At this time last year, Vanderbilt didn't have a single commitment on the recruiting trail. On May 8, 2012, they've already got eight.
Early returns from James Franklin's first year as head coach have been promising, and the young coach landed another impact recruit with the verbal commitment of rising wide receiver Latevius Rayford last Friday. Rayford, a 6'0", 175 pound wideout, is a highly regarded recruit out of Memphis that should help the 'Dores transition from the Jordan Matthews/Wesley Tate era alongside 2012 signee Corey Batey.
Rayford is a bit of an under-the-radar player at the moment. His Rivals.com profile has yet to award him a formal ranking. However, he's earned some strong praise by ESPN, who lists him as the seventh-best prospect in Tennessee and suggests that his senior year of play should move him up the recruiting rankings thanks to a wealth of natural talent and playmaking ability. The high school junior has shown the ability to lose opposing corners with strong cuts and the hands to make tough catches in traffic, making him a valuable weapon against high-level defenses.
Rayford and Batey will be an interesting tandem for the 'Dores, as both have had similar profiles as high school players. The pair are similarly sized at about six feet tall and 180 pounds, and each is known for crisp routes and savvy play on the field. The two are also accomplished pass catchers over the middle who aren't afraid of contact and could excel in the slot thanks to their athleticism and soft hands. However, neither player is known as a home run threat, and the duo may have to compete for playing time as a possession receiver thanks to the parallels between them.
Without any of the team's top wide receivers from 2011 set to graduate this year, Franklin's depth chart will be a crowded one in 2013. Matthews and Tate will be seniors, and both have shown the skills to retain their spots amongst the starters. That is particularly true for Matthews, who will battle for All-SEC honors in his final two years on campus. Chris Boyd, the team's leader in touchdown receptions in 2011, will be a redshirt junior and has been penciled in by most as Vandy's split end across from Matthews. Jonathan Krause, who has been impressive in flashes at Vanderbilt, and former quarterback John Townsley will also provide an upperclassman presence on the team's roster.
While that depth means that players like Batey, Rayford, Jacquese Kirk, and Tip McKenzie won't get too many targets over the next two years, it also means a higher level of competition during practices on Natchez Trace. A crowded stable of SEC-level receivers will translate to better targets for young arms like Patton Robinette and Jonathan McCrary. That means less of a learning curve when it comes to games, better relationships between players on the same team, and the competitive atmosphere that belongs in the locker room of a SEC football program.
Latevius Rayford could end up pairing with McCrary as Vanderbilt's hybrid Cutler-to-Bennett for a new generation. He could also end up taking a quiet role towards the end of the bench and getting most of his reps with the scout team. While we can't predict exactly what his future holds, we do know that bringing a rising three-star recruit to Nashville will raise the level of competition up on West End. That rising tide will lift all ships, and that's a welcome sight for a fanbase that struggled through the three-and-out offense of Robbie Caldwell for an entire gruesome season.