Can Tennessee Volunteers Make a Play for 5-Star DT Matt Elam?

By Patrick Schmidt
Matt Elam-Tennessee Volunteers
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee has a mountain of a man in the middle of the Volunteers’ defensive line in 6-8, 350-pound tackle Daniel McCullers and a player of similar stature — Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky. John Hardin) — could fill his considerable footsteps next year.

The Volunteers extended an offer to Elam July 26 and are hoping they aren’t getting into the race too late. Kentucky, Alabama and Notre Dame are his top three schools and although it is yet to be scheduled, the Irish are likely to get one of his official visits this fall. Thus far, Alabama is the only one of Elam’s top three schools that has secured an official visit on December 13.

Can Tennessee make up enough ground for Elam, who resides 220 miles away from Knoxville? That is the million-dollar question, but if you are talking about a team than needs him, it certainly is Tennessee. As great as the Vols’ No. 1-ranked class is, they have a need at defensive tackle where they have zero commits.

Elam has said he prefers playing nose tackle and Tennessee is switching back to a 4-3 defense, so he would have to play defensive tackle, the same position as McCullers, but I have no doubt he would be a dominating force in either alignment. It would just come down to preference and how his relationship with defensive line coach Steve Stripling develops and how he would plan to deploy Elam in his scheme.

At 6-foot-6 and 350-pounds, the five-star recruit has been literally one of the biggest surprises on the recruiting trail in recent months as the gigantic defensive tackle has been one of the fastest risers among recruiting websites. Elam barely cracked the top 247 on 247Sports’ big board and was viewed as a high three- or low four-star recruit on Rivals and ESPN this spring, but in June vaulted into the top 10 on 247.

The biggest sales pitch Tennessee can use on Elam besides the top-notch facilities, enthusiastic fan base and potentially top-ranked recruiting class is how successful McCullers does in the 4-3. Recruits like to see others at their position succeed, so if McCullers does what is expected and turns in a dominating season that could help the Vols’ chances of securing an official visit and potential commitment.

Elam is still a very raw recruit and has dominated because of his sheer size and strength, but because of this and his development on the camp circuit it’s easy to see he has limitless potential with more coaching. He is more of an advanced recruit than McCullers at this point because he is in better condition and has much more agility and flexibility than McCullers, who has struggled with his weight during his Tennessee career.

Elam isn’t expected to announce his college soon, and in most instances I would say Tennessee is getting into the race too late and his three other suitors, in particular Kentucky, have built an insurmountable lead.

However, this year’s recruiting effort by the Tennessee coaching staff leads me to believe nothing is insurmountable and I think Tennessee will make this one interesting and just may get the next McCullers in Elam.

Patrick’s a college football writer for Rant Sports and radio host on Follow him on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt and add him to your Google network.

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