A.J. Branisel highlights (via ScoutingOhio)

KNOXVILLE – Tennessee football coach Butch Jones brought much of his staff from Cincinnati with him to Knoxville and now he’s brought a commitment as well.

Tight end A.J. Branisel of South Euclid, Ohio, announced via Twitter on Wednesday afternoon that he has switched his pledge from the Bearcats to the Vols.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end chose the Vols over the Bearcats, along with offers from Nebraska, West Virginia, Louisville and others.

“Branisel is a tight end with the receiving skills to help move the chains in the passing game,” ESPN.com wrote in a scouting report. “He is a kid with good height, but a lean build and he will need to get into a college weight program and work to add more good size.”

Branisel becomes the 16th commitment in Tennessee’s 2013 class and the fourth to commit since Jones took over.


ESPN.com: 3-star; 17th best tight end nationally

Rivals.com: 3-star; 33rd best tight end nationally

Scout.com: 3-star; 46th best tight end nationally

247Sports.com: 3-star; 53rd best tight end nationally

Nooga.com analysis: In films from his high school playing days, Branisel looks a little bit more like an oversized wide receiver than a tight end. He needs to fill out a little more in the upper and lower body before he’s ready to be an effective blocker in the SEC.

That said, he has a good frame, runs routes well and looks to have enough speed to potentially stretch the defense down the middle of the field. He might also be able to serve as a hybrid wide receiver/tight end that can give opposing defenses fits because of his versatility.

It’s not surprising Jones took a second tight end in this class, but it’s a little intriguing he didn’t go the junior college route with the Vols needing immediate help. Perhaps the Vols will add a third tight end via junior college, but with just about 10 spots left in the class and many holes to fill, that might not be feasible.

How he fits: Tennessee needs help at tight end. That is a priority for the 2013 signing class.

The Vols already hold a commitment from Chauntez Jackson of Inglewood, Calif., but Branisel gives them more depth at the position. It was a position in such bad shape last year that two players had to be moved from defense to bolster the depth and offensive lineman Alex Bullard often wore No. 89 and was used as a blocking tight end.

Starter Mychal Rivera is graduating. Rising junior Brendan Downs and Justin Meredith, who redshirted in 2012 because of a hamstring issue, are the only two true tight ends returning on the roster. Downs is developing into a solid blocker, but has made only six receptions in 18 career games. Meredith is somewhat of an unproven commodity at this point after never being 100 percent last season.

Branisel could use a redshirt year to help fill out, but that might not be a luxury the Vols have at this point. With only Downs having extensive experience, Branisel should have a chance to compete for playing time as soon as he arrives on campus.

Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS