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Vanderbilt Football Position Preview: Quarterback

Uh, who’s the starter?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

To show you how smart I am, let’s check out what I wrote about Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks entering the 2021 season and... oh, oh God.

Vanderbilt appears to be back to the stability of having a long-term starter at the position. There are a lot of questions about the team entering the 2021 season, but this isn’t one of them.

Well! That was wrong.

To be clear, it’s not hard to see why I thought that. Ken Seals had taken the starting job as a true freshman and performed credibly. He threw a few too many interceptions, but was generally effective at the job of moving the ball in spite of an iffy offensive line and the absence of an effective running game.

And then 2021 happened. And, well... let’s get to the preview.

The Incumbents

Ken Seals, junior: There’s really no explanation for Seals’ sudden ineffectiveness once the calendar turned to 2021. His completion percentage dropped (from 64.6 percent to 56.7 percent) and so did his yards per completion; the latter might have been an obvious explanation had it gone up (since throwing downfield more will have a tendency to reduce your completion percentage.) Meanwhile, interceptions remained a problem; he threw eight for the season, or three more than he threw touchdown passes.

And even then, his overall numbers were inflated by performances against Colorado State and UConn. Seals was dreadful in an October loss to Florida, then went on the shelf with a finger injury — and then briefly returned in the Kentucky game in November, before getting yanked in favor of...

Mike Wright, junior: Wright giving Vanderbilt a running threat from the quarterback position was obvious; Wright being a more effective passer than Seals was not. Which is certainly not to argue that Wright was truly effective as a passer; he completed just 53.5 percent of his passes on the season. But the ball moved when Wright was in the game, whether it was because of his running ability (91 carries for 376 yards and a touchdown) or his big-play ability in the passing game (8 touchdowns versus just 6 interceptions.)

It’s clear that one of these two will be Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback in 2022. I just don’t know which one. If you think Seals’ finger injury was limiting his effectiveness even prior to him actually being benched over it, then yeah, I could see the argument for him returning to his 2020 form. Then again, his 2020 form wasn’t great, merely acceptable.

The Freshmen

AJ Swann: After the spring game, which Swann participated in as an early enrollee, it’s probably a good bet that Swann is Vanderbilt’s quarterback of the future. The open question is when exactly “the future” is. Could it come at some point in 2022? I could see it, though the spring game makes clear that he does have quite a ways to go to overtake Seals and Wright. Could I also see Seals and Wright both being ineffective to the point that Clark Lea decides that the future is now? Sure, absolutely. I’d bet on 2023 or 2024 being more likely, but were I Clark Lea, I’d probably try to avoid playing him early on to see if you can steal a redshirt year even while possibly turning to him late in the season.

Drew Dickey: The first of the three quarterbacks to commit, my read on Dickey is that he doesn’t have Swann’s upside, but is also probably closer to being ready to contribute at the college level — but he’s also a summer enrollee, meaning he’ll have just a few weeks of fall camp to adjust from the Texas private school division to the SEC. I doubt we’ll be seeing him in 2022.

Walter Taylor: A lefty with prototypical size (6’5”/210) and good arm strength... who also appears to need a lot of work. The late addition of Taylor to the class seems more like a long-term play than anything for 2022.