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SECONDARY SUCCESSION: Why Tennessee's secondary will be better in 2023

By: John Dunn

Founder, Managing Director, Producer, Host

The All Vol Call in Show


Photo | Ian Cox | Tennessee Athletics

We all have the same concerns. "If Tennessee's secondary is even a little better this year, I think they can really do something." Well, I have good news: Tennessee's secondary isn't going to be a little better, they're going to be a lot better, and here's why:


Tennessee is now deeper in the secondary. Doneiko Slaughter, Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Jaylen McCullough, Dee Williams, Warren Burrell, Kamal Hadden, Brandon Turnage, Tamarion McDonald, Wesley Walker, Christian Charles, Andre Turrentine, Rickey Gibson III, Cristian Conyer, Jordan Matthews, Jourdan Thomas, De'Shawn Rucker, Christian Harrison, John Slaughter, and Jack Luttrell are your defensive backs, with a few more names sprinkled in. Some of you will recognize a lot of those names and recall how excited you were that Tennessee was able to lock them down in recruiting. As you can see by the sheer amount of players listed, Tennessee is very deep in the secondary.


Along with some names that you may have forgotten about, you've surely seen some names that you're very familiar with. Guys like Doneiko Slaughter, Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Jaylen McCullough, Dee Williams, Warren Burrell, Kamal Hadden, Brandon Turnage, Tamarion McDonald, Wesley Walker, Andre Turrentine, and others have played a lot of meaningful football. Now, that doesn't necessarily imply success, but it does imply that these guys have gained valuable experience, and that's one of the few things you can't coach. Josh Heupel and company have done a phenomenal job of attacking the portal for defensive back depth, and it should pay dividends for the 2023-2024 season.


Some of these names may ring a bell. Here's a look at how some of these guys were graded coming out of high school, or their previous location:

Doneiko Slaughter: 3*: .8800.

Gabe Jeudy-Lally: 2* .7900 (high school) increased to 4*: .9000 as a transfer due to development at BYU. Also graded as the sixth-best returning DB in the SEC.

Jaylen McCullough: 4*: .9300.

Dee Williams: 3*: .8800 (JuCo) Was rated as 8th best JuCo player in the nation.

Kamal Hadden: 3*: .8500.

Warren Burrell: 3* .8700.

Brandon Turnage: 4*: .9500 (3*: .8300 as transfer).

Tamarion McDonald: 3*: .8700.

Wesley Walker: 3*: .8700.

Andre Turrentine: 4*: .9000. (3*: .8700 as transfer).

Cristian Conyer: 3*: .8700.

Christian Charles: 3* .8800.

Christian Harrison: 3* .8600.

Jordan Matthews: 4*. 9200.

Jourdan Thomas: 3*. .8700.

Rickey Gibson III: 3*. 8900.

De'Shawn Rucker: 3*. .8900

John Slaughter: 3* .8800.

Jack Luttrell: 3*. .8700.

While some may look at the "star-rating" and assume that the Vols don't have talent in the secondary, it's clear that the vast majority of the secondary hovers right around a four-star ranking, with some being on the very high end of the three-star ranking.

You may also notice that the younger group of defensive backs seem to be rated higher. This implies that Josh Heupel and company have shifted plenty of focus to recruiting the secondary. Not to mention, the Vols currently have two four-star defensive back recruits locked into the 2024 class (Boo Carter and Kaleb Beasley) and a four-star defensive back locked in for 2025 (Shamar Arnoux).

Although many of us still have our concerns about the strength, depth, and talent of Tennessee's secondary, hopefully this has helped put your mind at ease. The Vols now have plenty of bodies, meaningful experience, and plenty of talent. It's clear that Josh Heupel and company have put a strong focus on building a defense that can support their potent offense.

If Tennessee's defense can be even the slightest bit better, and the offense maintains its potency, it could be a remarkable year for the Vols; one which would rival the 1998 season in which they last claimed the national title.


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