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College Football Season Over Mail Bag: Should the Vandy Test be Applied when Drafting SEC QBs?

Bonus mail bag!

Vanderbilt v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

So other than basketball (note that by just typing “basketball” you have now been blocked by Stack on Twitter), and eventually baseball season previews (Andrew’s note: I’m getting to them... season starts on February 17th; next week, I will start the position previews; pre-season mail bag to follow), there’s not a lot to talk about over here at Anchor of Gold dot com.

...until Tuesday, when Tom raised a point I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while.

*Note: See our End of Season Mail Bag for Vanderbilt football specific content, if that’s what you clicked on this post for.

Question from Andrew VU ‘04:

Two Parter:

1) Do Will Levis and Anthony Richardson suck (and were their poor performances against Vanderbilt in 2022 harbingers of doom for their NFL prospects), or did they just suck against us?

2) *See tweet above: Can you remember a top draft prospect at QB getting housed by Vandy, but being successful in the NFL? Like... ever?

In other words, should NFL scouting departments use (and appropriately weight) “The Vandy Test” when thinking about drafting SEC QBs?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Will Levis and Anthony Richardson are two different types of prospects with two different types of games against Vandy, and I’d be much more concerned about Levis than Richardson. Levis is the “one of these things is not like the others” of the four purported first-round quarterbacks in this class, the outlier among Richardson, Stroud, and Young whose inclusion in that group is for possibly unsavory reasons, the guy who’s 6’3” and 220 with a good arm and let’s say limited mobility. The Texans will probably draft him at #2 because they’re the Texans, and they will be back here in three years.

With Richardson, on the other hand, you’re not supposed to be paying attention to where he is now because his inclusion in the first round is because of upside and not because he’s a good quarterback now, but also, he wasn’t bad against Vandy. Florida lost that game because of shit like, well, a muffed punt that got recovered by Vanderbilt’s long snapper. But you know you’re taking a risk when you draft Richardson and the reason someone will be dumb enough to do that in the first round instead of on day two is because the modern NFL has decided that if you don’t have a franchise quarterback, then you just have to draft a quarterback in the first round regardless of whether the guy actually merits that selection.

But anyway, I will point you to one Peyton Williams Manning, who while he beat Vanderbilt four straight years, stunk up the joint against Woody Widenhofer’s defenses in the last three years of college ball. Vanderbilt lost those games because they scored a grand total of 24 points against Tennessee in Peyton’s four years of college and not because of anything Peyton did against the Vanderbilt defense. Woodyball, everyone! And that’s basically it, because there have been shockingly few good NFL quarterbacks who have come through the SEC East within my memory and even fewer who struggled against Vandy.

Andrew VU ‘04: First, I’m planting my flag firmly in the “Levis and Richardson suck and will be NFL busts” camp. In fact, I’m a counselor at the “Levis and Richardson suck and will be NFL busts” camp. I’m bringing the marshmallows so we can make some mo-freaking s’mores and teaching you bastards archery (someone else will have to bring the bug juice). I’ve watched two full seasons of them suck ass (Levis) or be toolsy but unpolished (Richardson,) but still be told they’re great prospects. Frankly, it’s annoying. I just don’t see it. I call bullshit.

Save for the Trent Dilfer Ravens team (and also the Joe Flacco Ravens team... so maybe just take the Ravens out of this discussion), the NFL is a league where you need a franchise quarterback to have a chance at winning a title. Second, there just aren’t that many true franchise QB talents out there, so teams will often elevate a QB prospect on their draft board simply due to the importance of the position. I get that. Still, ask the Jets what happens to your franchise when you continually get your evaluations on that position wrong. Or the Panthers. Or the Washington Football team. Or...

We’re hearing a lot of Levis and Richardson in the top 10 talk now, and further, it boggles my mind how much “Levis as the top QB drafted” talk I’m seeing. Doing either of those things would be potentially disastrous for an NFL franchise (so yeah, Oakland is definitely doing this, and possibly Carolina and/or Houston, as they are disastrous NFL franchises). I see the “It Factor” with neither of them.

