The NFL Draft is under a month away, and a handful of seniors from Vanderbilt's historic nine-win season will be waiting to hear their names called in New York City. Zac Stacy, Trey Wilson, Ryan Seymour, and Jordan Rodgers are amongst the black and gold veterans who have been working towards their shot at the big leagues this April. Today, we'll take a closer look at the man who guided Vandy to back-to-back bowls at quarterback - Jordan Rodgers.
Rodgers came to Nashville as a rare junior college transfer under veteran coach Bobby Johnson. Injuries kept him off the field in 2010, but the Chico, CA native used the lost season as a transition year while he redshirted behind Larry Smith. After losing the starting quarterback battle to Smith in 2011, he came on midway through the season to usurp the dinged-up and ineffective veteran and take over the reins behind center. Rodgers's steady play led Vanderbilt to near upsets over Arkansas and Florida, and a pair of wins against Kentucky and Wake Forest eventually brought the 'Dores to the Liberty Bowl.
One year later, he held off Austyn Carta-Samuels to retain his starting job and guided Vandy to eight wins (Carta-Samuels started the ninth, a win over FCS foe Presbyterian). In 2012, he improved in several different facets to become one of the best Commodore signal callers of the past two decades. Let's take a look at those statistical improvements:
|Yards per attempt||7.06||7.96|
|Passes per INT||21.6||63.8|
Rodgers grew significantly between 2011 and 2012, but how much of that was due to the best receiving tandem in Commodore history? The redshirt senior connected with Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd for 136 of his 191 completed passes in 2012 - a rate that constituted over 71 percent of his receptions. This speaks highly of the rapport that Rodgers developed with his top players, but also hints at another piece of the puzzle - that Matthews and Boyd were able to bail their quarterback out of trouble at times.
No time was this more evident than against Wake Forest, when Rodgers lofted an ill-advised pass 10 yards short of intended target Kris Kentera only to have Matthews run in from the sideline, scoop up the mistake, and run to the end zone for a 64 yard end zone. That's not indicative of Rodgers's play as a whole, but it's an example of the lapses he can make under duress. He did a spectacular job of shoring up his weaknesses in Nashville - particularly in terms of pocket awareness - but his instincts aren't bulletproof. The 24-year-old rookie to be still has plenty of room to grow mentally, even if his athletic skills are more or less maxed out.
Strengths: Rodgers is a mobile passer who has grown tremendously as he's gone from junior college to the SEC. He's a strong leader whose devotion to his craft turned him from Larry Smith's backup into the player who brought stability back to Vanderbilt's quarterback position. He developed from a skittish passer who ran backwards in the face of pressure in 2011 to a determined passer who could stand in the pocket and deliver passes downfield with a defender in his face. With the Commodores' offensive line problems over the past two years, this was something his team desperately needed.
Vandy went 11-8 in games where Rodgers was the primary quarterback. That doesn't seem like much, but keep in mind that he played for a Commodore team that maxed out at 5 wins per season under Jay Cutler. Plenty of other factors play in that result - the contributions of Zac Stacy, Jordan Matthews, and a stout secondary for sure - but the Chico native's effect was significant. He can throw the deep ball and hit receivers on intermediate patterns, but he could use more polish on his passes.
Weaknesses: While Rodgers is solid in all aspects of the game, he doesn't excel in any one category. His arm is solid, but may fall below the NFL standard. He's quick at the line of scrimmage and a solid scrambler, but he doesn't have the pure speed to dial up any set running plays at the next level. He was able to read and adjust to opposing defenses in the ultra-fast SEC, but he also struggled to make smart decisions under pressure and failed to win a game against a top 25 opponent while in Nashville. Rodgers was careful to cut down on his interceptions in 2012 - only A.J. McCarron had fewer INTs in at least 300 pass attempts - he was still the culprit behind some costly fumbles that hurt his team.
Ideal Fit: Rodgers still has room to grow. With just three years of NCAA experience under his belt, he may stand to improve by leaps and bounds in the NFL. However, he's not an athletic freak, and potential lags behind more potent passers like EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon, or Tyler Bray. "JR" was a huge factor in Vanderbilt's resurgence, and that starring role, along with NFL bloodlines that run all the way to Green Bay, give him a boatload of intangibles that scouts love.
There's little chance that he can make an immediate impact, but Rodgers has value as a second or third-string developmental quarterback. Rodgers survived three different head coaches at Vandy, but began to thrive when James Franklin - a guy who molded Josh Freeman at Kansas State - settled in on the sideline. A team with a similarly positive force on offense would be particularly helpful for JR.
If I Had to Guess...: The Saints lost backup QB Chase Daniel to the Chiefs earlier in this offseason. Even if they reinforce Drew Brees's position in free agency or in the opening rounds of the draft, they could use a player like Rodgers. It would give the young signal caller a chance to continue his growth while Brees works his magic on the field. However, New Orleans doesn't have a seventh-round pick, and the sixth may be too steep for a guy like JR. San Diego, Denver, and even Green Bay could be bidding for Rodgers's services in the seventh. If not, he'll be a hot commodity amongst undrafted free agents.