Thanks to James Franklin, National Signing Day is no longer just an irrelevant weekday in Nashville. The third-year head coach has brought new enthusiasm to the Vanderbilt football offseason by bringing in class after class of talented athletes the likes of which have never been seen before at Dudley Field. Franklin earned headlines by pushing Vandy into the periphery of the top 25 recruiting rankings in 2012. In 2013, he should firmly place the Commodores into college football's elite.
As of 12:15 CST, the Commodores have landed 24 big commitments from players from all over the country. Franklin is set to break his own school record for the most four-star recruits landed in a single year, and this talented crop of players should be a key ingredient as Vanderbilt pushes towards a SEC Championship. The day isn't over yet, either. Four-star linebacker Zach Cunningham, an ESPN 300 player and key piece to the 'Dores recruiting class, is set to make his announcement at 2PM central time. His signing could be the piece that pushes Vandy into the top 20 and sends James Franklin and his staff down to Lonnie's to sing Mark Morrison all night long over an endless buffet of Yuengling-filled buckets.
UPDATE: Break out the buckets. Zach Cunningham is a Commodore.
We'll have more on that story as it develops. Until then, here's how Vandy's class breaks down so far. Every recruit is listed according to their best available ranking between the four major recruiting services - ESPN, Rivals, Scout, and 247.
Quarterbacks: Vanderbilt inked two QBs in 2013, and both are high-level athletes who could push Patton Robinette for the team's starting job in 2014. Jonathon McCrary (best ranking - 4-stars, #10 dual-threat QB by Rivals) was one of the team's first commitments in February of 2012, and the shifty quarterback brings a strong arm and scrambling capabilities to Vanderbilt's offense. He'll be pushed by Harvard-Westlake grad Chad Kanoff (4-stars, #14 dual-threat QB by ESPN). Both players can generate yards through the air and on the ground, and that will fit well for an offense that has relied on the running ability of Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers over the past two years.
Wide Receivers: The Commodores got their biggest commitment of the year when ESPN 150 recruit Jordan Cunningham (4-stars, #13 WR) chose Vanderbilt over Florida State and Stanford. He'll join a deep class of wideouts that include four-star players like Carlos Burse (#44 WR) and DeAndre Woods (#23 WR) as well as under-the-radar Memphis native Latevius Rayford (3-stars, #56 WR). Franklin and his staff are clearly planning ahead for the departures of Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause, and Chris Boyd over the next two seasons.
Running Backs: Vandy may have missed out on four-star RB Rudy Ford when he decommitted last week, but they recovered by earning a commitment from Gainesville's Ralph Webb (3-stars, #70 RB). The 'Dores have a healthy stable of young backs, including players like Brian Kimbrow, Jerron Seymour, and the incomparable Will Fritz. Still, the 'Dores could use more depth at the position once Wesley Tate and Warren Norman graduate after the 2013 season.
Tight Ends: Vanderbilt inked four players who earned rave reviews as tight ends in 2012. Three of them are expected to come into summer camp at the position in 2013. Junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg (4-star, #7 TE) should be able to step right in to the Commodore offense and have an impact this fall. He'll push for playing time against another big prospect in Mitchell Parsons (4-star, #7 TE). Nathan Marcus (3-star, #15 TE) has been regarded as more of a H-Back for the 'Dores. He could follow in Kris Kentera's footsteps as a matchup nightmare over the middle in coming years. Mack Weaver, the fourth member of this club, is listed as a potential defensive end for the 'Dores.
Offensive Linemen: Franklin earned LOIs from 6'4", 265 pound Delando Crooks (4-stars, #28 OT from Scout) and 6'6", 260 pound Sean Dowling (3-stars, #42 OT). Both players will have to add some bulk before making an impact on the Commodore lineup, but both are athletic players who can be molded into big-time contributors under the guidance of OL Coach Herb Hand.
Defensive Linemen: Jay Woods (4-stars, #17 DT) is Vanderbilt's highest rated recruit on the D-Line, and the 280-pound monster may be able to have an immediate impact for Vandy's deep corps in the trenches. His wide presence and strength in the middle will give the 'Dores an extra weapon against SEC running games for the next four to five years. He's joined by four-star end Landon Stokes (#13 DE), three-star end Jonathan Wynn (#27 DE), and four-star tight end Mack Weaver (#8 TE). Weaver, who is 6'6" and 235 pounds, is expected to make the full-time switch to the defensive end of the ball in his college career.
Linebackers: Vandy earned a pair of commitments from solid prospects, and the Commodores are in line for another potential addition when Zach Cunningham makes his college choice at 2pm on Wednesday. Nigel Bowden (4-stars, #9 ILB) resisted a heavy push from Georgia Tech to stick to his commitment to Vanderbilt. Oren Burks (3-stars, #46 OLB) will join him to give the 'Dores a solid inside-out combo. The pair (or potential trio) should add strong depth behind 2012's bumper crop of talented defenders.
Defensive Backs: The always-deep DB corps added six new members in the class of 2013 on Wednesday. Leading the way are four-star athletes Ryan White (#18 CB) and Tre' Bell (#23 CB). Safety Jalen Banks (3-stars, #38 S) will add a hard hitting presence to the middle of the field. Taurean Ferguson (3-stars, #60 CB), Gerald Perry (3-stars, #123 WR), and Darrius Sims (3-stars, #34 CB) round out a talented crop of new players who will hope to carry on the Vanderbilt traditions of guys like Corey Chavous, D.J. Moore, Myron Lewis, and Casey Hayward.
Special Teams: Tommy Openshaw (2-stars, #23 K) signed with Vanderbilt. He's a kicker/punter who could press last year's grayshirt Colby Cooke for special teams duties in coming years.