Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel kicks off the 2024 committed class on a high note, earning the pledge of four-star athlete Jonathan Echols of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The rising junior transferred to the new school this past winter from Heard County in Franklin, Ga. He’s one of the top juniors in the country and already boasts north of 30 Division I offers.
The 6-foot-6, 225 pounder can be used all over the field at the next level. Tennessee likes his potential at tight end and that’s one of the reasons the Vols won out over the final group of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Miami and Notre Dame. The future Vol is considered the 112th player in the class, per Rivals, with a rating of 5.8.
Ehols was just in Knoxville, taking part in the final prospect camp of June last Sunday. He becomes the first commit for Tennessee in the 2024 cycle and will certainly be a pillar to build the class around.
Here’s an in-depth look at what Echols’ commitment means for Tennessee.
“Echols as a tight end is interesting because I don’t think it’s his most natural position. But with that athleticism, range and size – I don’t think it’s something he wouldn’t be accustomed to at the SEC level. You can put him in as an in-line blocker or you can put him outside and create a mismatch with his speed and size against either a nickel or a linebacker. Josh Heupel is smart enough to design plays to get him in the open field and get the ball into his hands.
He’s also a long, rangy defensive end and you can never have too many of those in your defense and in the SEC. He can come off the edge and beat offensive tackles with his speed. When they start guessing, he has inside moves to get after it. He really loves to use that size to really attack people in the backfield – whether that be going after the quarterback, running back or at that mesh point where he blows it up completely. And tracking people to the sideline – he’s one of the best in the 2024 class in doing that. He gets after people and puts them on the ground.”
— Adam Gorney, National Recruiting Director for Rivals
HOW ECHOLS FITS IN WITH THE VOLS?
It would be hard not to as Echols is the definition of the word ‘athlete.’ Prior to transferred to IMG Academy, the versatile player logged snaps at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, H-back and defensive end for Heard County. He accounted for seven touchdowns as a sophomore and racked up a trio of sacks defensively. The new Volunteer commit also shined on the track and field team, taking part in sprints, relays and jumps.
At wide receiver, Echols has long strides to get behind the defense. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage and has no issue beating man coverage or press coverage off the line. The athlete high points the football and his athleticism allows him to win battles for 50/50 balls. He’s a good route runner, though that can be refined at the next level.
In Heupel’s offense, the pass-catching-first tight end has the chance to stand out.
In the backfield, he’s a capable thrower, but he won’t be taking snaps under center at Tennessee. Echols is a good runner, showing more vision and patience in finding the hole in the defense. He runs with good tenacity and doesn’t shy away from contact – using his feet to keep churning while would-be tacklers engage.
As a blocker, he’s impressive. Echols isn’t overly strong at the moment, but again, uses his feet to drive defenders out of the way. He’s shown the ability to drive block off the line of scrimmage, down block on a defensive end and even arch block on outside zone or toss to keep the outside linebacker from pursuing.
Defensively, his athleticism allows him to make all sorts of plays. Technique wise, there’s some work to do on squeezes and on keeping tight off the line of scrimmage. But his explosion and acceleration wreak havoc in the backfield. Those same traits show up on special teams on both kick units.
Echols has the chance to turn into a really good tight end at the next level – displaying several elite abilities for his age. But any coaching staff in America could plug him into a number of different positions – and with good teachings – the prospect would flourish.
WHAT DOES ECHOLS’ COMMITMENT MEAN FOR TENNESSEE?
It’ a great start for the 2024 class. This is the second-straight cycle where the Vols have found their tight end early – showing the importance of the position for Alex Golesh in Josh Heupel’s scheme. With Ethan Davis and Echols in the same offense in 2024 and beyond, Tennessee sports a dangerous 1-2 duo with tight ends who can do a little bit of everything.
Tennessee losses two veteran tight ends in Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren by the time Echols reaches campus, thus his commitment will go a long way in helping those snaps.
With the 2024 class still taking a backseat during the heart of the 2023 recruiting cycle, Echols has the chance to play recruiter for his Vols. Staying in contact and forming relationships with other highly-touted prospects in his national class, the Volunteer pledge can get a head start on the rest of the field.
In-state prospects Echols can begin immediate work on are Edwin Spillman, Boo Carter, Kumaro Brown, Brandon Heyward, Kaleb Beasley, Carson Gentle, Steven Soles and Kison Shepard. Each of the previously listed have either been offered or visited Tennessee’s campus since the turn of the new year.