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Anchor Drop, December 31, 2018: Draft Decisions

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Joejuan Williams is in. Will Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Jared Pinkney join him?

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

Over at the Hustler, Simon Gibbs has a great article about Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 2018 season, which might turn out to be his only one at Vanderbilt. But the money quote from Derek Mason:

“I think he’s capable when the time is right of maybe being a first round back, but there’s a lot of distance between now and then, in my opinion,” Mason said. “But I’ve always said he’s special.”

On Saturday, Joejuan Williams announced that he would be entering the NFL Draft. That is one situation: Williams’ draft stock is probably about as high as it will ever be right now. He’s not going to improve his stock by returning to school and having opposing quarterbacks avoid throwing to his side of the field, and his limitations are not things that will be fixed.

Junior tight end Jared Pinkney hasn’t made a decision yet, but like Williams, it’s hard to imagine Pinkney — who had 50 catches for 774 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2018 — can improve his stock much by returning.

Vaughn is a different case, though: while he would almost certainly get drafted were he to declare, he still has some room to improve. Vaughn had 157 carries and 13 receptions in 2018 and averaged 8.3 yards every time he touched the ball. Those are good numbers, obviously, but running backs don’t even sniff the first round of the NFL Draft unless they’ve proven that they can be every-down backs. In 12 games, Vaughn averaged just 14.2 touches.

Now, here’s where we get into the “Is Derek Mason Good At His Job?” section of this. Vaughn split time with Khari Blasingame in 2018, with the latter getting 121 touches (96 carries and 25 receptions.) Using Blasingame in short-yardage situations, where his big body and powerful running style were obviously preferable, was perfectly defensible. Of course, a lot of those touches weren’t on 3rd and 1, and that’s where a lot of fans had a bone to pick with Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Now, here’s where I point out that Blasingame’s pass-blocking was miles better than Vaughn’s (yes, I’m leaning into the AoG memes.) Vaughn also had issues with durability, frequently taking himself out of the game after big runs, in addition to leaving both the Florida and Tennessee games early and missing the Kentucky game entirely.

The point is, well, I’m not really sure that giving Vaughn 14 touches a game and making frequent use of Khari Blasingame wasn’t the optimal use of Vaughn in 2018. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a college football team took a back with elite breakaway speed and made him split carries with another, more powerful runner. (Remember Reggie Bush and LenDale White at USC in the mid-2000s?)

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Blasingame is gone after this season, and should Vaughn elect to come back — there doesn’t appear to be a player similar to Blasingame on the 2019 roster. Jamauri Wakefield, the team’s third-leading rusher in 2018, is a bit bigger than Vaughn (6’1”/220) but is hardly what I would call a short-yardage back. Ja’Veon Marlow and incoming freshman Keyon Brooks are, respectively, 198 and 195 pounds. Those guys might still get some carries in 2019, but there’s no real temptation to switch any of them out with Vaughn in order to run a guy who brings something different to the table.

In other words, if Vaughn really is a guy who can handle 25 touches a game, there’s no obvious reason why he shouldn’t be able to get that at Vanderbilt in 2019. So there’s a real decision here. And in the NFL, the higher you get drafted, the more guaranteed money you get on your rookie deal. I said the night of the Texas Bowl that Vaughn had nothing else to prove in college, but maybe he does? Proving he can be an every-down back would be worth millions.

Other Vanderbilt News

Not really much. The men’s basketball team plays UNC Asheville today at 1:00 PM CT on the SEC Network+. We’ll have a game thread up later. UNC Asheville is 2-11 this season with the wins coming against St. Andrew’s and Milligan, ranked #345 of 353 Division I teams in KenPom, and lost 80-63 to Division II Fayetteville State their last time out, so expect this to be a five-point game at halftime. (In all seriousness — Savannah State, whom we beat 120-85 earlier this season, is actually better than UNC Asheville according to KenPom’s algorithm.)

Tweet of the Day

(This happened in Louisiana, just in case you were wondering.)

Off the West End

And you thought coaching search season was over? Houston fired Major Applewhite after two years, a 15-11 record, a strong policy on jackets being reserved for players who are actually playing in the game, and a hideous 70-14 bowl loss to Army a week ago. Yes, Houston fired a coach after an 8-5 season. Just like they promised.

Meanwhile, Miami coach Mark Richt announced his retirement. Richt took a preseason top-10 team and went 7-6, which sounds vaguely familiar.

And in the “coaching carousel keeps spinning” department, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is thought to be the leading candidate for Houston, while Yahoo reported Sunday night that Manny Diaz, former Miami defensive coordinator and recently-hired Temple head coach, will replace Richt at Miami. So West Virginia and Temple may have openings soon as well.

And it’s not too early for college basketball coaching search season! Rumors are out that UCLA head coach Steve Alford could be out of a job soon on the heels of a 15-point loss to Liberty on Saturday. You’d think that would boost the chances that Liberty is considered a quality win for Vanderbilt, but beating UCLA this year isn’t as impressive as it sounds.