When you've got receivers like Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd, and Jonathan Krause in the lineup, your other targets can become a bit of an afterthought. That's how Vanderbilt's tight ends wound up with 455 total receiving yards through James Franklin's three-year tenure*. In 2013, few analysts would have predicted that Steven Scheu would eclipse that mark in a single season as a junior.
Scheu broke into the Southeastern Conference's consciousness last fall when he emerged as the Commodores' top receiver. Despite the presence of four different quarterbacks and the offensive stability of two-wheeled tricycle, the big target became this team's safety valve on broken plays and an unlikely deep threat when Karl Dorrell decided to bomb it down the seams on third-and-eight. He caught 39 passes for 525 yards to become this team's only offensive presence on the 2014 AP All-SEC team.
He'll return in 2015 as the veteran leader of a Commodore offense that has nowhere to go but up. Behind him, a pair of young receivers will battle for a potential starting role in Vanderbilt's two-tight end formations. Nathan Marcus and DeAndre Woods are the future of the position, and we'll see that duo make an impact when the 'Dores line up in the red zone at Dudley Field.
Scheu leads a group that should rate among the conference's best, though ESPN still has them penciled in at 14th in order to keep with tradition. Here's what Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will deal with this fall.
The Top Option
Steven Scheu, Rs. SR: No player on the roster benefited more from Vanderbilt's transition from James Franklin to Derek Mason. Scheu went from a coach who saw his tight ends as thinner linemen and decoys to one that built his name as part of a Stanford program that matriculated NFL pass catchers like Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo under his watch. That led to a breakout season where Scheu became the first receiver to ever earn All-SEC honors while catching passes from four different starting quarterbacks in a single season.
Scheu is a big durable target who will be counted on to lead this team in 2015. Though he doesn't have blazing speed, he's a crisp route runner who can find holes in opposing defenses and create windows of opportunity for his quarterbacks. He's a sure-handed receiver who adjusts to the ball while it's in the air and can also take on a de facto defender role when an off-target pass appears to be bound for an interception. He's this team's biggest NFL Draft prospect on offense, and while his 40 and three-cone drill times won't blow anyone away there's no denying the impact he has on the field.
The Situational Starters
Nathan Marcus, Rs. SO: For his career, 33 percent of Nathan Marcus's catches have ended in touchdowns. Granted, that's only a two-in-six ratio right now, but it's still an indicator of the kind of red zone target the 6'5", 240 pound underclassman can be. He came on strong towards the end of the season to plant his flag on the #2 spot in the depth chart, but he'll have to hold off the more athletic Woods to retain that role. He's more of a receiver than a blocking tight end, and his solid hands will make him an asset in the middle of the field. Like Scheu, he lacks high-end athleticism but runs solid routes and finds seams in opposing defensive schemes to set up big plays.
DeAndre Woods, Rs. SO: Woods, a converted wide receiver, has made a splash as a big red zone target this summer. The former four-star recruit will add a new dimension of speed to Vanderbilt's tight end position, and if he can handle his blocking duties he'll give Andy Ludwig a dynamic weapon to complement this team's wide receivers. Woods has quick hips that allow him to change direction, turn his routes inside out, and shed linebackers to create big openings. He's got a lot to prove this fall. He's had virtually no impact in his first two years in Nashville. Earning significant snaps at tight end under Derek Mason could change that very quickly.
Sean Dowling, Rs. SO: Dowling is a former lineman who will be used to clear space and protect his quarterback in jumbo formations this fall. He was Andrew Jelks's backup at left tackle in 2014, and while he may shift back to the position now that Jelks has been lost for the season, he still presents a lot of value as a blocking tight end for the 'Dores. At 270 pounds he'll be this team's biggest eligible bookend on the line. He won't be an every-down player, but he'll earn plenty of assignments when Vanderbilt needs to move some muscle this fall.
Sam Dobbs, FR: Dobbs was a receiver in high school, so he'll spend his first year on campus bulking up in order to handle a full-time switch to tight end. He's listed at 220 pounds right now, so a redshirt year spent eating four dozen eggs each morning should help him get large. He's got strong hands, but with three receiving tight ends ahead of him an extra year of seasoning makes sense from a roster standpoint.
*For the sake of argument, we're counting Kris Kentera as an H-Back or wide receiver for those years.