Both Levis and Richardson appear to me to be cases of the “reminds me of” syndrome that leads to Mitch Trubisky/Jake Locker/JaMarcus Russell traits over performance types getting drafted crazy high and Lamar Jackson/Russell Wilson/Jalen Hurts types falling. No, I’m not going to include Tom Brady in the latter category, as he split reps at Michigan, and then made a deal with the devil after the 2000 draft. Prove me wrong.

Levis Originalists (let’s call them 501s) look at Levis and see Josh Allen, as both are large, strong armed, fleet of foot, raw coming out of college QBs.

Richardsonians, on the other hand, see RGIII (pre-injury), Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, or Randall Cunningham (if Cunningham’s college coaches weren’t racist and thereby let him have reps at QB and not just punter). Players like Jackson, Griffin, and Cunningham (and potentially Fields if it all comes together) are/were just otherworldly athletes and competitors. Richardson seems like more of a toolsy athlete, and, well, I don’t exactly see the competitive fire in him I saw from the names listed above.

This is an extremely common error for front offices/coaches/scouts to make, but just because it’s common does not make it a good decision. Even the best to ever do it college baseball coach Tim Corbin once made such a mistake when he saw another Tony Kemp in Ro Coleman.

Scouts must see what’s there currently, see the potential ceilings/floors, and make sure they’re not looking through rose colored glasses. GMs often go against scouts’ advice and harm a lot of careers in the process. Scouts also can be fooled or overly optimistic, of course, too.

Of course, this all comes with the caveat that at this time last year (and heck, pretty much leading up to draft day), flawed prospects like Malik Willis, Matt Corral, and Kenny Pickett were getting talked up as top 10 draft picks (Picket would go late in the 1st to Pittsburgh, and the other two would go in the 3rd round to the Titans and Sex Panthers, respectively). That was mostly because last year’s draft class was effectively bereft of difference makers at QB, but still, this type of thing happens with the QB position for reasons outlined above. Desmond Ridder would also go in the 3rd round to the Falcons, and was getting late 1st round hype late in the draft process.

Ask any of those four teams if they would even have drafted those players in the spots they drafted them last year now (you know, after administering a truth serum of sorts), and maybe the Panthers would still say yes, as Corral got hurt early enough to give them the “we haven’t seen enough yet” optimism thing. Willis looks like he’s just not an NFL QB (not even a backup), Ridder looks like if “meh” became a quarterback, and Pickett looks more like a 3rd round flier prospect who can carve out a career than ranges from long term backup to Kirk “Clip Coupons” Cousins style “good enough to win with, but not good enough to put the team on his back QB.”

As for question #2, I will grant the “Peyton Manning was not good against us” take Tom has (which is, of course, true). Of course, his teams still did beat us pretty soundly. (Ed. note: this is verifiably false, the scores of Peyton vs. Woodyball were 12-7, 14-7, and 17-10.) And could have likely done so without a QB at all in some of those games.

Still, generally speaking, if a team has a legit NFL franchise QB on their roster, they are going to carve us up like so much Christmas Goose. Joe Burrow made us look silly, as did Bryce Young this year. Eli Manning? Yup. We didn’t play Auburn in 2010, but you can’t tell me Cam Newton would not have just eaten our lunch.

Levis and Richardson, though? You make the call.

2022: Levis went 11-23 for 109 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. He ran 6 times for 7 yards. We beat UK 24-21.

2021: Levis went 14-22 for 177 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. He ran 6 times for 41 yards. They beat us 34-17 when we were in a Year Zero Rebuild.

2022: Richardson went 25-42 for 400 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT. We beat UF 31-24. He ran 4 times for 25 yards. Though that line looks good, our secondary was hot trash for most of the year.

2021: Richardson went 4-6 for 25 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. He also ran 5 times for 12 yards. They boat-raced us 42-0, but not because of Richardson.

*Note: I just looked up Matthew Stafford’s career stats against Vandy, and I may need to re-think my entire argument here...