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Resetting the 2018 Recruiting Class

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We’re a week away from the early signing period.

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

It’s a bit unusual to feel like recruiting season is wrapping up in the middle of December, yet here we are.

The NCAA’s new early signing period will begin next Wednesday. The Vanderbilt Commodores currently have 16 players committed, and even without the recruiting class being full, it’s currently ranked 32nd nationally in the 247 Sports composite and 10th in the SEC. By my count, Vanderbilt has 80 players on scholarship for next season — counting all current commits, but not counting graduating seniors or players leaving the program.

That means Vanderbilt can take at least five more players (though some of those may go to transfers.) Where might we see those players come from? Let’s take a look.

Quarterback

Projected to return: 3

Current commit: Allan Walters

Kyle Shurmur is entrenched as the starting quarterback for 2018, but things get interesting after that. Vanderbilt should have an intriguing quarterback battle for 2019 between current backup Deuce Wallace and incoming freshman Allan Walters — who will probably redshirt 2018 assuming Shurmur stays healthy (all bets are off if he doesn’t, though.)

While Jacob Free transferred out of the program a couple of weeks ago, I don’t expect Vanderbilt to take another quarterback in the class. That might change if Shawn Stankavage decides to move on (he’ll be a fifth-year senior in 2018, and could probably get a sixth year if he wants one), but as of right now I think Walters is it.

Runningback

Projected to return: 4

Current commit: Ja’Veon Marlow

All-time leading rusher Ralph Webb is gone, but Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn should step in and be the starter from day one — and Vanderbilt has a decent change-of-pace back in Khari Blasingame and depth in Josh Crawford and Jamauri Wakefield. Current commit Ja’Veon Marlow will probably be the only RB in the recruiting class.

Fullback

Projected to return: 2

Current commits: None

Bailey McElwain missed all of 2017 with an injury, and Dallas Rivers functioned as the primary fullback with Jaire George occasionally coming in as a blocker. Rivers is gone, but Vanderbilt doesn’t seem to be targeting any fullbacks — then again, this is a spot where bringing in a walkon for depth is a feasible option.

Wide receiver

Projected to return: 6

Current commits: Miles Jones, Camron Johnson, C.J. Bolar

Vanderbilt has to replace Trent Sherfield, Caleb Scott, and C.J. Duncan out of the receiving corps. That’s a lot, but Vanderbilt does return Kalija Lipscomb, Ohio State transfer Alex Stump (a former four-star) will be eligible, and all three of the current commits will be in the mix to play early. This group outside of Lipscomb isn’t proven, but could end up being solid. I don’t expect any additions here.

Tight end

Projected to return: 3

Current commits: Ben Bresnahan, Gavin Schoenwald

Vanderbilt loses Nathan Marcus but returns the other three scholarship tight ends on the roster (plus walk-on Cody Markel), and adds two talented players to the group. The Commodores are likely done here.

Offensive line

Projected to return: 12

Current commits: Dan Dawkins, Wyatt Smock

This is a pretty light recruiting class on the offensive line — in large part because Vanderbilt actually didn’t have any seniors in the unit (though Bailey Granier announced this week that he won’t be returning.) That means that even with only two linemen in the class, Vanderbilt is pretty well set along the line -- and Dan Dawkins, the #3 center prospect in the country according to Rivals, is the rare offensive lineman who could start as a true freshman.

With all that said, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Vanderbilt add another player here, particularly with Granier’s departure opening up a spot.

Defensive line

Projected to return: 9

Current commits: Rutger Reitmaier (transfer)

This is a problem area, and it’s one where Vanderbilt doesn’t have a single commit in the recruiting class (not counting Rutger Reitmaier, who is transferring in from Oregon and might be eligible in 2018.) Vanderbilt loses three seniors, two of whom were starters, off a unit that wasn’t all that good to begin with. While some of the youngsters (particularly Dayo Odeyingbo) have upside, at the very least Vanderbilt needs to add depth here for 2018.

Look for Vanderbilt to try to add two or three more guys to this unit. Longtime target Malik Langham has added offers from Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, and Tennessee in recent weeks, and might be harder to get than initially thought.

Linebacker

Projected to return: 12

Current commit: Alston Orji

While Vanderbilt loses two starters in Oren Burks and Emmanuel Smith, the Commodores do return the SEC’s sack leader (Charles Wright) in this unit, last year’s recruiting class here was pretty solid, and Vanderbilt adds one of the highest-rated recruits in program history in Alston Orji. Vanderbilt may add another linebacker to the class, but this isn’t a pressing need at the moment.

Another thing to watch here: Vanderbilt is looking to add former Illinois LB Tre Watson, who would be eligible to play immediately under the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.

Defensive back

Projected to return: 12

Current commits: Tre Douglas, Rayshad Williams, Dashaun Jerkins, Maxwell Worship, Brendon Harris

Vanderbilt loses three starters here — though top cornerback Joejuan Williams and safety LaDarius Wiley, the team’s leading tackler, are both returning. That’s probably why there are five commits here, and Vanderbilt might even be looking to add another guy.

Special Teams

Projected to return: 1

Current commit: Javan Rice

Sam Loy is back to handle punting duties, and Javan Rice will probably take over kicking duties from graduated senior Tommy Openshaw. Walk-on Tommy Schiager seems like the most likely candidate to handle long snapping duties.