The competition for Vanderbilt's starting quarterback spot got a bit thinner on Friday. The Commodores will be without veteran leader Patton Robinette, who ended his football career thanks to a combination of injury concerns and the opportunity to enroll at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine this summer.
Robinette saw the writing on the wall and understood that his potential for growth was exponentially higher as a doctor than as a football player. That's not something you can blame on any member of the Vanderbilt program, and especially not on Patton himself. We wish him nothing but luck in his future. Personally, I look forward to the moment when he grimly shakes his head while looking at MRI results of my knees in 2030.
That leaves four players to fight for the most important role in the Commodore offense; starting quarterback. That position was never really resolved in 2014. Four different players started as Vandy limped to a 3-9 season and comprised one of the worst offenses in Division I football. Now, two of those starters, Robinette and Stephen Rivers, have left the program. The two that remain combined to go 6-18 and throw three interceptions in Vandy's spring game last Saturday. While there still may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Vandy offense, it sure doesn't seem like it has gotten much brighter since December.
Even so, it's tough to predict what will happen in August and September based on one performance in March. The Commodores have a talented stable of athletes who will battle to take the reins behind center this summer. That includes three four-star prospects. On paper, this is the deepest class of passers that Vanderbilt has ever had on the roster. Of course, that doesn't count for much if they can't spin those Rivals Ratings into wins.
So how does the Commodore quarterback race stack up now that the Black and Gold Game is over and the competition just got one doctor lighter? Here's my non-scientific, completely speculative ranking of Vanderbilt's quarterbacks as we head into April:
There's no question that Derek Mason likes what he sees from Freebeck. He burned the Floridian's redshirt in the third game of the 2014 season despite having already played three other quarterbacks that year. Freebeck is a mechanically sound passer who showed flashes that suggested he could be an SEC QB, but accuracy issues plagued his 2014 debut and his 2015 spring game performance. He's also the least mobile of the Commodore quarterbacks - a trait that could be a big issue if the Vandy offensive line can't turn back blitzes this fall. Still, there's precedent that shows that Mason prefers this young man. That's enough for him to claim the top spot after a spring session that failed to see any quarterback break free from the pack.
Of all the Vanderbilt quarterbacks, McCrary has the greatest potential to put together big plays. His cannon arm makes him the most physically gifted of the Commodore passers. However, he struggled to adjust to SEC defenses and doesn't appeared to have grown much after a disastrous performance in the Black and Gold game. Mason wasn't afraid to give McCrary an early hook last season. He pulled the four-star freshman out of the Temple game and didn't give him a second look for another six weeks despite Vandy's putrid play at QB. He also gave McCrary the fewest passing attempts of any Commodore last weekend. The talent is clearly there, but McCrary will need to prove that he can adjust to the schemes of a real offensive coordinator before he steps into the circle of trust in Nashville.
Stankavage is a bit of a wild card. His promising performance in the spring game may have bumped him up a level, but it's difficult to gauge just how much stock Derek Mason has put in the redshirt freshman just yet. "King Stank" showed a soft touch and avoided mistakes to make a big impact in his first real introduction to the Commodore faithful. Message board rumblings are calling for his ascent up the depth chart - but it's still too early to tell if the former two-star recruit is ready for the big leagues.
Shurmur hasn't yet stepped on campus, but Derek Mason is batting .500 when it comes to burning his freshman quarterbacks' redshirts as Commodore head coach. ESPN rates the strong-armed passer as the best QB prospect to ever come to Nashville. As a high schooler, he earned high marks for being able to lead his receivers and deliver quick, accurate passes to locations where only his receivers could grab them. The Pennsylvanian is the son of Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and he'll be expected to be able to pick up Andy Ludwig's offense quickly thanks to that "son of a coach" reputation. If he can, he'll have an opportunity to start games at Dudley Field this fall.