Friday, April 24, 2009

Vanderbilt talent problem begins at running back

Running back.

No other position better sums up the plight — and future hope — of Vanderbilt football.

Consider this: Since 1967, a running back has been drafted from Auburn, on average, every 1.5 years. At Tennessee, it’s been every 1.6 years. And it’s been less than every two years at Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

In other words, on any given year, those teams have between two and three running backs who will be drafted by the NFL.

Vanderbilt has had one running back drafted in 42 years.

It was Frank Mordica, the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher, who was drafted in the ninth round. Today, there are only seven rounds in the draft.

For almost 30 years, Mordica held the NCAA record for most yards in a game — 321 against Air Force in 1978. He did it on 22 carries, scoring five touchdowns. Yes, Vandy won. McFadden broke the record in 2007 against South Carolina, gaining 323 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown.

Mordica, who gained 2,632 in his career, posted his best season as a junior in 1978 with 1,065 yards. Only two other Commodores have 1,000+ yards in a season: Jermaine Johnson with 1,072 in 1995 and Corey Harris with 1,103 in 1991.

Harris was drafted in the third round in 1992 by the Oilers, but as a wide receiver/ defensive back. Cornerback Jimmy Williams, who was drafted in the sixth round in 1997 by the Bills, played running back as a freshman and led the Commodores with 527 yards.

The closest thing to an NFL running back the Dores have had lately has been Lew Thomas, who gained 178 yards in a near upset of Auburn in 2001. Thomas darn near made the San Diego Chargers as a free agent, and the Commodores haven’t had a running back of his skill since.

Any SEC team, let alone Vanderbilt, is going to struggle without a big-time running back. No other team has attracted less draftable talent at the position. Ole Miss is closest with 10 players drafted, followed by Miss State with 13 and South Carolina and Kentucky with 14.

But help is on the way. Vanderbilt has signed three highly regarded running backs — Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate and Warren Norman — and at least one of them may get significant carries this upcoming season.

But let’s don’t start rejoicing just yet. Tennessee just signed the nation’s top schoolboy runner (and pain in the neck), Bryce Brown, as well as David Oku, who rated a star better than any of Vandy’s recruits.

No comments: