Recently, Saturday Down South published "Ranking Vanderbilt's 10 Top Players in 2015". While some of their picks are the obvious ones, there was a certain lack of familiarity with the team that's obvious. So, being the attention grabbers we are, we decided to all make a list of our own. We're sure the commentariat will disagree with us, so let's get straight to the bluster.
|RANK||VTPhD ||Christian D'Andrea ||Andrew VU '04|
|1||Ralph Webb, RB
||Stephen Weatherly, OLB||Nigel Bowden, ILB|
|2||Steven Scheu, TE
||Ralph Webb, RB||Ralph Webb, RB|
|3||Caleb Azubike, DE
||Steven Scheu, TE||Steven Scheu, TE|
||Stephen Weatherly, OLB
||Adam Butler, DT||Andrew Jelks :(, OT|
||Nigel Bowden, ILB
||Nigel Bowden, ILB||Caleb Azubike, DE|
||Torren McGaster, CB
||Torren McGaster, CB||Stephen Weatherly, OLB|
||Adam Butler, DL
||Andrew Jelks :(, OT||Torren McGaster, CB|
||Dallas Rivers, RB
||Oren Burks, S||Darrius Sims, KR/DB/WR|
||Darrius Sims, KR/DB/WR
||Caleb Azubike, DE||C.J. Duncan :(, WR|
||Latevius Rayford, WR
||Tommy Openshaw, K||Schrodinger's Cat, QB|
Christian D'Andrea: Let's start at the bottom. Openshaw might not be the first guy you think of, but he aced all of his kicks inside 40 yards and went 8/11 total as a freshman kicker in 2014. That's a great building block for a player who should be much more valuable in 2015. Azubike sneaked on to the list over guys like Zach Cunningham and Andrew Williamson thanks to his raw talent, but he still needs to prove that he can put it all together for a full season. Same with Burks, who looked solid as a hard hitting coverage guy in the secondary, but missed much of 2014 due to injury.
Everyone from #6 on down is an All-SEC candidate (as was Jelks, before the universe remembered who he played for). McGaster and Bowden developed into high-level starters last season. Butler, like Azubike, still needs to meet his vast potential, but he's a disruptive force in the trenches who eats up multiple blockers at a time. Scheu led the team in most receiving categories last year and could do the same in 2015. Webb nearly ran for 1,000 yards as a freshman despite the fact that every opposing defense knew he was this team's primary (and in some cases, only) weapon from week two on. He'll have to avoid a sophomore slump, but he has the vision and craft to do so.
That brings us to Weatherly, a pass rusher primed for a monster year in 2015. He led the 'Dores in sacks and tackles for loss last season and now will get the chance to work directly with Derek Mason on defense. Mason, architect of some incredible defenses at Stanford, knows exactly what he's got in his young blitzicane linebacker. He'll also have a talented core of returning starters who should be able to help clear Weatherly's path to the quarterback. I expect double-digit sacks and some national recognition for the redshirt junior this fall.
VandyTigerPhD: I'll follow CDA's lead and start from the bottom. I'm giving #10 to Rayford. Why? Because I'm looking to him now to step up and be the guy now that CJ Duncan is gone. By the way, Duncan would have been higher than 10. With Duncan gone, we need just one WR to really step up to take the pressure off the TE heavy sets I'm assuming we're gonna stick with. Rayford is my guy. Next is Sims, who until now has really just been a kick return specialist. We've tried him in a few other places (DB, WR) and he's had some moments. Still, the mid-season on the job training wasn't exactly the ideal scenario. I think we're going to see a lot more of Sims in specialist roles and maybe some wildcat. He'll have the benefit of a whole off season to train up. Closing up the bottom three I'm putting Dallas Rivers. Like Rayford, Rivers is on here because I'm looking for him to be the step up guy. Webb is still our running attack, but we need a strong RB2 to complement the attack. I'm seeing Rivers as that guy. His stats won't be stellar, but his role is going to be pivotal.
7-3 are all defense, and all big performers. I will likely get some flak for having Caleb as high as I am, but there is a method to the madness. Let's start with Butler, who while a monster down in the trenches still hasn't stepped up. In that, I agree with CDA. I wanna see a little more from him this year, I think he can. If you asked me to do this list when I had just rewatched the Temple game, I wouldn't have thought about putting McGaster on this list. Now that I've re-watched the season, I have to say McGaster developed TREMENDOUSLY. He really learned the position well. Usually a S leads the secondary, but we may need him to really help out in that role this year. Now we move to the LBs, Bowden and Weatherly. Weatherly is far and away the best LB on the team, and outperformed Azubike last year. Weatherly's pass rush was amazing and he is the leader of the front 7 which performed quite well last year.
HOWEVER. This is a top 10 for this year. not top 10 of last. A lot of Weatherly's pass rush comes from the big dudes up front, out hero Azubike plays a role in that, especially off the edge. Azubike was my favorite for the JLB position last year, and started the season as such. Remember the "Jack" LB is often a converted DE who really is neither a LB nor a DE. While that experiment ended, and Azubike's clear role is on the line, I'm looking for Azubike to really surprise us this year. If Vandy is smart with him, we can drop him into shallow coverage and blitz hard on the LBs, he's still capable of a lot of the trickery required for a 3-4. I think he can do it.
Now we get to the two guys who were what little you can call an offense this last year. Webb is far and away the best player on the team in my mind. We should be a power running team and he's the reason why. Think about our past success we were ball control. Webb is here because we've had some great RBs here and we should be utilizing them more. Even under Dorrell's terrible offense he was ripping big stats and keep in mind some games Dorrell barely ran him. Scheu follows nicely here at #2. Scheu right now has the skills that NFL talents are looking for - NFL teams are looking for TEs that are more the run downfield and catch types, not so much the old style blocking types. That's critical for us. We need people that can make that hard 3rd down catch at the sticks, and he proved he was that guy last year. We just need to playcall a lot better than last year.
Andrew VU '04: I've made it no secret that I have severe doubts about Mason's ability to lead this team both in the short and long term. Add in the fact that two of our no doubt top 10 players are already out due to season ending injuries (3 if you count the concussions that led Patton Robinette to make the correct decision that it was best to hang up his cleats and concentrate fully on his future as a surgeon), that we face the toughest out of conference schedule we've had in years, and that our quarterback situation is, at best, unsettled, and I've been taking a 30 day break from alcohol in anticipation of the beating my liver is going to take starting September 3rd against Western Kentucky.
As such, I'll start with "Schrodinger's Cat, QB." In short, the following two diametrically opposed things are true: 1) We have more overall talent at the QB position than we've ever had. 2) We do not have a quarterback. How can this be? Well, even if we completely discount last season's horrid QB carousel as fully the domain of Karl "Anti-Midas Touch" Dorrell and his incompetent QB coaching and play calling, the Spring Game did happen. Of the signal callers who got snaps (Kyle Shurmur was not yet on campus), Johnny McCrary looked broken, Wade Freebeck looked like one of those human statues who paints himself silver and begs for change in the Square, and the one bright spot - Stankavage's legs - no longer work effectively.
Can Kyle "Coach's Son" Shurmer break all of Jay Cutler's records? Quite possibly, but not yet.
McCrary has the inside edge on the starting spot, and Mason emerged from his deep water horizon to inform us that he plans to over-correct his mistakes of '14 by sticking with one starting QB ad infinitum. I... don't believe this will happen, unless Andy Ludwig is a miracle worker with the teaching acumen of Anne Sullivan.
If we open the lid and McCrary still can't say "Water," what do we do? Will we give Freebeck an extended look? Will King Stank fly to Germany to undergo the Kobe Bryant blood spinning necromancy? Will we continue the Scorched Earth policy of last year and burn Shurmur's redshirt immediately?
Is the damned cat even alive???
What will happen when we open the box? The answer will likely determine whether we turn things around or start planning our pitch to get the Ingrams to open up their wallet for a contract buyout and a new coach.
As for the rest of the top 10: Scheu is a top 3 round NFL prospect, Webb is likely to be our entire offense, and our defense has the talent to be pretty, pretty, pretty good - especially our front seven.
But none of that matters if the cat's dead.