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Initial thoughts on the 2020 signing class

Vanderbilt filled its biggest needs on Wednesday.

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

The first blast of signings came on Wednesday morning, with fifteen players signing National Letters of Intent with the Vanderbilt Commodores. If that seems like a low number, keep in mind that Vanderbilt had very few seniors on the roster in 2019 and thus didn’t have a lot of scholarships available — but four of the fifteen signees just joined the class on Tuesday and Wednesday. So the start of the early signing period came with a bit of a flurry. What can we take away from the new signing class?

Quarterback was a major need, and it’s been addressed.

Really, you already knew this. Vanderbilt’s 2019 offense was hampered by quarterback play that was mediocre at best, and Riley Neal — who got the bulk of the playing time at the position — is gone anyway, and Deuce Wallace and Allan Walters were ineffective in the action they saw.

Longtime commit Ken Seals signed on Wednesday as expected, but what wasn’t expected were the two additional quarterbacks that joined the class. Three-star Mike Wright flipped from UCF to Vanderbilt early in the morning, and Jeremy Moussa — who started his career at Hawaii before playing the 2019 season at San Bernardino Valley CC — also joins the class as a transfer.

Three quarterbacks is certainly a lot to take in a single class; in the current environment, three quarterbacks might be the entire quarterback room at a lot of schools. Seals and Moussa will enroll in January and I would expect one of them to be the starter in 2020, with an outside chance that Wright takes the job in fall camp.

The other thing this tells us is that at least one of Wallace or Walters is probably not coming back — while neither one showed much in 2019, at the very least, if both were slated to return there would be no need to take three quarterbacks.

The offensive line was addressed, too

Vanderbilt signed four offensive linemen on Wednesday, and that’s not counting long snapper Wesley Schelling. Kevo Wesley, Ben Cox, Bradley Ashmore, and Jason Brooks aren’t highly rated, though none of them are reaches, either, and all four have good frames.

Now, the offensive line isn’t a place where you’re ever going to expect to get immediate contributions from incoming freshmen. The heaviest of the four is Brooks, who checks in at 290 pounds per Rivals, with Ashmore and Cox both listed at 280 and Wesley at 265. Basically, all four of these guys will probably need a year in the weight room. But you can never have too much depth in the trenches.

The defense, on the other hand...

Vanderbilt only signed three or four defensive players on Wednesday, depending on which side of the ball Chase Lloyd ends up on, and none of those are defensive linemen after Jordan Butler flipped to Northwestern.

Now, one way to read that is that Vanderbilt is pretty confident in the defense coming back in 2020 — after all, basically everybody is back on that side of the ball (though a couple of defensive linemen are transferring out of the program, but neither of them were expected to play much.) On the other hand, getting that few signees on defense is a problem down the road, and it’s something Derek Mason and staff might want to address in the February signing period.

Slowly but surely, Vanderbilt’s recruiting has become much more regional

Early on in his Vanderbilt tenure, Derek Mason seemed to rely a ton on contacts on the West Coast on the recruiting trail. After all, Mason had come from Stanford, and most of his staff consisted of California guys.

But that’s changing. Jeremy Moussa comes from California, but among the fourteen high school recruits in the class, the furthest west the staff went was Weatherford, Texas, 30 miles west of Fort Worth, to pick up Ken Seals. Vanderbilt also got another recruit from the Dallas area, two from the Houston area, three from South Florida, two from Atlanta (and another from outstate Georgia), one from Alabama, one from Chicago, and one from southwest Virginia. Most of the class comes from “natural” recruiting areas for Vanderbilt. For a lot of reasons, Vanderbilt is never going to rely heavily on the Nashville area or the state of Tennessee for recruiting, but signing players from Atlanta and Miami seems to be a much more sustainable model than signing players from Los Angeles and Hawaii.

No, this doesn’t forgive the 2019 season.

This class is solid, but this is still a class ranked 50th nationally in the 247 Sports composite (and 55th on Rivals.) That’s about in line with Mason’s past classes, and suggests that the staff isn’t finding an extra gear on the recruiting trail. Now, there’s at least something to be said for the fact that recruiting isn’t really tailing off in spite of the 3-9 record in 2019, but this class shouldn’t change anyone’s opinions.

With that said, there isn’t any obvious dead weight in the class, and the team really addressed its two biggest areas of need — so spinning this recruiting class as a complete disaster is clearly wrong.

Two committed players didn’t sign on Wednesday.

With Donovan Kaufman, the reason is rather obvious: he recently picked up an offer from Florida State, and might be waiting for more. At the very least, picking up a Florida State offer makes it a lot less likely that he’ll end up in the class — Vanderbilt doesn’t win many recruiting battles where Florida State is involved. Kaufman is expected to sign in February.

As for Will Sheppard, the wide receiver from Louisiana who committed late Tuesday night, I don’t know what’s going on. He may sign Thursday or Friday, or he may wait until February.