For much of the 2016 season, Vanderbilt got shaky production (to put it nicely) from the passing game. Some of that was on Kyle Shurmur, of course, but quite a bit of that was on the receivers as well.
By the end of the season, everything was clicking. Four receivers had at least 24 catches and over 300 receiving yards for the season, and the best news is that all four are back this season.
If there’s bad news, those are also the only four receivers on the roster who have caught a pass in college. That’s not a huge problem for a team that isn’t using four- and five-receiver sets very often (and that also gets considerable production from its tight ends), but it could become an issue if anybody is hurt.
Trent Sherfield, senior: Sherfield had a strange junior year. After being Vanderbilt’s go-to receiver (51 catches, 659 yards, 3 TD) as a sophomore, Sherfield largely disappeared for much of the 2016 season. Between the Ole Miss and Tennessee games, Sherfield caught 11 passes for 256 yards and a TD.
In the other 11 games: 23 catches, 216 yards, no touchdowns. That’s ... not good for a guy who’s supposed to be a go-to receiver. That said, Sherfield probably has the most upside of any receiver on the roster, but at the very least getting sophomore year Trent Sherfield — if not the Sherfield we saw in the last two games of the regular season — would go a long way.
Caleb Scott, senior: Scott dealt with injuries early in the season but ended the year leading the Commodores with 19.4 yards per catch. Like the rest of the passing game, Scott hit his stride late in the year: from the Auburn game on, he caught 18 passes for 346 yards. Somehow, he didn’t find the end zone all season, but aside from that he was Vanderbilt’s most effective receiver late in the year and combined with Sherfield, Vanderbilt should have a nice 1-2 punch out wide in 2017.
C.J. Duncan, redshirt senior: Duncan led the team in both catches (44) and receiving yards (494) after missing the entire 2015 season, though like Scott he didn’t score a single touchdown. But while Scott and Sherfield came on strong late in the season, Duncan was a consistent presence throughout the season, notching 9 catches in September and 12 in October. Duncan is less of a deep threat than Scott or Sherfield — his longest play of the season was a 31-yard catch against Western Kentucky — but should be fine as a third option in the slot on underneath routes.
Kalija Lipscomb, sophomore: Lipscomb came in and started right away as a true freshman — and in the early part of the season, he was Vanderbilt’s most consistent threat in the passing game. Through Vanderbilt’s first six games, Lipscomb had 17 catches for 200 yards — not a great per catch average.
Late in the season, Lipscomb became less targeted as Sherfield and Scott caught fire, though Lipscomb still made an impact as a punt returner, and he also finished the season tied for the team lead with 2 touchdown catches. Lipscomb figures to see the field in some fashion in 2017, though assuming Sherfield, Scott, and Duncan are all healthy, he’s probably the fourth receiver.
Donaven Tennyson, sophomore: Tennyson played in eight games as a true freshman and didn’t register a catch, though he did get some touches on reverses. Tennyson has good speed and could slide into the role vacated by Darrius Sims (who the coaching staff never quite figured out how to use.)
Tennyson was suspended from the team earlier in the summer, though he’s been reinstated per Derek Mason on Monday.
Jackson Winrow, redshirt freshman: Winrow didn’t see the field as a true freshman. He has good hands and speed and could be a player down the road, though with the players ahead of him on the roster it’s a bit hard to see him playing a big role this season on a team that’s mostly using 2-WR sets (with the occasional three-receiver look.)
James Bostic and Chris Pierce are the two true freshmen on the team. Both have good size (Bostic is 6’3"/200 and Pierce is 6’4"/208), though neither is a burner. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either or both of them redshirt if no one ahead of them gets hurt.
Alex Stump is a former four-star recruit who will sit out this season after transferring from Ohio State. Like Ke’Shawn Vaughn, he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining.