Five recruiting misses during Pruitt era at Tennessee
According to multiple reports, Tennessee will be parting ways with coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday as he went 16-19 overall in three seasons and he's embroiled in an investigation into the football program’s recruiting practices.
There are off-the-field issues that could have precipitated this move, but Tennessee’s on-field performances over Pruitt’s tenure could have assisted in this decision as well. The Vols went 16-19 in three years and 0-9 against Georgia, Florida and Alabama, with most of those games blowouts.
Here are five high-level recruits that have not panned out for the Vols during Pruitt’s short tenure.
Rated as the fifth-best strong-side defensive end in the 2018 recruiting class and second in the state rankings behind only Cade Mays, Emerson was a major victory on the trail but has not lived up to expectations yet in Knoxville.
The high four-star prospect missed his senior year of high school due to injury and then redshirted as a freshman at Tennessee before emerging on the scene the following year. Emerson started nine games as a redshirt freshman, recorded 30 tackles with two sacks and two pass breakups and it looked like his promising career was starting to take off.
But Emerson seriously regressed this past season and was sparingly used as the former Jackson (Tenn.) Northside standout played in eight games as a backup and had just one tackle all season.
Morris picked Tennessee over Auburn in May of his junior year and it was a big early statement in Pruitt’s tenure that he could dip into the state of Georgia for an elite offensive lineman.
Rated as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the 2019 class and the first four-star player at that position outside of five-star status, Morris started 12 of 13 games at left tackle as a freshman and was on the path to stardom along the Vols offensive line. Even though his Pro Football Focus grades were not exceptional that season, it looked like Morris was going to anchor the line for a few more seasons.
However, late this past season, Morris’ snaps dramatically tailed off and the former Loganville (Ga.) Grayson star was not happy about it as he entered the transfer portal. Texas A&M could be the landing spot for the former No. 41 overall recruit.
When Peterson committed to Tennessee over Auburn and Georgia, he looked like the centerpiece of the 2018 recruiting class as Pruitt beat out some major SEC programs for the Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County four-star linebacker.
But that was pretty much where the good news ended when it came to Peterson and the Vols. He played sparingly early in his career, switched linebacker spots, struggled to make the two-deep and now has stepped away from the program and is no longer listed on the roster.
Peterson is yet another example of highly-rated prospects who look like surefire stars - one Web site asked if the four-star linebacker would be a Day 1 starter - and then fizzle out during their time in Knoxville. He was rated as the fifth-best outside linebacker in the 2018 class.
A big junior college recruiting win for Tennessee’s 2018 class, Wood-Anderson picked the Vols over Alabama and Texas A&M and looked poised to be a major part of the passing attack over the next few seasons.
But that never really panned out. Rated as a four-star prospect and the No. 11 JUCO prospect that recruiting cycle, Wood-Anderson finished with just 38 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns in Knoxville. He went undrafted but has since signed on with the Seattle Seahawks.
Out of Yuma (Ariz.) Arizona Western C.C., Wood-Anderson was the top-rated JUCO tight end during that cycle.
Tennessee beat out Alabama, West Virginia and many others in the 2019 recruiting class for Wright, rated as the second-best offensive tackle behind Alabama’s Evan Neal. It looked like the five-star recruit could be a dominant force as Tennessee looked to load up along its offensive line.
And Wright has played, starting five games at right tackle and two at right guard during his freshman season in 2019. This past year, Wright played in all 10 games mainly at right tackle. But his Pro Football Focus grade was among the worst in Power Five for offensive linemen. It did improve marginally in 2020.