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Tennessee saw an elite prospect from the Nashville area leave the state earlier this month when Andre Turrentine of Ensworth chose Ohio State over the Vols.  Tennessee moved to ensure that the scenario didn't repeat itself, as they secured the commitment from four-star wide receiver Walker Merrill. Merrill plays for Brentwood High School just outside Nashville.

Merrill has been a long time Tennessee target and is one of the best players in the state in the 2021 cycle. The Vols secured Merrill's commitment ahead of Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Duke, Wake Forest, and South Carolina, among others.Merrill is a 6’1” 185-pound receiver. He brings good size wherever he lines up on the field, big enough to put most defensive backs at a size disadvantage. The weight of 185 pounds is a bit deceiving, as Merrill possesses a cut physique at that weight. Merrill has the look of a player that has already spent extensive time in a college weight program. That dedication in the weight room translates to the field, where Merrill is an exceptionally physical receiver. Corners face great difficulty in their attempts to jam Merrill, who can often just muscle his way through their jam and continue his release. Because he is so solid, it is extremely difficult to knock Merrill off his routes. He welcomes contact whether he has the ball or not.

Merrill is an asset in the run game as a hard-nosed blocker that excels in sealing the edge for his running backs. Once Merrill is able to catch the ball, those hours in the gym pay massive dividends. He is extremely difficult to tackle, running through even good tackles, dragging defenders, and nearly always requiring multiple defenders to be stopped. Merrill has a knack for always falling forward and fighting through defenders. He creates matchup difficulties because his physicality allows him to be at an advantage in most one-on-one matchups. A swing pass to Merrill is him powering through a smaller corner from being a big play for the offense. Still, there is more to Merrill's game than his exceptional strength.When watching wide receivers work, the biggest jump from high school to college tends to be route running. How successful a receiver is in college often directly correlates to how quickly he learns to run good routes, not merely relying on size, speed, or strength, but using technique to supplement and maximize those physical skills. Walker Merrill is already running college-level routes. He is a technician when it comes to his footwork, his release, his breaks, and feeling coverage.

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What's more, Merrill already understands the next level side of route running, using his routes to set up corners for big plays later. Merrill looks the same coming off the line on a go, hitch, slant, in, out, post, or corner. He has put in the work to have that uniformity in his releases, and his sharp cuts make his double moves even more effective. Merrill waits to go to a slant and go until he has shown the defender the slant and beat him with it. He understands using the slant in the first quarter to bait the defender into a mistake in the third, a mistake that Merrill will cash in for a score with his speed and hands.Merrill brings legitimate SEC speed at the receiver position.

As much as his size and strength present problems for opposing defenders, as much as they must always be honest and alert in his routes, Merrill has the ability to simply explode out of his stance, run by a corner, and catch a touchdown. Acceleration doesn't do justice, as Merrill explodes off the line. He is to full speed in one to two steps and eats up yardage as he works downfield. Corners are in danger pressing as Merrill is likely to muscle through the jam and open up a four to five-yard gap as they turn and he goes down the field. If corners play off, Merrill runs a beautiful, sharp hitch where he works back to the ball and uses his strong hands to secure the catch. He can then effectively post up an off-balance corner that is forced to contend with his strength and quickness. Merrill also shows his superb hands going up for jump balls, able to fight through contact, locate the ball, high point it, and pull it down. Merrill has the tools to thrive lining up and beating man coverage, however, he is asked to do so.At Brentwood High, Merrill plays in a run-heavy offense that doesn't throw the ball a lot. His stats may not leap off the page, but they don't tell the whole story of the caliber of receiver that he is. Merrill can play any receiver position at the next level, out on the edge or working in the slot. He is physical in all aspects of the game, has natural hands, and is as technically sound as a coach could ask for at this point in his career. Merrill is the result of an exceptional athlete being combined with exceptional effort, attention to detail, and technique. Walker Merrill is not just a college-ready wide receiver in the 2021 class, he is a player that could play for most SEC teams as a receiver this fall if he was asked to. Merrill is respected by his teammates and his coaches for the way he approaches his work on the field. Tennessee has gotten an early commitment from a player that is as complete a receiver as there is in this class, is ready to make an early impact, and that should be an asset as a peer recruiter for Tennessee in the Mid-State.