If you just look at the yards per carry that Vanderbilt allowed on the ground last season — 5.6 — and the fact that Vanderbilt’s defense only notched nine quarterback sacks all year, it’s clear that the defensive line was a work in progress the first year.
The good news, such as it is, is that a lot of the key contributors from last season are back. The better news is that Clark Lea’s recruiting really focused on this portion of the defense, to the point that I feel pretty confident that it will get better in time. But for now, hoo boy is this unit a question mark entering the 2022 season. Let’s talk about it.
Malik Langham, redshirt senior: Langham is one of Vanderbilt’s most experienced players on the defensive line, and at 6’5” and 308 pounds, he’s also the only player listed at over 300 pounds on the roster. That’s a decent indication that there’s potential to be better than he’s been in his two prior years playing at Vanderbilt (his first year at VU saw him sit out after transferring from Florida, back when sitting out as a transfer was still a thing), but 2021 was the first time he really showed that, with three starts and two tackles for loss. He’ll probably be a starter at defensive tackle this season.
Myles Cecil, sixth-year senior: Clark Lea made a rare transfer portal acquisition for experience on the defensive line in the form of Cecil, a 6’3”, 290-pound transfer from Cal Poly, where he was a third-team All-Big Sky selection at defensive tackle. At the very least, he’ll be depth, and he has the size of an SEC defensive lineman.
Elijah McAllister, redshirt senior: Like Langham, McAllister has always felt like a guy who has a lot of potential but that hasn’t really translated into production — and also like Langham, that’s had quite a bit to do with injuries, which caused him to miss the 2020 season. Healthy in 2021, McAllister started two games and had a sack and an interception. And he has good size at 6’6” and 265 pounds.
Nate Clifton, redshirt junior: Clifton turned into one of the most consistent Commodores on the defensive line in his third year in the program, starting ten games and posting the most total tackles of any defensive lineman with 35, though havoc plays were rare for the 6’5”, 280-pound Clifton with only one tackle for loss. At the very least, he’ll be in the rotation on the line.
Christian James, redshirt junior: James, a 6’4”, 275-pound end in his fourth year out of Christian Brothers (BOO PURPLE WAVE) in Memphis, has turned into a solid contributor on the defensive line, starting three games and notching 23 tackles last season.
The Question Marks
Daevion Davis, senior: The 6’2”, 285-pound Davis has been a solid contributor for Vanderbilt at defensive tackle for three years; on the other hand, Davis tore his ACL last November and it’s an open question whether he’ll play this season. If he does play, he’s at the very least going to be in Vanderbilt’s rotation at defensive tackle.
Brayden Bapst, redshirt junior: Vanderbilt has yet to figure out what to do with the 6’8”, 270-pound Bapst, who was recruited to play offensive tackle, transitioned to tight end last season (which he played in high school), and now is listed as a defensive lineman. I’m guessing the switch from tight end to offensive tackle didn’t take, and they’re trying to figure out how to get something out of him.
Michael Spencer, redshirt sophomore: The rare walk-on who merits a mention in the position preview, Spencer at least is an SEC-sized defensive lineman at 6’4” and 285 pounds, and he appeared in eleven games last season. The question is whether he’ll find a role with all the incoming depth here.
Kevo Wesley, redshirt sophomore: The 6’4”, 295-pound Wesley was seen as Vanderbilt’s center of the future when he was recruited... and then he lost that job to Julian Hernandez. Now, Vanderbilt appears to be trying to salvage something him by switching him to the defensive line, where he’s presumably a tackle.
Devin Lee, sophomore: The 6’3”, 285-pound Lee blew right through a redshirt year, playing in seven games and even earning a start as a true freshman. Reports coming out of fall camp indicate that he’s dealing with an injury, though it’s not clear whether that will impact his ability to contribute in 2022.
Tyler Bence, redshirt freshman: Bence was recruited to play defensive tackle, but even after a year in the weight room (and not appearing in a game), he’s listed at 6’3” and 256 pounds... which is still about 30 pounds too light to play defensive tackle in the SEC.
Yilanan Outtara, freshman: As parlagi noted in the comments the other day, Nick Howell was visibly excited about the 6’7”, 280-pound product of Cologne, Germany, in an otherwise “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” media availability the other day. The size and potential are obvious; he’s also relatively new to football. Also, I’m just using this all as an excuse to drop a video from a different product of Cologne, Germany, because this is Anchor of Gold and this is the bullshit you have to put up with.
Linus Zunk, freshman: Ah, fuck it, let’s turn this into a German party.
Bradley Mann, freshman: While Outtara is from Cologne and Zunk is from Berlin, Mann is from... Jacksonville. Sorry.