KNOXVILLE – Coach Butch Jones has positioned Tennessee among the finalists for some of the top remaining uncommitted recruits for the 2013 class.
With just one week remaining until National Signing Day (Feb. 6), Jones finally landed his first big one late on Wednesday night when top wide receiver Marquez North of Charlotte, N.C., committed to the Vols via Twitter.
The 6-3, 205-pound receiver chose the Vols over an enormous list of offers, but it ultimately came down to Tennessee, North Carolina and Clemson before making his final selection.
Ranked as high as the second-best wide receiver by one recruiting service, North is the first elite prospect to commit to Jones.
“He is an outside receiver who is physical enough to be a factor on the inside,” ESPN.com wrote in a scouting report. “His foot quickness and ability to get off the line and into routes quickly is a strong point.
“He is very natural in terms of his change-of-direction skills and body control. He is a sharp route-runner who doesn’t have to gear down a lot when going into and coming out of his breaks. . There’s a lot to like about this prospect.”
Added recruiting analyst Chad Simmons of Scout.com: “He has the size of top college wideouts right now and he has shown break-away [ability] time and time again at receiver and as a return man on special teams. He has very good speed, so good it may surprise some, and he is a real threat down the field.”
North, who is also a U.S. Army All-America selection this season, becomes the 17th member committed to the 2013 Tennessee signing class and is also the highest ranked, according to most recruiting services. The Vols can sign up to 27 players next Wednesday, though they are not expected to fill the class up this year.
Despite missing some time with injury in 2012, North had 20 receptions for 322 yards and seven touchdown as a senior at Mallard Creek High. He also had 45 carries for 682 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.
ESPN.com: 4-star, 133rd nationally, 16th best WR
Rivals.com: 4-star, 37th nationally, 2nd best WR
Scout.com: 4-star, 12th best WR
247Sports: 4-star, 155th nationally, 18th best WR
247Sports composite (average of major recruiting sites): 4-star, 90th nationally, 11th best WR
Nooga.com analysis: North’s size and athleticism really pop out when watching film of him. He looks like a collegiate wide receiver in stature already, but he’ll have to improve as a pure wide receiver in college.
His high school team used him as somewhat of a hybrid running back/receiver who often lined up in the slot and took jet sweeps or reverse handoffs – similar to how Tennessee used Cordarrelle Patterson in 2012.
North might not be as polished of a wide receiver as some of the other top prospects in this class, but he’s a player UT will get on the field early and will find ways to get him the ball.
How he fits: The Vols are still pursing a couple other wide receivers in this class, but North likely will wrap up an impressive unit that includes himself, Josh Smith, Ryan Jenkins and Paul Harris.
The Vols are almost starting over at wide receiver after losing Patterson, Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers – their top three receivers from 2012 – to graduation and early entry to the draft.
It’ll be open competition and a player of North’s caliber will have a great shot to see the field early. Only three returning receivers – Jacob Carter, Pig Howard and Vincent Dallas – have recorded any receptions thus far in college. They’ll join Cody Blanc and 2012 redshirts Drae Bowles and Jason Croom as other contenders for playing time.
There’s not much experience there, but North’s addition gives UT some optimism that the wide receiver unit will be reloaded sooner than later.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga