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Vanderbilt releases depth chart for season opener

A few surprises in here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Vanderbilt at Ole Miss Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vanderbilt released its season-opening depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game at Hawaii on Tuesday morning, and there are a few surprises on it. Full depth chart below (courtesy of the Hustler) and I’ll have my thoughts.


Starter: Mike Wright, 6’4”/195 Jr., Fayetteville, GA

Backup: A.J. Swann, 6’3”/225 Fr., White, GA

Third String: Ken Seals, 6’3”/225 Jr., Azle, TX

Obviously, Mike Wright being the starter is no surprise given that Clark Lea announced that ahead of fall camp. Surprisingly, true freshman A.J. Swann has earned the backup nod ahead of Ken Seals, who started all of 2020 and seven games last season. That seems like an indication that the coaching staff sees a lot of upside in Swann and that he’s fairly close to being ready to play. As far as Seals goes, I’d expect him to stick around long enough to finish his degree and then try to go somewhere else he can play; he still has a redshirt year available.

Running Back

Starter: Ray Davis, 5’9”/205 R-Jr., San Francisco, CA

Backup: Patrick Smith, 5’10”/185 So., Atlantic City, NJ

Third String: Rocko Griffin, 5’9”/203 Jr., Rincon, GA

No surprises here, with a healthy Davis reclaiming his starting spot.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Will Sheppard, 6’3”/200 Jr., Mandeville, LA; Quincy Skinner, 6’2”/205 So., Pompano Beach, FL; Jayden McGowan, 5’8”/177 Fr., Laurens, SC

Backups: Logan Kyle, 6’3”/210 R-So., Cypress, TX; Wilson Long, 6’0”/191 R-So., Austin, TX; Devin Boddie, 5’11”/175 R-Jr., Memphis, TN

Technically, McGowan and Boddie have an “or” designation here, but I’d personally bet on McGowan (who’s likely the best athlete on the team) playing the majority of the snaps in the slot. The other two starting wide receivers are no surprise: Sheppard is the team’s top returning receiver, and Skinner was one of the highest-rated recruits in the 2021 class. Depth is a bit concerning: Long is a walk-on, and Kyle hasn’t done much in two years in the program, though there are some intriguing names who aren’t listed on the depth chart in redshirt freshman Gamarion Carter and true freshman Daveon Walker.

Tight End

Starters: Ben Bresnahan, 6’4”/243 R-Sr., Cumming, GA; Gavin Schoenwald, 6’4”/246 R-Sr., Brentwood, TN

Backups: Justin Ball, 6’6”/245 R-Jr., Glenn Dale, MD; Joel DeCoursey, 6’4”/235 R-Jr., Zionsville, IN

I’m listing the tight end spot (Bresnahan/Ball) and the “flex” spot (Schoenwald/DeCoursey) here, and given that Vanderbilt is listing essentially two tight end spots on the depth chart, it’s no surprise that both Bresnahan and Schoenwald are listed as the starters. The real question is how much Vanderbilt will use true freshman Cole Spence, who has excellent size at 6’7” and 237 pounds.

Offensive Line

Starters: Gunnar Hansen, 6’5”/320 R-Fr., Boca Raton, FL (LT); Ben Cox, 6’5”/310 Jr., Radford, VA (LG); Julian Hernandez, 6’4”/315 R-Jr., Davie, FL (C); Delfin Xavier Castillo, 6’5”/340 So., Kissimmee, FL (RG); Bradley Ashmore, 6’6”/310 Jr., Neptune Beach, FL (RT)

Backups: Junior Uzebu, 6’6”/310 R-Jr., Atlanta, GA (LT); Gage Pitchford, 6’6”/319 R-Fr., Newnan, GA (LG); Jake Ketschek, 6’4”/330 R-Fr., Absecon, NJ (C); Ashmore (RG); Jacob Brammer, 6’4”/301 R-Sr., Richmond, TX (RT)

Somewhat surprisingly, redshirt freshman Gunnar Hansen claimed the starting left tackle job in fall camp ahead of a couple of more experienced options in Junior Uzebu and Jacob Brammer. The rest of the starting offensive line is about what I expected, but we’ll see how this holds up over the first few weeks; remember, this wasn’t a great unit last season. It’s also extremely young, and probably thin if Ashmore is listed as the backup right guard (in addition to being the starter at right tackle.)

