Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bobby Johnson increases talent level at Vandy — the proof's in the past four drafts

With D.J. Moore’s selection in the fourth round, Bobby Johnson has now produced five NFL draft picks in the last four years, including two first-rounders. (He’s been at the helm for eight years now, and 2006 marked his first batch of seniors. Note that he didn’t recruit Jay Cutler but coached him for four seasons.)

We’ve already told you how far Vanderbilt lags behind the rest of the SEC in talent, and how few Commodores have been drafted over the years, especially at the running back position. In fact, in addition to running back, Vandy has produced the few draftees at wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

But the Dores have actually produced more draft picks at quarterback than Auburn, Kentucky, South Carolina and Miss State, and more kickers and punters than South Carolina, LSU, Kentucky and Miss State. Go ahead and pop the cork.

In case you’re curious, here’s who sets the bar at different positions in the SEC since 1967:
• Quarterback U: Tennessee and LSU with 10 picks each
• Running Back U: Auburn (29)
• Receiver U: Florida (43)
• O-Line U: Tennessee (45)
• D-Line U: LSU and Alabama (34)
• Linebacker U: Tennessee (35)
• D-Back U: Tennessee (34)
• Kicker U: Tennessee (14)

But that’s over the past 40 years. What about the past four, with Bobby Johnson developing his own talent? Here’s the draft count from 2006-2009:

1. LSU (25 total, 7 first-rounders)
2. Georgia (21/2)
3. Florida (17/4)
4. Auburn (17/1)
5. Tennessee (14/5)
6. Arkansas (12/3)
7. South Carolina (12/1)
8. Alabama (11/1)
9. Ole Miss (7/3)
10. Vanderbilt (5/2)
11. Kentucky (5/0)
12. Miss State (2/0)

So here’s what Bobby Johnson has done in the past four years with mostly two- and three-star recruits, while every other school’s had three-, four- and five-star recruits: Developed as many first-rounders as Georgia’s Mark Richt, and more than SC’s Steve Spurrier, Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, Bama’s Mike Shula/Nick Saban, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks and MSU’s Sylvester Croom.

You know how Woody Widenhofer would attract linebackers and George MacIntyre would get receivers and tight ends? Well, Johnson gets talent across the board. He’s actually had six picks in his four classes if you count Jovan Haye, who left school a year early.

Three of them have been on offense: QB Cutler, OT Chris Williams and WR Earl Bennett.

Three of them have been on defense: DT Haye, DB Moore and LB Jonathan Goff.

Six different positions.

And here's the thing: While our best players are better than we've ever had, our role players and even the guys standing on the sidelines are better than we've ever had.

I realized this a couple of years ago when I was sitting in South Carolina's stadium and saw captains Chris Williams and Jonathan Goff take the field first. They were as impressive-looking as any of the Gamecocks. And then the rest of the team took the field. When I was a student back in the late 80s, we had a couple of guys like Corey Harris and Chris Gaines, but our bench — and even the two-deep roster — was loaded with pudgy fellows who looked like we recruited them from fraternity flag football. But in South Carolina, I saw that even the Commodores who weren't playing were big, strong and fast. And sure enough, we overpowered the Gamecocks that day for a stunning victory.

And we stunned them again last season.

How many draft picks do you think Vandy will have next season? DB Myron Lewis seems like the best possibility, followed by OT Thomas Welch. Also, DT Greg Billinger and DEs Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone could join them, and LB Patrick Benoist, S Ryan Hamilton and C Brad Vierling would at least get invited to somebody’s camp.

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