Posted: 11:54 a.m. Wednesday, April 3, 2013
By Brad Shepard
Butch Jones is bringing the Payne to Knoxville.
D'Andre Payne, a top cornerback recruit, verbally committed to the Tennessee Volunteers and coach Jones on Wednesday morning -- announcing to the world via Twitter at 11:46 EST:
I Have Officially Committed To The University Of Tennessee!! #VFL #VolNation #RiseToTheTop #bossteam
Payne stars at Washington (D.C.) Friendship Academy. He is a consensus four-star recruit, and is considered one of the best 20 corners nationally at this early juncture in the recruiting cycle. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound cornerback chose Tennessee over offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Cincinnati, Colorado, UConn, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, UNC, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Rutgers, Texas Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. That's quite the impressive offer list for a smallish corner.
Payne visited Knoxville more than two weeks ago and left very high on Tennessee. He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan after the visit that the Vols were "most definitely" in his top 10. UT had also been recruiting his teammate Jalen Tabor, who once favored the Vols when Sal Sunseri was there but now is thought to be leaning toward Alabama, among others. Jones is still hotly pursuing Tabor, who visited Vanderbilt earlier this week along with Payne. Though Payne shot out tweets Tuesday night talking about the Commodores, James Franklin's pitch wasn't enough to change his mind from where he wanted to go. He had apparently been feeling the Vols for a while.
Payne was recruited by UT linebackers coach and ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen, who'd also courted him when he was at Auburn. Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez should be credited with an assist as well. He also had established a strong relationship with the defensive back during his one-year stay on the Plains and continued to recruit him since coming to join Jones' first staff at Tennessee.
The commitment of Payne adamantly answers questions about Jones' ability to recruit nationally.
Though nobody had disputed the new Vols coach was off to a strong start recruiting -- amassing a top-five class nationally thus far -- the class consists of three legacies and another in-state prospect. Four-star cornerback Todd Kelly Jr.'s dad played at UT as well as four-star wide receiver Vic Wharton's uncle and three-star wide receiver Neiko Creamer's dad, Andre. The jewel of the class -- five-star running back Jalen Hurd -- is from Hendersonville, Tenn. The only two kids without a strong personal or geographical bond to the Vols were three-star offensive lineman Coleman Thomas and three-star running back Treyvon Paulk.
But Payne belongs in the latter group, and he has an offer sheet that will make anybody stand back and take notice. He's a D.C. area kid with offers from a lot of the top programs in the country -- including teams that are rolling in recruiting right now such as Ohio State, Michigan and Florida State. Yet Payne has decided [at least for now; verbal commitments are non-binding] that he wants to play at Tennessee.
Payne's pledge also symbolizes another break from the previous regime. Under Sunseri and former defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, UT was adamant about taking taller cornerbacks, sometimes sacrificing speed for size. When you aren't recruiting at an elite level like Derek Dooley's staff was struggling to do, you sometimes get stuck with big cornerbacks who are too slow to play in the SEC. Payne can play, regardless of his diminutive size, and it's refreshing to have coaches who realize that.
Payne's film shows why those 35-plus colleges chose to look beyond his height and extend and offer. Payne's best attributes are his toughness, instincts and quickness. He lacks great length and track speed, but is a productive player nonetheless. Payne may remind some of the Honey Badger of LSU, or of Tony Carter of the Denver Broncos, according to Bud Elliott, SB Nation's recruiting editor. Payne appears to be a really gritty kid on film with good technique and really good ball reaction as well.
Payne decided to commit to Tennessee after visiting Knoxville in March. He is Tennessee's seventh commitment for the class of 2014, and its third consensus four-star or better rated recruit.
If you're interested in Payne's profiles, he's listed as the nation's 175th-ranked player overall and the 16th-rated cornerback by 247Sports. His industry-wide 247 Composite ranking has him as the nation's No. 213 player and 17th-rated cornerback. Rivals rates him as the No. 236-ranked player in the country and a four-star. Scout says he's a four-star and the nation's 26th-best corner.
The Vols supposedly aren't done this spring, either. Many of the recruits have been tweeting about getting several more commitments leading up to or at the April 20 Orange & White Game. While several fans are clamoring for UT's desperate need for offensive and defensive linemen in this cycle, the fact of the matter is the Vols need help everywhere and an upgrade in team speed as well.
Payne provides that. He is the first true cornerback commitment in this year's cycle, and he is expected to join 2013 commits Malik Foreman, Riyahd Jones and Cameron Sutton in Knoxville to help reload the secondary. The Vols have TKJr. at safety in this class, and they also seem to be in good shape with four-star safety Cortez McDowell of Locus Grove (Ga.) HS, three-star safety/cornerback RaShaan Gaulden of Independence (Tenn.) HS, and the Berry twins -- Evan and Elliott -- of Creekside (Ga.) HS. Elliott could play outside linebacker, and Galduen may play corner. But McDowell is a true safety. None of those guys have committed yet, however.
Payne just did, and this is his day. He gives the Vols a tough, instinctual kid to play the position and potentially gives Jones an outside shot at landing his teammate Tabor as well. Regardless of the connection to another player, Payne is an impressive commitment on his own, and it's one that proves that the UT recruiting momentum is being felt not only around the state of Tennessee but nationally as well.