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What should Derek Mason address between now and Signing Day?

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A look ahead to signing day, complete with handy projected 2017 scholarship chart.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt Commodores’ 2016 season isn’t over yet (hello, bowl game!) but with several weeks between now and the team’s next actual game, another topic that’s on everyone’s minds is National Signing Day in February.

As of right now, Vanderbilt has 13 players verbally committed to sign in February (though there may be a couple of early enrollees who will join the team before that.) Assuming all of the current commitments sign in February, are there any remaining areas of need that the staff might want to address in the next couple of months?

Well, for that, let’s take a look at the projected 2017 scholarship chart. A couple of housekeeping matters:

  • As of right now, here’s a list of true freshmen who have played this year: Bailey McElwain, Kalija Lipscomb, Donaven Tennyson, Joejuan Williams, Sam Loy. And that’s it. The remaining true freshmen, assuming they don’t play in the bowl game, will be redshirt freshmen next year and are listed as freshmen on the scholarship chart. (If I missed anyone, let me know in the comments.)
  • Also, sophomores Kyle Anderton and Jay Hockaday — both of whom played as true freshmen — did not play at all in 2016 and presumably redshirted.
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman Total
QB Wade Freebeck Kyle Shurmur, Shawn Stankavage** Deuce Wallace, Jacob Free 5
RB Ralph Webb*, Dallas Rivers Khari Blasingame, Josh Crawford Jaire George Jamauri Wakefield, McLane Mannix 7
FB Bailey McElwain 1
WR Trent Sherfield, Caleb Scott, C.J. Duncan Kalija Lipscomb, Donaven Tennyson Jackson Winrow, James Bostic 7
TE Nathan Marcus, DeAndre Woods** Sam Dobbs Kyle Anderton, Jared Pinkney Turner Cockrell 6
OT Andrew Jelks** Justin Skule Jared Southers Devin Cochran, Bryce Bailey 5
OG Delando Crooks, Egidio DellaRipa** Bruno Reagan, Bailey Granier Braden Kopp, Grant Miller 6
C Cole Hardin Ean Pfeifer Sean Auwae-McMoore 3
DE Jonathan Wynn Dare Odeyingbo, Riley Tindol Jalen Pinkney, Dayo Odeyingbo 5
DT Nifae Lealao, Jay Woods Darion DeBrossard Drew Birchmeier, Cameron Tidd, Josiah Sa'o 6
OLB Landon Stokes Charles Wright, Josh Smith Caleb Peart Andre Mintze, Kenny Hebert, Dimitri Moore, Colin Anderson 8
ILB Zach Cunningham* Jordan Griffin Jay Hockaday 3
STAR Oren Burks, Emmanuel Smith Nico Bolden 3
CB Tre Herndon, Taurean Ferguson Donovan Sheffield, Bryce Lewis Joejuan Williams Elijah Hamilton, Frank Coppet, Randall Haynie, Adam Sparks 9
S LaDarius Wiley, Arnold Tarpley, Jalen Banks, Ryan White Andrew Rector Austin Quillen, Zaire Jones, Tae Daley 8
K Tommy Openshaw 1
P Sam Loy 1
Total 25 17 13 29 84

As of right now, the Commodores project to have 84 players on scholarship in 2017 — just one below the 85-man limit. It actually would have been 85 if not for Nigel Bowden’s recent decision to retire from football; he’s been removed from the scholarship chart as a result.

But even assuming all 13 current commitments remain in the fold, that number’s likely to go down for a few reasons.

  • Zach Cunningham and/or Ralph Webb could go to the NFL. We’re not holding out hope on Cunningham, who’s projected to be a first-round pick, though I guess stranger things have happened. Webb is a different matter: he’s not projected to be drafted particularly high, but he’s on track to graduate this year and thus wouldn’t really be losing anything by declaring for the draft.
  • Andrew Jelks is eligible for a medical hardship, which would grant him a sixth year, but it’s not entirely clear he would come back or even be able to play after suffering knee injuries in back-to-back seasons.
  • Just a hunch, but one or both of the upperclassman backup quarterbacks could transfer elsewhere: they’re not beating out Kyle Shurmur for the starting gig, and Mason might feel comfortable with Deuce Wallace as the backup quarterback next year.
  • And, of course, there’s always the possibility that other guys will transfer or just decide to retire from football. In years past, potential fifth-year seniors who are pretty far down the depth chart have frequently decided to just graduate and move on with their lives.

So, with that out of the way, what are some potential areas of need for the Commodores?

  • McLane Mannix is listed as a running back above, but he’s really more likely to fill the Darrius Sims role in the offense (slot receiver/kick returner/change-of-pace back.) Particularly if Ralph Webb does go to the NFL, Vanderbilt might decide to add another “pure” running back to the signing class.
  • There are rumors that WR commitment James Bostic could move to the defensive side of the ball, and anyway with only four non-seniors projected to be on next year’s roster, Vanderbilt could probably stand to add another receiver or two.
  • If Jelks decides not to return, Vanderbilt would be down to 13 offensive linemen — it might make sense to add another, and in particular another guy who can play tackle. The Commodores are fairly well-set for the future on the interior of the line but could be hurting for depth on the outside.
  • The defense seems to be in fine shape, depth-wise, but some people have raised questions about Vanderbilt’s young defensive linemen and if there’s going to be another addition on defense, it might be up front.
  • With Tommy Openshaw gone after 2017, it might be a good time to add another kicker, though that may not be necessary as Vanderbilt may be able to find a non-scholarship player to contribute there.

If I had to make a guess, Vanderbilt will probably wind up having 4 or 5 more scholarships to give in the 2017 recruiting class. Just eyeballing the depth chart, if there are going to be any more additions (which there will be), they’ll probably be on offense.