KNOXVILLE – With this upcoming Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of Butch Jones’ arrival at Tennessee, it’s perhaps appropriate that Jones added one of the biggest pieces, or “bricks” as he likes to call his recruits that he’s building his program with, on Wednesday.
Receiver Josh Malone, ranked as a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, committed to the Vols during a nationally- televised announcement (NBC Sports Network) on Wednesday afternoon, selecting the Vols over an enormous offer list that he had whittled down to UT, Clemson, Georgia and Florida State.
Malone cited the opportunity to play early, proximity to his family and a comfort level with Tennessee's young QBs Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson as factors for his decision.
In a class that is shaping up to be full of promising prospects, Malone could be one of the best.
A rangy receiver at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Malone caught 71 passes for 1,404 yards (19.8 ypc) and 19 touchdowns at Station Camp High School in Gallatin, Tenn., in 2013 in addition to rushing for 227 yards and helping in the return game and on defense as well.
He came into 2013 with just over 1,000 career receiving yards. But helped by improved quarterback play and a revamped offensive scheme, Malone had a career year in 2013, helping boost him from a solid prospect to one of the nation’s best. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash with a 31-inch vertical leap, according to his profile on Hudl.com.
“This is a load of a prospect in stature,” ESPN.com wrote in a scouting report. “Has great height and very good bulk with a long wingspan. Plays with explosive strength and has very good acceleration and deceptive top end speed.
“Is a deep threat and has run past and through coverage speed. Gets good yards after the catch on underneath throws. Is hard to catch when he has a step and has shown speed to the edge.”
Malone is UT’s 33rd commitment in the 30-man 2014 class. With several targets still remaining, Jones has some work to do to figure out how the numbers will work out this year. But consider Malone in the boat for UT now.
He plans to enroll in January and could be one of the best receivers UT has on its roster come spring practice of this coming year.
How he fits: It’s rarely safe to assume that a true freshman will come in and have a big impact in his first year in the SEC. Malone might be an exception, however.
The Vols will find a way to utilize him provided he stays healthy and works at the level Jones and his staff will be looking for. He, arguably, could be a starter for UT right now. Tennessee returns all of its receivers in 2013, but struggled to find consistency behind Marquez North and Pig Howard.
That leaves the door open for Malone and four-star JUCO commitment Lavon Pearson to come in and compete for playing time, if not a starting role. That’s even more true now with the recent de-commitment of four-star WR Dominique Booth, leaving Pearson, Malone and Vic Wharton as the only three projected receivers in this class at this point.
They’ll have to earn their time. Returning players such as Jason Croom, Josh Smith, Johnathon Johnson and Paul Harris will continue to progress and battle for playing time, but the newcomers, including Malone, seem to have more upside than what UT already has.
ESPN.com: 4-star; 48th nationally
Rivals.com: 5-star; 20th nationally
Scout.com: 4-star; 10th WR
247Sports.com: 4-star; 44th nationally
247Sports.com Composite: 4-star; 75th nationally
Tennessee’s 2014 commitments (247Sports Composite ranking):
WR Josh Malone (4-star)
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga
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