OK, you’ve got some questions about Vandy recruiting, so here are some answers, or at least answers that raise more questions.
Who have we lost from our commitment list over the last few days?
You probably know that we lost OL Alex Barr before Christmas to NC State and DE Keith Heitzman to Michigan earlier this month. It appears that both quarterbacks, Damien Fleming and Shaun White, are gone too. Both were spread guys and Franklin's not a spread guy, at least not primarily. And RB Marquis Sumler appears to be gone. I'm hearing that academics played a role in at least one of our latest defections.
But who have we added?
Word's spreading right now that we've signed Larry Mazyck, a 6-7, 320-pound offensive tackle, who was Maryland's first verbal commitment. Finally, an SEC-sized lineman. This could be Vanderbilt's biggest recruit ever, size-wise. And a few days ago, we stole two great-looking three-star recruits, Jacquese Kirk and Jahmel McIntosh, from Louisville and Memphis, respectively. And we picked up 6-5 tight end Steven Scheu from Indiana. So we've definitely improved the class. While Heitzman was a solid recruit, both Fleming and White were project guys, and Sumler was considered the third wheel at running back behind recruits J.J. Keels and Mitchell Hester. Hester's stock just keeps rising, and he appears a solid verbal after wavering a bit in the fall.
What recruits have recently visited or are scheduled to visit?
Get a load of this: Three four-star players are scheduled to make official visits to Vandy this weekend: QB Michael Eubank of California, RB Bishop Sankey of Washington, and TE Dillon van der Wal of California. Think those guys could help the offense? We’re also getting visits from talented defensive backs, running backs and receivers, and even a fullback. All the stud linemen have been gobbled up. But just the fact that Coach Franklin could get three four-star players from the West Coast to visit Vandy the weekend before signing day says volumes about his ability as a recruiter.
What positions are critical for us to recruit?
Vanderbilt always needs to upgrade at every position, especially on the line on both sides of the ball. That said, it has stockpiled offensive linemen, receivers and defensive backs in the last two classes. Especially critical positions are:
• Quarterback: Two years from now, given our current roster, we’ll have Charlie Goro, who'll be a redshirt senior, AND NOBODY ELSE. Yikes. Getting a four-star quarterback in his first class would be a huge coup for Coach Franklin.
• Linebacker: Two years from now, we’ll have R-SR Blake Southerland, SR Chase Garnham and R-JR Andrew East on the roster, and we’ve got no linebackers in the upcoming signing class. Yikes!
Which incoming freshmen might play right away?
At 6-5, 295 with nimble feet, James Lewis could be a fixture on the offensive line the moment he steps on campus. Mazyck will need some polish, but at least he doesn't have to gain 40 pounds before he can play, like most of our O-line recruits do. Receiver Courtney Bynes isn’t highly rated, but he’ll be one of the fastest players on the team and will get a shot. Scheu looks like a Brandon Barden clone, a big man who can both block and run deep patterns, and he'll really be needed if Austin Monahan can’t rebound from injury.
And five – count ’em! – five smooth athletes will be making strong cases for roles in the offensive backfield or at receiver or in the secondary, especially if Jamie Graham doesn’t return. Those guys are Hester, Keels, Kirk, McIntosh and Derek King.
How many scholarships does Vanderbilt have to give?
Vandy currently has 70 players on scholarship who have eligibility remaining and who did not go through senior day festivities. This assumes that walk-on punter Richard Kent has a scholarship, and I’m not 100 percent certain he does, though I imagine a starter would have been given a scholarship. That means Vanderbilt has room to sign 15 players.
Is there a chance any other scholarships might be freed up?
There are rumors that Jamie Graham is going to graduate and decline a fourth year of eligibility. That’s highly plausible because Jamie’s a guy with clear career goals outside football. Still it would be a shame that somebody as talented as Jamie would play less than two full seasons for us. Another possibility – and this is sheer speculation – might be Austin Monahan, a massive tight end who’s experienced a ridiculous string of devastating injuries and who’s played less than one full season.
Will Vandy fill all its openings this season?
If the Commodores do have 15 to give, and they have indeed lost Fleming, White and Sumler, then they've got 13 verbal commitments and two scholarships left to give.
How many scholarships will Vanderbilt have available next year?
That depends on how many players return for a fifth year. That class before the Music City Bowl was huge, and had a bunch of projects. Only two of the 21 members – Hayward and Richardson – avoided redshirts. Those who’ve been regular starters include WR John Cole, OLs Jabo Burrow and Ryan Seymour, PK Ryan Fowler, P Richard Kent and DT Rob Lohr. Those with major backup roles include LBs Archie Barnes and Tristan Strong, DT Colt Nichter and OL Caleb Welchans. Vandy is also woefully short on linebackers and would probably try to keep Dexter Daniels and DeAndre Jones, who coaches hope will finally reach his potential. QB Jordan Rodgers is also a lock to remain on campus for two more seasons. At least five players have one foot out the door and had better have a heck of an impact on the season to return for a fifth year: WR Akeem Dunham, DTs Josh Jelesky and Taylor Loftley, S Al Owens and LB Micah Powell. If those guys leave as expected, Vandy would have 16 scholarships to give, provided it uses its full allotment this season.
How important is the performance of younger players in determining which redshirt seniors return?
I think it’s huge. Tray Herndon came to us as a promising receiver who excelled in the Big 10 as a freshman. He struggled, and then the emergence last season of freshmen Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews made him obsolete. If, for example, freshman James Lewis and redshirt freshman Grant Ramsay emerge as starters, and underclassmen like Mylon Brown and Andrew Bridges catch fire, then Jabo Burrow or Caleb Welchans might not return. Carey Spear could beat out Ryan Fowler at kicker. John Cole might get pushed to the curb by all the young receivers. You never know.
So what’s the overall prognosis?
Very promising. Even while logging losing seasons, Bobby Johnson was improving the talent base. Instead of the FCS prospects and unwanted kids that Johnson inherited, James Franklin’s first Vandy team is full of bona-fide SEC players. Sure, the other SEC teams may be loaded with bona-fide NFL players, but Franklin will be able to compete right away.