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2023 Vanderbilt Football Position Preview: Quarterback

Vanderbilt enters the season with two quarterbacks with starting experience, a rarity.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

After the 2022 season, there was a lot of teeth-gnashing about the loss of Mike Wright, who started six games last season (including four of Vanderbilt’s five wins) and also came on in relief of an injured A.J. Swann on two more occasions. There was also the predictably stupid take from local sports radio jock and Ramon Foster sidekick Will Boling:

Of course I got pushback for disagreeing with this line of thinking, and it’s also super telling that Wright transferred to Mississippi State — where Will Rogers seems to have the starting job on lockdown. Because, really, Wright had to have seen the writing on the wall after getting yanked — twice — during bad performances against Wake Forest and Tennessee. The reality is that AJ Swann — the true freshman who subbed in for Wright in those games, and started six straight games before an apparent injury — is just better. It’s true that Wright’s statistics were better, but (a) Wright’s numbers were inflated by shredding Hawaii and Elon, and (b) Swann was a true freshman.

In other words, I think this was the right call. The even better news is that Vanderbilt got a pleasant surprise in who didn’t enter the transfer portal, so depth won’t be an issue. Sure, that was true last season — but before that, to find the last time Vanderbilt entered a season with two quarterbacks on the roster with non-trivial Division I starting experience, you’d have to go back to 2012 when two-year Wyoming starter Austyn Carta-Samuels was backing up Jordan Rodgers.

AJ Swann, sophomore: As noted above, Swann took over prior to the Northern Illinois game after coming on in relief of Wright the previous week against Wake Forest, and seemingly claimed the starting job for the foreseeable future by throwing for 255 yards and four touchdowns against the Huskies. Things weren’t exactly smooth the rest of the way: he had rough outings against Alabama and Georgia (as you’d have probably expected), he got pulled from the Missouri and South Carolina games with apparent injuries and missed both the Kentucky and Florida games (Vanderbilt wins.) Then he weirdly came off the bench in the Tennessee game — weird because, if he was available, it was strange that he didn’t start.

Still, he finished the season having completed 115 of 198 passes for 1274 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. That’s fine for a true freshman. He’s showing up 14th on pretty much every “ranking of SEC quarterbacks” post that I’ve seen, because apparently nobody watched Missouri’s Brady Cook or Auburn’s Robby Ashford last season. He goes into fall camp as the presumptive starter — and I really don’t see why he wouldn’t be the starter all season assuming health.

Ken Seals, redshirt junior: The surprise is that Seals, Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback in 2020 and for seven games in 2021, is still in the program. I think we’d all pretty much assumed that he would enter the transfer portal after he didn’t play at all in 2022, though I think there were a couple of factors at play: for one, he’ll still have two years to play after this season thanks to the COVID bonus year, and for another thing, Wright’s departure might have made staying around as Swann’s backup more palatable.

Seals did perfectly fine as the starter as a true freshman in 2020. I don’t know what the hell happened in 2021 — was it a finger injury, a new offensive system? — but he’d lost the starting job by the end of the season either way. I don’t know what he would give Vanderbilt if he were pressed into action, but having a backup quarterback who’s started 16 games in the SEC is much, much better than having a complete unknown.

Drew Dickey, redshirt freshman: Of the two guys who didn’t play as true freshmen last season, Dickey came in as the more polished guy who might have less upside, but was more of a high-floor option who’d at least make a passable backup down the road.

Walter Taylor, redshirt freshman: Whereas Taylor, a lefty who’s listed at 6’6” and 235 pounds, was the high-upside guy. Taylor looked impressive in the spring game — but then, he’d supposedly had a bad spring prior to that. I am mildly interested in who Vanderbilt would go with between Dickey and Taylor should the first two quarterbacks not be available. I am also hoping that we do not have to find out the answer to this.