Tennessee football signing day: Here's who Vols signed to 2021 recruiting class

Blake Toppmeyer Will Backus
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee signed 19 players to national letters of intent during the December signing period.

All but one of the signees entered the signing period committed to the Vols. Tennessee did not lose any commitments to other schools during the signing period. 

Tennessee's 2021 recruiting class was ranked 15th in the 247Sports Composite, as of Wednesday afternoon, and it is sixth in the SEC.

ANALYSIS:ESPN recruiting expert weighs in on Kaidon Salter and grades Tennessee football 2021 class

Here's a look at Tennessee's signees.

ATH Trinity Bell (6-7, 260)

Albertville (Ala.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 30 athlete

Trinity Bell of Albertville (Ala.) High School

Commit date: May 22

Twitter handle:@OfficialTrinnn    

The final word: Bell, a jumbo athlete, could play tight end or defensive end for Tennessee after picking the Vols over Auburn. He had 41 receptions for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, according to, as well as 10 rushes for 31 yards. He will begin his career at tight end, a position the Vols must improve.

DE Dylan Brooks (6-5, 250)

Handley (Roanoke, Ala.)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 3 weakside DE

Commit date: April 26

Twitter handle: @_dylanbrooks

The final word: Tennessee’s highest-rated signee, Brooks earned Under Armour All-America Game selection. He committed to the Vols over Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Handley coach Larry Strain describes Brooks as having a quick first step and the ability to change directions quickly, giving him a good skillset as a pass rusher. Handley mostly uses Brooks as a stand-up rush end. He shows good pursuit and has the strength to overpower blockers. He also has experience dropping into pass coverage.

RB Cody Brown (6-0, 217)

Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 10 RB

Commit date: May 3

Twitter handle:@_codywbrown

Running back Cody Brown of Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga.

The final word: Tennessee hasn’t had a bruising running back during the Jeremy Pruitt era. Insert Brown, who embodies power. He throws shot and discus for the track team. Brown rushed for 5,221 yards during his prep career, according to MaxPreps. Brown picked Tennessee over Auburn, Georgia and Ohio State. “He’s a thick running back who can be a load carrier,” ESPN national recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert said.

TE Miles Campbell (6-3, 238)

South Paulding (Douglasville, Ga.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 17 TE

Commit date: May 18 

Twitter handle:@Miles3campbell

Tight end Miles Campbell of South Paulding High in Douglasville, Georgia

The final word: Campbell played tight end, wide receiver and defensive line in high school. His future is on offense as a tight end. Campbell chose the Vols over offers from Auburn, Georgia Tech and Florida. He has good athleticism and participated in track and field in high school. 

ATH Christian Charles (6-1, 185)

Chestatee (Gainesville, Ga.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 44 ATH

Christian Charles

Commit date: Oct. 15

Twitter handle: @CD___Charles3

The final word: Tennessee's staff values versatility, as evidenced by this class, and Charles supplies that. He projects as a cornerback after starring for Chestatee as a quarterback. He also rushed for more 900 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons, according to MaxPreps. His senior season was cut short by a shoulder injury, requiring surgery. He picked UT over Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and Arkansas State.

DT KaTron Evans (6-4, 320)

St. Frances Academy (Baltimore)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 13 DT

Commit date: May 9

Twitter handle:@ColtBoyKayy

Katron Evans

The final word: Evans profiles as more than a space eater. He gets off the line of scrimmage well and sheds blockers. That gives him the opportunity to disrupt plays, something Tennessee needs on its defensive front. He chose Tennessee from a list of finalists that included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Arizona State, Southern California and TCU.

RB Tiyon Evans (5-10, 215)

Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 1 Juco RB

Commit date: Nov. 21

Twitter handle: @darealballer_15

Hutchinson C.C. running back and former Tennessee commit Tiyon Evans

The final word: Evans committed to Tennessee in April, decommitted in September, then committed again last month. He picked UT over Maryland, Oklahoma State and South Carolina. He’ll have three seasons of eligibility. Evans rushed for 538 yards on 61 carries with nine touchdowns in 2019. Hutchinson did not play this fall. Evans has good size, and he moves well, too. He was an elite kickoff returner for Hutchinson.

OT J'Marion Gooch (6-7, 358)


247 Composite: 3-star, No. 69 OT

Commit date: Aug. 31

Twitter handle:@GoochJmarion 

J'Marion Gooch, The Kings Academy senior and Tennessee football signee on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.

The final word: Gooch committed to Auburn in April before flipping to the Vols. He was trusted with the quarterback's blindside at The King's Academy, where he played before transferring to Gallatin in November, taking a majority of his snaps at left tackle. Gooch is an imposing presence. His other offers include Georgia, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Southern California.

OT William Griffin-Parker (6-5, 330)

Pearl-Cohn (Nashville)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 35 OT

Why chosen: Pearl-Cohn's William Griffin-Parker, a three-star offensive lineman and Tennessee signee, anchored an offense that averaged 341.8 yards and 40.1 points a game.

Commit date: Sept. 4

Twitter handle:@williamngriffin

The final word: With Gooch, Griffin-Parker rounds out a mammoth in-state offensive tackle haul. He moves well for his size, too, attracting the attention of several SEC schools, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia. For Griffin-Parker, it'll be about reshaping that size in a college strength program, though it's a valuable asset after some development. 

