At the end of their junior seasons, the Three Horsemen—RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TE Jared Pinkney, and WR Kalija Lipscomb—all faced an NFL draft dilemma. While all three were viewed as NFL prospects, none were viewed as first round picks, and, as such, all opted to return for their senior years.
Though there was much rejoicing, with 4 year starting QB Kyle Shurmur having used up his eligibility (due to an unfortunate decision to burn his redshirt during an unfortunate 2015 season), the decision to return came with a high degree of risk for all three, but especially for the two pass catchers.
The other draft eligible Vanderbilt junior NFL teams were interested in—CB Joejuan Williams—declared for the draft, and was taken in the mid-2nd round (pick 45 to the New England Patriots). His decision was a lot easier, as he was widely expected to be a 1st or 2nd round pick.
In a November 7th mailbag, as our team was 2-6 (and staring down the barrel of 2-7, as we were days from facing the Gainesville Jorts in Jortsville), commenter RancorIsGold asked what we were all thinking:
Question from RancorIsGold:
Given the dumpster fire our offensive play has been this year, how adversely is it impacting on the draft stock of our Three Horsemen? Would it just be better for them not to play and therefore not worsen their career stats? They obviously believed in the team when they decided to return.
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: It’s an interesting question, because a lot of the problems center around a QB who refuses to throw the ball in Pinkney’s direction and a patchwork offensive line, and any NFL scout watching a Vanderbilt game will probably figure that out. Of the three, Pinkney is the one who may have hurt his stock by coming back, but he’s also of a type where he can get some of that back with a good combine, because guys with his size and skill set do not grow on trees. Vaughn if anything has helped his stock by proving that he actually can carry the rock more than 20 times a game instead of just being a home run hitter you give it to 10-15 times. Lipscomb’s draft stock was iffy to begin with; had he come out last year he would have gone in the later rounds or undrafted. Either way he’s not really in a different position than he was last year.
The only reason to not play would be to avoid injury.
Shawn: I’d like to take your second question into another direction. I think players should sit out whenever they want- particularly non important regular season and bowl games. Vaughn has really proven to be a work horse, but I fear all the touches will make the tread come off the tire at a position that has severely limited life span already. If it’s clear there isn’t anything to play for- or worse, that the coaching staff is so incompetent that it hurts you and does not help the team to play, then sit out. Sure it’s a slippery slope or bad precedent or whatever. But we’re not talking about average players, we’re talking about athletes who will rely on their bodies to make large sums of money during a limited window in their lives.
Andrew VU ‘04: At this point, though it hurts me, I can pretty confidently say all three made a mistake by returning for their senior seasons. Of the three, Ke’Shawn Vaughn has at least kept his stock where it was, but still, last year’s RB crop—outside of Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders—was pretty weak. I can’t imagine Vaughn not going in the 2nd or 3rd round last year after acing the Combine. This year? Well, some may see him and still see Alvin Kamara (I more see Miles Sanders now, but hey, that’s still really good!). Personally, I think the class of Taylor, Swift, Etienne, Dobbins, et al is stronger than the 2019 class, and markedly so. Vaughn could be the first one taken... or the fifth. He has stayed healthy/durable (really, the only knock on him last year), so maybe that’s a plus. Still, I think it’s a push.
Most hurt has been Pinkney, as he has been o’erleapt by... off the top of my head... Albert O. of Mizzourah, Colby “Shakes” Parkinson of Stansbury, and Grant “Mathland” Calcaterra of OU. I still think the Pink is worth a mid-round flier, but even if he kills it in the Combine, team workouts, and interviews, you have to think the first question on every GM’s mind will be, “If you really were this good, why the hell didn’t you get any balls thrown your way?” Let’s be honest... it’s not that he’s not featured in this offense, it’s that he’s not even noticeable.
With Kalija “Bisons” Lipscomb... well, he suited up but didn’t play against The Game Penises. No explanation was given. That... uhh... is not a good look.
Doreontheplains: Pinkney’s draft stock is obviously the most interesting due to his complete abandonment on offense as anything more than a blocking TE. When this conversation really took off at my tailgate before the NIU game, I made the same argument that Tom did about scouts theoretically being smart enough to recognize the lack of production is about the offense around him, not Pinkney personally. Andrew’s point about GMs is also valid. So what organization trusts their scouts enough for the GM to defer to them, loves having a big, physical, and athletic TE, AND needs one thanks to retirement? Yep, Pinkney will follow Joejuan Williams to Foxborough as a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Unless somebody else snags him first.
As everyone else has said, Vaughn showing the durability has probably helped himself a bit, and he is still having a fine season. He is 4th in the conference in total rushing yards and is at 5.23 yards per carry.
I did not track Lipscomb’s draft talk that closely because he announced that he was staying so early in the process.
With Tompa Brady selecting Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd round last night, it is safe to say that, at the very least, his stock stayed approximately the same by returning for his senior season.
Vaughn did not exactly have a stand-out Combine performance, as evident by his “Okay” RAS:
Of course, Vaughn showed better in-game speed on tape over and over again, so that mitigated his lackluster testing. In a year where in person visits were cancelled due to a global pandemic, game tape was even more important. I have to assume Tampa’s GM Jason Licht and HC Bruce Arians put on the tape from the bowl game against Baylor and then set Vaughn’s Combine numbers on fire.
As for Pinkney and Lipscomb? I stand by what I said in November. Unfortunately for Pinkney, not only did his production fall off a cliff due to poor QB play and INSANE game-planning/play-calling strategy by the since deposed OC Gerry Gdowski, but he had a regrettable Combine, as well, as he ran more like a fast offensive lineman than a pass catching TE.
And let’s be honest, his RAS was ass and did him no favors:
For Pinkney to be drafted, teams will have to basically delete his 2019 season, and disregard his Combine performance... and just watch his 2018 tape.
Lipscomb had a better Combine, but in a loaded WR class, struggled to stand out. He can still be a solid possession receiver for many teams.
Similarly, for Lipscomb to be drafted, teams will have to lean on his 2018 tape, when he actually had a living human quarterback. See the Notre Dame game, for example, and tell me you don’t see someone who can be a depth/possession WR like former Eagle Jason Avant.
Still, I think both Pinkney and Lipscomb are more their 2018 than 2019 versions of self—especially Big Pink—and suspect at least one of them will be drafted today.
I have the sneaking suspicion that a smart team will snag Pinkney in rounds 6-7. Prior to the draft, I had a flashing red neon sign level suspicion that team would be The New England Patriots—a team which has unearthed gems by going to the “other teams overlook Vanderbilt players” well many times before. Of course, with their current starting DT Adam Butler, they did wait until after the draft to get him on the horn in 2017.
Unfortunately, New England has already addressed their glaring need at the TE position, and picked two—UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Human Trash-stache Dalton Keene—in the 3rd round.
If undrafted, both would be priority UDFAs, and likely receive relatively high UDFA bonuses. Knowing everything I know about them, I want my NFL team to get both of them, as I view them more as distressed assets with the potential to be excellent depth players—especially Pinkney.