kaleb Webb and Squirrel White at wideout. It may not be a 5-star laden group but for Heupel’s purposes, I think it will set a great foundation for where he wants to go.

If I trust Heupel with anything so far, it’s his evaluation and use of offensive talent, so I believe he did a solid job of collecting newcomers for his signature system.

Defense: B

Christian Harrison – DB – 3-star

Elijah Herring – LB – 3-star 

Joshua Josephs – DE – 4-star

James Pearce – DE – 4-star  

Kalib Perry – LB – 3-star

Jordan Phillips – DL – 3-star 

Jourdan Thomas – DB – 3-star 

Tyre West – DL – 4-star 

Desmond Williams – DB – 3-star 

It goes without saying that the area where Tennessee needs the most help at the moment is on the defensive side of the ball. And get help, they did. The star of the defensive class is lineman Tyre West, who Heupel and top-notch recruiter Rodney Garner basically stole from Florida State. This unexpected splash addition was impressive all on its own and made the day fun from the very beginning.

Given the West commitment, the defensive line undoubtedly got the most help on the defensive side of the ball on Early Signing Day. Two strong DL additions and two 4-star edge rushers (including another nice surprise commit in James Pearce) should help greatly with depth issues up front.

The haul at linebacker was fine but that’s the one area would I would say the Vols need as much help as they can get and this recruiting class doesn’t help with all that much. Perhaps Heupel is eying transfers for the linebacker spots or relying on the return of Juwan Mitchell (if he is even returning) but a couple of young 3-star prospects likely won’t be able to immediately fill the need the Big Orange currently have at that position.

All in all, this was a good defensive class for Heupel, especially with the surprise of the West signing. But, there’s simply so much to bolster and replace on defense that it was going to be extremely difficult to address every issue with this single recruiting class, no matter how things went.

Overall: B+

Am I absolutely blown away by this recruiting class thus far? No. Am I impressed with Heupel’s recruiting given the circumstances that he was given? Absolutely yes.

There has been a lot of doubt concerning Heupel’s recruiting prowess in recent weeks and I think this Early Signing Day did a lot to assuage those fears. If he can add additional assets via the transfer portal and continue to develop the talent he’s brought into the pipeline, I think the future is bright for Heupel.

Featured image via Tennessee Athletics YouTube