At most places on the field, Vanderbilt enters the 2022 season with a lot of questions. Linebacker might be the one place where that isn’t true. The closest thing to a “question” is “will the guy who started all 12 games last season be able to hold off a high-level Power 5 transfer?”
Yeah, that’s the kind of question you want to have.
The Sure-Thing Starter
Anfernee Orji, senior: The 6’2”, 230-pound star from Rockwall, Texas, is quite likely Vanderbilt’s best defensive player entering his senior season, and he’s started every game over the last two years. Barring injury, that will continue, and he’s Vanderbilt’s best bet for an All-SEC selection.
The Other Starting Spot
Ethan Barr, junior: Barr started all 12 games last season and there was relatively little to complain about with the 6’3”, 245-pound junior from Flower Mound, Texas, starting alongside Orji in what’s effectively a two-linebacker defense (albeit with the “star” and “anchor” position frequently functioning as linebackers.) That said, Vanderbilt may feel it can do better than a guy with three interceptions, four pass breakups, and two quarterback hurries last season.
Kane Patterson, senior: ... because former four-star recruits don’t transfer in from Clemson every day, after all. It would be wrong to say that Patterson, a Nashville native, didn’t play at Clemson — he was in the linebacker rotation for most of his three years in the program. But he wanted to play a bigger role and he wanted to play with his younger brother (more on him in a minute), so here he is.
Errington Truesdell, sophomore: The 6’1”, 228-pound sophomore from Duluth, Georgia, played in all 12 games last season, albeit in a limited role — be notched eight total tackles, mostly playing on special teams. The fact that Lea was so willing to burn his redshirt suggests that (a) there wasn’t much depth in the linebacking corps last season, but also (b) Lea sees considerable upside here.
Langston Patterson, freshman: Of the three freshmen in the linebacking corps, the younger Patterson is probably the closest to being ready to contribute — though he may not have the most long-term upside, at 6’1” and 234 pounds (ironically, he and Kane are listed at the exact same height and weight), he comes in with an SEC-ready body. Whether he plays much as a true freshman is up for debate.
Daniel Martin, freshman: Martin comes in as one of the highest-rated prospects in Vanderbilt’s 2022 signing class, and actually had offers from Florida State and Oregon. That kind of pedigree is a rarity at Vanderbilt; but, at 6’3” and 200 pounds, Martin has a lot of upside but probably needs some time in the weight room.
Bryce Cowan, freshman: The 6’4”, 210-pound freshman from Tallahassee, like Martin, will probably be a year away from contributing.