Not even a year has passed since Tennessee welcomed the Class of 2012, but already seven players have moved on.
Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's decision to pursue the NFL came as no surprise. But six others — including three consensus four-star prospects — have left the program for various reasons, taking some of the luster off a signing class that wasn't all that highly rated to begin with.
The losses put more pressure on the 15 players remaining in the class while adding a sense of urgency to this year's group, which new coach Butch Jones is trying to salvage in a frantic final month.
No matter how this year's class turns out — it's currently 10th-best in the SEC in the 247 Composite Rankings — Jones will almost certainly have to put an increased focus on junior college players to make up some of the gaps left by higher-than-expected attrition in the 2012 group.
Attrition, of course, is routine in college football, especially during a coaching change. But the 2012 class has dwindled far more quickly than other groups.
The Vols still have 23 members left from the group that signed in 2011 and 15 who remain from the Class of 2010.
While attrition could take an even larger toll on the 2012 group, all is not lost. Several of the players — now redshirt freshman and sophomores — are in position to make an impact.
Safety LaDarrell McNeil played extensively as a freshman in 2012 and former coach Derrick Ansley said he had NFL talent.
Four receivers — including Jason Croom and Alton "Pig" Howard — will have a wide-open path to playing time after the departure of virtually all of the Vols' receiving corps.
Quarterback Nathan Peterman, who was recruited by Jones at Cincinnati, will get a chance to compete against Justin Worley for a starting job this spring.
Some of the losses have hurt more than others. While Patterson's exit was expected, defensive tackle Darrington Sentimore's decision to attempt a pro career was more surprising. Running back Quenshaun Watson played only sparingly in 2012, but he was ahead of two other young backs in the pecking order and seemingly had a bright future when he left the team earlier this month.
THE CLASS OF 2012
Seven players from Tennessee’s 2012 signing class are no longer on the team. Players are listed in order of 247 Composite Ranking.
*1. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR: Could be a first-round NFL draft pick after phenomenal one-year stint at UT.
2. LaDarrell McNeil, S: Rare steal out of Texas who played regularly in struggling secondary. Former DBs coach Derrick Ansley said he has NFL talent and a bright future.
*3. Omari Phillips, DL: Was late arrival to Tennessee after failing to gain admission to Florida. Left after becoming disgruntled with his role and struggling in classes. A calculated risk by Dooley’s staff that didn’t work out.
4. Danny O’Brien, DL: We heard surprisingly little about O’Brien during his redshirt year, but with a 4-3 set and the departure of Darrington Sentimore and others, he’ll have an opportunity to break into the rotation in 2013.
5. Drae Bowles, WR: He was a bit raw in camp and was given a redshirt year. He’ll have a chance to play a big role in 2013.
6. Jason Croom, WR: He would have found the field had an injury not ended his freshman year. After considering a move to tight end, he will probably be back at receiver in 2013.
7. Alton “Pig” Howard, WR: He played Wildcat QB and receiver and has the talent to continue to grow into a versatile offensive threat.
* 8. Davante Bourque, RB: He was barely around long enough to check into his dorm. After a few days of practice in August, Bourque went back home to Louisiana and planned to enroll in a junior college.
9. Nathan Peterman, QB: He redshirted in 2012 but will get a chance to compete for the starting job against Justin Worley in 2013.
* 10. Deion Bonner, DB: This was another risk that didn’t turn out so well for Dooley’s staff. He played in nine games in 2012 and could have challenged for more playing time this year Bonner was given a late-season suspension and did not rejoin the team under the Jones’ administration.
* 11. Trent Taylor, DL: Apparent academic troubles derailed Taylor’s career before it got started. He stopped practicing to concentrate on classes and didn’t return to school this semester.
12. LaTroy Lewis, LB: After a redshirt season, it will be interesting to see where Lewis lands in John Jancek’s new defense.
13. Daniel McCullers, NG: McCullers grew into a larger role as the season wore on and his return is important for the Vols’ defense, even if it remains to be seen if he will be as good a fit for the 4-3 as he was the 3-4.
* 14. Darrington Sentimore, DT: Was serviceable but not spectacular starter in 2012 and will now try his hand at what some believe are dubious chances in the NFL draft.
* 15. Quenshaun Watson, RB: He had a very strong camp, but seemed to fall out of favor as the season went on. His abrupt departure came as a surprise.
16. Alden Hill, RB: He redshirted in 2012 and will have to break into the rotation behind three veterans.
17. Justin Meredith, TE: Butch Jones likes tight ends, but he has recruited immediate competition in fight to replace Mychal Rivera.
18. Justin King, FB: King was a backup fullback and occasional Wildcat in 2012.
19. Kenny Bynum, LB: He redshirted after suffering a knee injury.
20. Cody Blanc, WR: He was a valuable special-teamer, playing in 11 games in his debut season.
21. Daniel Gray, DB: Earned a start against Troy (although it didn’t go well). But he impressed coaches enough to play a lot on a struggling defense.
22. George Bullock, K/P: Preseason injury ended any hopes of competing for the kicking or punting jobs.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.