Why isn't Nico Iamaleava drawing top recruits to Tennessee like Arch Manning is to Texas?

·5 min read

Five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava’s effect on Tennessee football recruiting has been good but not great.

It’s not quite the impact of Arch Manning, whose commitment to Texas was followed by a flurry of five-star and four-star recruits to the Longhorns.

And Tennessee is struggling to land some prime targets on offense, where players could play directly with Iamaleava. On Monday, five-star offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa picked Miami over Tennessee as the latest highly-touted recruit to pass on the Vols.

But Tennessee’s 2023 class is No. 10 in 247Sports Composite rankings with five months until the early signing period, due in part to Iamaleava’s high rating and impact on other recruits. The Vols haven’t finished in the top 10 since the 2015 class under Butch Jones.

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Pinning the responsibility of adding top recruits to a quarterback seems unfair.

Recruits choose a school for all kinds of reasons: geography, tradition, style of play, team colors, apparel brand, opportunity to play immediately, family ties, area of academic study and much more.

Money received from name image and likeness (NIL) deals has become the top priority for some recruits, further clouding the predictability of commitments. Plus, it’s still the job of coaches to recruit players rather than a high school quarterback pledged to a college.

Nevertheless, the best players usually follow an elite quarterback to a school. So expecting Iamaleava’s commitment to bolster Tennessee recruiting has merit. Here’s how it has gone so far.

Arch Manning had a greater impact

Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning and grandson of Archie Manning, is the No. 1 player in the 2023 class. Predictably, his decision kickstarted recruiting for Texas, which has risen to No. 3 in the team rankings.

Since Manning committed on June 23, the Longhorns have landed 10 recruits, including two five-star prospects and four four-star prospects.

Five-star wide receiver Johntay Cook, four-star wide receiver Ryan Nisblett and four-star offensive lineman Jaydon Chatman quickly joined Manning on the future offense for the Longhorns. Notably, all three are from Texas.

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Iamaleava’s impact on Tennessee hasn’t been as clear.

Since he committed on March 21, the Vols have landed four-star edge rusher Caleb Herring, four-star safety Sylvester Smith and four-star athlete Trevor Duncan, who’s expected to play on the defensive line.

Tennessee’s top six players committing since Iamaleava are on defense. And the Vols’ next-best offensive recruit in the class is tight end Ethan Davis, who committed before Iamaleava.

Iamaleava more comparable to USC commitment

A more interesting comparison is Iamaleava to Southern Cal commitment Malachi Nelson. They play at high schools separated by 10 miles near Los Angeles.

And they are the only quarterbacks besides Manning in the top 10 overall in the 247Sports Composite player rankings. Nelson is No. 2, and Iamaleava is No. 4.

On Nov. 30, Nelson switched his commitment from Oklahoma to USC, following coach Lincoln Riley to the Trojans. Zachariah Branch, a Las Vegas native and the No. 1 wide receiver in the class, and four-star athlete/wide receiver Makai Lemon, Nelson’s high school teammate, committed to USC soon after.

Nelson had an immediate impact on USC recruiting. But the Trojans’ next eight commitments came at least five months later, so Nelson’s impact on those additions is debatable. And USC is ranked No. 12, still trailing Tennessee.

Unlike Nelson, Iamaleava must convince West Coast players to follow him across the country to the SEC. It’s not a hard sell, but geography adds a degree of difficulty for the unofficial pied piper of Tennessee’s 2023 class.

Who Vols could still land in 2023 class

Tennessee touts talent on defense in the 2023 class, but the Vols have whiffed on adding elite players on offense. Iamaleava’s commitment has helped put the Vols in play for premier prospects, but they’ve ultimately picked other schools.

Mauigoa chose Miami. Five-star wide receiver Carnell Tate committed to Ohio State. Four-star running back Jeremiah Cobb chose Auburn. Four-star offensive lineman Brycen Sanders committed to Ole Miss. And four-star wide receiver Kyler Kasper picked Oregon.

Granted, five-star athlete Jonathan Echols committed to Tennessee in the 2024 class, and he could play tight end. But he doesn’t help Iamaleava’s class.

There are still opportunities ahead.

Four-star athlete Cameron Seldon, a likely wide receiver, will choose between Tennessee, Penn State and Maryland. Three-star wide receiver Nathan Leacock has Tennessee among his final seven schools.

Four-star offensive tackle Shamurad Umarov will pick between Tennessee, Michigan State, LSU and Georgia. Four-star offensive tackle Lucas Simmons has Tennessee, USC, Florida and Florida State as his final options.

Iamaleava appears firmly committed to Tennessee. He would be the highest rated quarterback to sign with the Vols in the 2000s. Quarterbacks Casey Clausen (2000) and James Banks (2002) were five-star prospects with a slightly lower rating than Iamaleava.

But Iamaleava’s supporting cast is still incomplete as Tennessee heads into the final recruiting stage of the summer.

Reach Adam Sparks at adam.sparks@knoxnews.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee football: Top recruits not following Nico Iamaleava to Vols