ATH Kaemen Marley (6-2, 206)

Eastern Randolph (Ramseur, N.C.)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 4 athlete

Commit date: May 20

Twitter handle: @Kaemen_Marley

The final word: Marley was a prep standout on both sides of the ball. He’ll bring that versatility to Tennessee after choosing the Vols over North Carolina, North Carolina State, Kentucky and Ohio State. Marley has the frame and physicality to play safety or even linebacker, but he also exceled as a perimeter receiver at Eastern Randolph, using his size to make plays downfield on the perimeter.

OT Amari McNeill (6-4, 280)

Peachtree Ridge (Suwanee, Ga.)

247 Composite: 3-star No. 87 OT

Commit date: Dec. 7

Twitter handle: @amarimcneill_

Amari McNeill

The final word: Considered an offensive lineman by the recruiting services, Tennessee recruited him to be a defensive lineman. His offer list includes Memphis, Minnesota and Virginia Tech. He played both sides of the ball in high school. Quick and athletic, he showed an ability to shed blockers and be disruptive on the defensive line. He played left tackle on offense.

WR Walker Merrill (6-1, 178)


247 Composite: 4-star, No. 58 WR

Commit date: March 31

Twitter handle: @Walker_Merrill1

Brentwood wide receiver Walker Merrill poses for a portrait at Brentwood High School Nov. 10, 2020. Merrill signed with Tennessee.

The final word: Merrill caught 100 passes, a school record, for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. He aims to make an impact at Tennessee with his route-running ability. He can play in the slot or on the perimeter, and he’s a willing blocker. Brentwood coach Ron Crawford described Merrill as a “freakishly talented” athlete who also returned punts and kicks. He picked the Vols over Mississippi and Vanderbilt.

WR Julian Nixon (6-3, 230)

Centennial (Roswell, Ga.)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 54 WR

Wide receiver Julian Nixon of Centennial High School in Roswell, Georgia.

Commit date: April 28

Twitter handle:@JulianNixon11

The final word: Nixon is a big, physical target who can win jump balls. Although accustomed to making plays on the perimeter, he also has the tools to make a nice tight end. Nixon isn’t a speedster, but neither was Jauan Jennings, who led the Vols in receptions in 2019. Nixon picked Tennessee over Ohio State and Georgia.

DB De'Shawn Rucker (5-11, 184)

Amos P. Godby (Tallahassee, Fla.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 31 S

Commit date: May 3

Twitter handle: @d_rucker22

The final word: Rucker committed to Tennessee over Clemson, and he also has offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Florida. He's a little undersized, but the track star is coveted for his speed, with a career-best time of 10.76 seconds in the 100-meter dash. He's likely best suited as a nickelback at Tennessee. 

QB Kaidon Salter (6-1, 185)

Cedar Hill (Texas)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 6 dual-threat QB

Commit date: May 10

Twitter handle:@KaidonSalter_7

Four-star quarterback Kaidon Salter will announce his commitment on Sunday. Tennessee, Auburn and Baylor are the favorites.

The final word: What Salter lacks in height he makes up for with his dual-threat ability. Lean and athletic, he moves well in the pocket. Salter also excelled as a track athlete. He’ll need to add strength in college. Salter pledged to UT over Auburn and Baylor. “He’s a tremendous athlete,” Haubert said. “I think he’s really strong in the short to intermediate game. I don’t know if he has elite arm strength, but he’s certainly a guy who can extend plays, create and be a running threat.”

DT Isaac Washington (6-3, 268)

East Surry (Pilot Mountain, N.C.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 47 DT

Commit date: March 7

Twitter handle: @isaacw_74

The final word: Washington committed, decommitted and recommitted to Tennessee in a six-week span. His offer list included Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. His size and strength made him a matchup problem in high school. He’ll need to improve his burst off the line.

LB Aaron Willis (5-11, 207)

Aaron Willis

Life Christian Academy (Colonial Heights, Va.)

247 Composite: 4-star, No. 9 outside LB

Commit date: May 10

Twitter handle:@44crzy

The final word: A former Virginia Tech commitment, Willis chose the Vols over LSU and Maryland. Willis is a hard-hitter who covers ground quickly and shows relentless pursuit. “He’s not a guy that has great size, but I love his physical nature,” Haubert said. Willis earned Under Armour All-America Game selection.

RB Jaylen Wright (5-11, 187)

Southern (Durham, N.C.)

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 37 RB

Commit date: March 30

Twitter handle:@__jw12

Southern Durham's Jaylen Wright committed to Tennessee's 2021 recruiting class on Monday.

The final word: Wright is a built on speed. He won North Carolina's Class 3A state championship in the indoor 55-meter dash in 2019. His personal record in that event is a blazing 6.25 seconds. He averaged 10.1 yards per carry as a junior – his high school didn’t play this fall – and he’s also comfortable catching passes. Wright picked the Vols over Arizona State, Miami, Rutgers and Syracuse.

DE Byron Young (6-3, 240)

Georgia Military College

247 Composite: 3-star, No. 2 Juco weakside DE

Commit date: Dec. 16

Twitter handle:@byron_97

The final word: Young made 31 tackles, including 11 for loss, as a freshman in 2019. Like other junior colleges, Georgia Military did not play a season this fall. Young has good length and is agile on his feet. He projects as a hybrid outside linebacker, spending part of his time with a hand in the turf. His offer list included Mississippi, South Carolina, TCU and Texas.

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Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.