Defensive Line

Starters: Michael Owusu, 6’5”/232 R-Sr., Oxnard, CA (STAR); Malik Langham, 6’5”/308 R-Sr., Huntsville, AL (NT); Christian James, 6’4”/275 R-Jr., Memphis, TN (DT); Nate Clifton, 6’5”/280 R-Jr., La Vergne, TN (DE)

Backups: Darren Agu, 6’6”/240 Fr., London, England (STAR); Kevo Wesley, 6’4”/295 R-So., Chicago, IL (NT); Myles Cecil, 6’3”/290 R-Sr., Panorama City, CA (DT); Elijah McCallister, 6’6”/265 R-Sr., Rumson, NJ (DE)

Third String: BJ Diakite, 6’3”/215 Fr., Pinson, AL (STAR); Michael Spencer, 6’4”/285 R-So., Union, KY (DT)

Vanderbilt’s defensive line is easily the position that’s hardest-hit by injuries right now; Robbie Weinstein had indicated that Miles Capers was likely to start at the Star position (which, in Vanderbilt’s terminology, is the hybrid DE/LB position on the edge) before he was lost for the season with an injury. In addition, Daevion Davis is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered late last season, and Devin Lee is out with an unspecified injury; Davis would likely be a starter if healthy, and Lee would be heavily in the rotation. That leaves Vanderbilt with a pretty iffy defensive front, though Malik Langham is a breakout candidate in the middle of the line, and true freshmen Agu and Diakite could be factors (as could Yilanan Outtara, who’s not listed here.)


Starter: Anfernee Orji, 6’2”/230 Sr., Rockwall, TX; De’Rickey Wright, 6’4”/230 R-So., Gadsden, AL (Anchor)

Backup: Errington Truesdell, 6’1”/228 So., Duluth, GA; C.J. Taylor, 6’1”/201 So., McMinnville, TN (Anchor)

The dreaded “or” designation: Ethan Barr, 6’3”/245 Jr., Flower Mound, TX OR Kane Patterson, 6’1”/234 Sr., Nashville, TN

This, again, is one of Vanderbilt’s strongest position groups, with Orji and Wright being probably two of Vanderbilt’s best defensive players and Truesdell and Taylor both looking like capable backups. Meantime, the situation at the other linebacker spot is so good that Clark Lea isn’t naming a starter between Ethan Barr and Kane Patterson; this is a situation where both of them are going to play a lot and it’s reasonable to list them as co-starters as opposed to the Derek Mason thing where he just didn’t want to let the other team’s coach know who the starter was.


Starters: B.J. Anderson, 6’1”/195 R-Sr., Andalusia, AL; Tyson Russell, 5’11”/187 So., Plantation, FL

Backups: Jeremy Lucien, 6’2”/200 R-Sr., Moore Township, PA; Justin Harris, 6’1”/200 R-Jr., Attalla, AL

Third string: Trudell Berry, 6’1”/182 Fr., Baytown, TX; Jeffrey Ugochukwu, 6’1”/190 Fr., Richmond, TX

The surprise here is B.J. Anderson beating out highly-touted UConn transfer Jeremy Lucien for a starting spot; that seems to be more about Anderson having a good camp than anything regarding Lucien, who I still expect to play. Berry and Ugochukwu are highly-regarded true freshmen who are the future here, though earning playing time in this group will be tough.


Starters: Jaylen Mahoney, 5’11”/195 Sr., Rock Hill, SC; Maxwell Worship, 6’1”/210 R-Sr., Coral Springs, FL

Backups: John Howse IV, 6’2”/195 R-Fr., Nashville, TN; Steven Sannieniola, 6’2’/183 Fr., Bowie, MD

Third string: Marlen Sewell, 6’1”/192 R-Fr., Birmingham, AL; Chase Lloyd, 6’2”/208 Jr., Atlanta, GA

Another spot where I like the depth: Sewell is a guy with a lot of upside, and Lloyd played in all 12 games last season, and those are the third-stringers (technically Lloyd has an “or” designation with Sannieniola.) As far as the starters, Worship was basically set in stone after he decided to return for a fifth year, and Mahoney has played mostly the nickel spot in the past.

Special Teams

Kicker: Joseph Bulovas, 6’0”/215 R-Sr., Mandeville, LA; Will Faris, 6’1”/158 R-Fr., Dallas, TX

Punter: Matthew Hayball, 6’1”/182 R-Sr., West Adelaide, Australia; Jared Wheatley, 6’1”/196 R-Jr., Indian Trail, NC

Long snapper: Wesley Schelling, 6’5”/235 R-So., Nashville, TN; Hayden Cate, 6’5”/230 Fr., Carmel, IN

Kick returner: Jayden McGowan; Ray Davis

Punt returner: Will Sheppard; Jayden McGowan

Absolutely zero surprises here. From all reports, Hayball, a grad transfer from Florida Atlantic, is an excellent punter, and Bulovas is a solid kicker. Wesley Schelling seems to be a good long snapper, and I’d expected McGowan to handle returns.