KNOXVILLE — National signing day for college football recruiting provided its fair share of drama for Tennessee the past two years, but the Volunteers could be in for a relatively quiet first Wednesday in February to end this cycle.
With a 28-player class (23 verbal commitments and five early enrollees already on campus) and just two official visitors for the final weekend in January, Tennessee could complete its 2017 class with minimal movement.
The final high-profile prospect the Vols are hoping to land is Madison (Ala.) defensive end LaBryan Ray, the No. 15 overall player in the country according to 247Sports.com and a potential immediate-impact player.
Ray took official visits to Alabama and Tennessee the past two weekends, and though he visited Florida this weekend, reportedly the race, if there is one, is between the Crimson Tide and the Vols.
Head coach Butch Jones and multiple Tennessee assistants made an in-home visit with Ray this week, and he's expected to announce his decision Wednesday.
Florida wide receiver Jordan Pouncey, a former Notre Dame commitment who visited Texas and Miami earlier this month, was the only uncommitted official visitor to Knoxville this weekend, and perhaps more importantly Tennessee didn't have to sweat through a couple of its commitments taking official visits elsewhere.
The only current pledge spending recruiting's final weekend on another campus is wide receiver Jacquez Jones (Clearwater, Fla.) taking an official visit to Central Florida.
Beyond Ray and Pouncey, Tennessee's only remaining targets appear to be a pair of defensive linemen in Elijah Conliffe (Hampton, Va.) and Aaron Sterling (Tucker, Ga.).
According to 247Sports, Tennessee's class currently consists of just seven five- or four-star prospects, and pulling off the upset and landing Ray would provide more star power for a class needing it.
The signing-day drama for Tennessee in 2016 centered around junior college transfer defensive end Jonathan Kongbo. There were rampant rumors his parents were blocking his signing with the Vols and would let him send his letter of intent only to Ole Miss, speculation he later dismissed when he said the Rebels didn't even finish second for his signature.
Tennessee also received good news on the signing-day announcements of blue-chip safety Nigel Warrior and speedy wide receiver Latrell Williams, and the Monday night before the Vols completed the flip of longtime Miami commitment Tyler Byrd, the No. 1-ranked athlete in the class according to ESPN.
In 2015 Tennessee was involved with another late flip of a touted recruit as offensive tackle Drew Richmond swapped Ole Miss for the Vols at the 11th hour.
Kongbo, Byrd and Williams were the final three additions to a 2016 class ranked 15th nationally and seventh in the Southeastern Conference according to both Rivals.com and 247Sports.
Tennessee's 2017 class was ranked 10th nationally according to both of those services as of Saturday night, but with essentially a full class and other programs hoping to add more prospects this week, the Vols' ranking truly can only go down.
As in years past Tennessee took a handful of early commitments and experienced multiple changes to its commitment list.
From October through December, nine prospects departed Tennessee's commitment list, and in many cases it was a mutual parting of ways between the Vols and the recruit.
Athlete C.J. Cotman and offensive lineman Jordan Tucker since have committed to North Carolina, the defensive tackle brothers Brandon and Breyon Gaddy are pledged to Maryland but took official visits to Florida this week, and defensive end Tre Lawson is committed to Florida State.
Other former Tennessee commitments include linebacker/safety Jaquan Henderson (Georgia Tech), linebacker Mo Burnam (Indiana), quarterback/wide receiver C.J. Lewis (Boston College) and tight end Chase Rogers (Louisiana-Lafayette).
While those nine recruits were departing, Tennessee added 13 commitments since mid-September, including the January additions of defensive end Ryan Thaxton, running back Timothy Jordan and wide receiver Josh Palmer.