Vanderbilt’s secondary was one of the few strengths of the defense in 2017, but in 2018, the Commodores will be retooling a bit.
Ryan White, the team’s starter at strong safety, who led the team with two interceptions and finished fourth on the team with 60 total tackles, is gone. So, too, is reserve safety and nickel back Arnold Tarpley, who started five games and had 29 tackles and three pass breakups.
There’s some good news in the fact that starting free safety LaDarius Wiley is back, and there are multiple prospects here who were four-star recruits. Vanderbilt is going to depend a lot on unproven and inexperienced guys in the defensive backfield, but at least they’re pretty talented.
The Certain Starter
LaDarius Wiley, redshirt senior: Wiley started all 12 games for Vanderbilt in 2017 and led the team with 88 total tackles. (Let’s blow right by a discussion of what it said about last year’s defense that the free safety was the leading tackler.) He also had five pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble. With so little experience at this spot, it’s a certainty that Wiley will be a starter here. Who starts alongside him is still an open question.
The Starter Candidates
Zaire Jones, redshirt sophomore: It’s been a bit of a surprise that it’s taken this long for Jones, who was rated as a four-star recruit coming out of Meridian, Mississippi, to make an impact at Vanderbilt. Some of that has to do with being blocked from playing time by more experienced players, but when called upon in 2017, Jones had 11 total tackles, one tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. He also earned a start against South Carolina, making him the one player other than Wiley with any starting experience. He’s probably the favorite to start at strong safety, though the gap between him and the others here isn’t significant.
Tae Daley, sophomore: Daley was an early enrollee last year and got into 11 games in the fall as a true freshman, notching five total tackles. It’s likely that either he or Jones will be the starter alongside Jones, though there are some true freshmen who could also get into the mix.
Austin Quillen, redshirt sophomore: Quillen was Vanderbilt’s first commitment in the class of 2016 and hasn’t really made much of an impact in two years in the program, redshirting in 2016 and playing in just five games last year, making one tackle in the Tennessee game.
Brendon Harris, freshman: Harris flipped from Tennessee to Vanderbilt last October amidst rumors about Butch Jones’ job security, which turned out to be entirely founded, and also after (according to Tennessee fans) Tennessee decided they didn’t really want him and encouraged him to look elsewhere (citation needed.) At the time he was universally considered a four-star recruit; after that, 247 Sports mysteriously dropped him to a three-star, which is probably just a coincidence. The true freshman from Chattanooga is obviously very talented and could play a role in 2018. Yes, his Tennessee offer was commitable and Tennessee really did want him.
Max Worship, freshman: There’s a bit of a pipeline going from Cardinal Gibbons in Fort Lauderdale to Vanderbilt; in 2017, the Commodores signed Randall Haynie and James Bostic from there, and Max Worship joins them in 2018. Worship was a three-star recruit and seems like a redshirt candidate, as his former high school teammates both did in 2017.
Dashuan Jerkins, freshman: Jerkins was a four-star recruit in 247 Sports’s in-house ratings, though the composite had him as a three-star (the reverse of Harris, actually.) A first-team All-State player as a high school senior in Woodbridge, Virginia, Jerkins has a chance to make an early impact in 2018.