Vanderbilt wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause lit the NCAA on fire in 2013 with nearly 2,200 receiving yards between them. One year later, the Commodores' top two wideouts failed to replace even 40 percent of that production.
Of course, it would be tough to put all blame for 2014's stagnant offense on Vandy's young receivers. They had to deal with four different starting quarterbacks and an offensive gameplan devised by a coordinator that lasted just one season in Nashville. Now, Vanderbilt's 2015 season is just a day away and Derek Mason has promised that this team will have a clear starter and a designated backup when the team takes Dudley Field in full regalia for the first time. So who will see their impact grow the most with a stable passer settled in behind center? Let's break down the candidates.
The Returning Starters
Latevius Rayford, JR: Rayford is the player who stands to benefit the most if Johnny McCrary can win the starting job at quarterback. He developed a strong rapport with the first-year passer last season, leading all targets with 18 receptions in games where McCrary threw the majority of the team's passes. He'll get even more of a focus this season now that Duncan is out for the season. That injury presents the chance for the junior to develop into this team's true WR1.
Rayford breaks off his routes at crisp angles to create separation and open windows for his quarterbacks. He's strong enough to handle duties near the sideline or over the middle, but he has yet to prove himself as a deep threat in the NCAA. His longest catch in 2014 went for just 24 yards. While he's not a classic burner, he's a sure-handed target who can make difficult receptions and bail out his quarterbacks on poor throws. He's got a ways to go in order to live up to that first-team billing, but the talent is there. A stable passing game could be the key to a big season from the junior WR.
C.J. Duncan, Rs SO: Aw.
The Depth Chart Starters
Trent Sherfield, SO: Sherfield earned playing time as a true freshman last season, but he was more of a Swiss Army Knife on offense than a true wide receiver. A huge summer has put him in line for not only a starting spot in 2015, but could make him the most dangerous wideout on the roster. Sherfield leapfrogged the rest of this team's depth chart to wind up as WR1 in the first official listing of the season.
While the team's other starters, Rayford and Kentera, have built on-field relationships that gel with one quarterback more than the others, Sherfield has proven that he can be a weapon for whichever passer Mason puts on the field. His biggest strength is the ability to change directions in an instant. A quick flash of the hips leads to solid acceleration that gets Sherfield past defenders and into the open field for big plays. As a former quarterback and safety, he's able to identify opposing defenses and find the holes that lead to solid gains. If he can keep his momentum from summer camp moving forward then he has a real shot to go from 0 to 60 as a wide receiver for the Commodores. He just needs to prove that he can do it against SEC defenses first.
Kris Kentera, Rs SR: Kentera enters year 12* of his Vanderbilt career still looking for a permanent place on the field. He's gone from quarterback to H-back to wide receiver and has tantalized fans with his athleticism - but he has yet to develop into a consistent threat. Kentera has been haunted by dropped passes since converting to receiver and hasn't yet become the red zone menace that his 6'4" frame and solid athletic ability suggest he could be. This is his last chance to become a force for Vanderbilt, and Duncan's injury will give him the opportunity to prove that he can stretch the field this fall.
Veterans Angling for a Larger Role
Chandler Dorrell, Rs SO: Dorrell is a tough slot receiver who was willing to absorb punishment in his first year with the Commodores last fall. He went from a walk-on position at Stanford to a rotational spot with Vanderbilt, and while it was easy to point to the fact that his father was the offensive coordinator to explain his participation at first, it soon became clear that the younger Dorrell added value for this team. He finished the season with 10 receptions.
Darrius Sims, JR: Has Sims finally found his spot on the gridiron? He's a scoring threat every time he touches the ball, but the Commodores have struggled to find a way to get him into the game outside of kick returns. Sims shifted from defensive back to tailback last season but only earned a pair of carries in 2014. He's now a backup wide receiver, but it's all but guaranteed that Vanderbilt will find several different ways to put the ball in his hands this fall.
Caleb Scott, SO: Scott is only a sophomore, but one year of on-field experience in Nashville is enough to earn the "veteran" label for Andy Ludwig's offense. He made an impact as a true freshman last fall, eventually making six catches in 11 games (one start) for the team's "Shrugging Dog" offense. He's got decent size (6'2", 195 lbs) and displayed solid body control along the sideline in his first year. He needs to expand his range and show the ability to pull down passes deep downfield and inside the hash marks to emerge as a true threat for the Commodores.
Trey Ellis, SO: Ellis burst on to the field last season as a true freshman walk-on when he became the team's default punt returner. He's a shifty runner who can change direction with quick cuts, but it's yet to be seen if he can contribute as a receiver in the SEC. With Ludwig focused on this team's most athletic players at wideout, it's possible that Ellis plays a big role for the Commodores in 2015.
Rashad Canty, Rs. FR: Canty spent last year polishing his game and will have the chance to make an immediate impact in his first year of NCAA eligibility. With solid speed and good awareness with the ball after the catch, he could be the deep ball threat this team will be missing with Duncan out for the season. He's a big target who can accelerate to catch up to overthrown passes or cut his routes short to counter back towards underthrown ones. While he may struggle to break through in his first year, he has the talent to be a major contributor for the Commodores well into the future.
Ronald Monroe, Rs. FR: As a converted quarterback, Monroe is still adjusting to his new position, but his athletic ability should give him the opportunity to contribute for the Vandy offense in 2015. He is an intelligent player who brings solid size (6'3", 200 lbs) to the receiving corps. He needs to prove that he can stick to routes against SEC cornerbacks and bring down passes in traffic if he's going to be a playmaker this fall.
Jared Pinkney, FR: Pinkney will be the Commodores' biggest target at wide receiver tanks to a 6'4", 240 pound frame. That will make him a difficult matchup for opposing cornerbacks - especially in the red zone - but he'll have a lot to prove if he wants to move up a depth chart that has nine players with more collegiate experience in front of him. He's not a deep threat, but his strength and wide body allows him to box out defenders and bring down receptions in tight windows. That's a major skill - and it could be what keeps the young wideout from a redshirt season this fall.