Vanderbilt will be well represented in the NFL this fall. A cache of players that included standouts like Jay Cutler and Casey Hayward will now be joined by 2014 draftees Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson, and Andre Hal. Eight more Commodores will have a chance to meet them in the pros after signing free agent deals this weekend.
The 'Dores will have a lot of talent to replace this fall, but there are several upperclassmen waiting to fill those roles. However, it seems unlikely that the Class of 2015 will be able to have as much of a presence at the 2015 NFL Draft as their teammates did this past week.
As of now, the Commodores only have two seniors who look like potential NFL Draft picks - though that can all change with a big campaign under new head coach Derek Mason this fall. Two third-year players have the potential to arrive on the league's radar as well, but they'll need to have humongous breakout seasons before they'll even have to decide between the lure of the NFL and boosting their stock with one more year of college ball. Here's a very preliminary look at which 'Dores could wind up in the 2015 draft.
Kyle Woestmann, DE/LB: Woestmann's draft stock will depend on how he handles the shift from defensive end to outside linebacker in Derek Mason's 3-4 defensive scheme. He was a disruptive force at DE last year and led the 'Dores with six sacks in 2013. If he can apply his speed and strength to OLB without falling behind in coverage, he'll emerge as an intriguing prospect next year. At 6'3" and 252 pounds, he was an undersized for the NFL at end, but he will have a strong body type as a linebacker at the next level.
Woestmann has typically played his best against SEC competition in his Vanderbilt career. If he can continue to have an impact rushing the passer despite playing at a new position this fall, NFL scouts will take notice.
Joe Townsend, OC: Townsend has been a consistent contributor to Vanderbilt's offensive line from the day he joined the Commodores' rotation as a true freshman. He developed into a starter in 2012 and 2013 and now stands as one of the most effective centers in the SEC. The one-time SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week has solid size (6'4", 310 lbs) and the ability to finish his blocks, creating opportunities in both running and passing situations. While he's unlikely to be an early round pick (partially due to his position), Townsend has a shot at hearing his name get called at Radio City Music Hall next spring.
Caleb Azubike, DE/LB: Azubike will be a junior this fall, and he'd have to shed a year of NCAA eligibility to declare for the 2015 draft. While losing a season of his disruptive defense would hurt the Commodores, the Nigerian has the raw talent to justify an early defection if scouts see him as an early round pick. Azubike did not explode in 2013 like some analysts had predicted after a compelling season as a true freshman, but he may have the most breakout potential of anyone in the SEC, let alone his own team. At 6'4", 260 pounds he can fill several roles for an NFL team - but like Woestmann, he'll have to prove that he can handle a switch to OLB in a 3-4 defense this fall.
Azubike has the size, drive and explosiveness to play in the NFL. He's still a raw talent, but many Vandy fans are banking on a breakout 2014 from the McGavock grad. If he begins to fulfill his potential this fall, Azubike may have a decision to make about his remaining eligibility next spring.
Brian Kimbrow, RB: Like Azubike, Kimbrow is a junior whose pure athletic talent has yet to match his contributions on the field. The diminutive speedster has the fluid movement and quickness to play tailback at the next level. However, his inability to react to blitzes and develop as an all-around back versus SEC defenses has kept him from the field in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. Kimbrow showed improvement on the field as 2013 wound down, working hard to protect his quarterback and showing flashes of the speed that made him the highest-rated recruit to ever choose Vandy (at the time) back in 2011. If he can parlay that talent into a breakout year, there's a chance he'll forgo his final year of eligibility to take his shot at the NFL.