Thursday, June 19, 2014
Second-year stars: Vanderbilt
By Edward Aschoff
A lot is new for Vanderbilt this season, which means there's a chance for some of the younger guys to earn their stripes in Nashville this fall.
The Commodores watched only three true freshmen play in 2013, so there's plenty of room -- and field space -- for these guys to improve in 2014. With Derek Mason now in charge, no position will be safe.
Jordan Cunningham has the most receptions of any returning Vanderbilt receiver.
Class recap: Former Vandy coach James Franklin made plenty of waves throughout the recruiting world with some solid hauls during his three years with the Dores. His 2013 class was the nation's No. 22-ranked class that included 26 signees. Five of those signees were ESPN 300 members. The Commodores signed three ESPN 300 wide receivers and the nation's No. 1 junior college tight end in Brandon Vandenburg. However, Vandenburg was dismissed before ever playing a down after he was one of four players dismissed from the team amid sex crimes investigation last summer.
Recruiting stock: Cunningham was Vandy's top-rated recruit in the 2013 class. He was ranked as the 13th-best receiver nationally and received attention from a plethora of schools nationwide. He held nearly 50 offers and was courted by SEC powers Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native eventually chose Vandy over Florida State, Miami and Stanford.
2013 in review: Cunningham played in all 13 games last fall, earning his first-career start at South Carolina. He also ranked third on Vandy's team with 15 catches for 123 yards. While Cunningham didn't make it into the end zone last season, and his longest reception was just 14 yards, he showed flashes of being a big target for whichever quarterback takes over for the Commodores this fall. In Vandy's win over Austin Peay, Cunningham led all receivers with seven catches for 67 yards.
2014 potential: With Jordan Matthews gone, the quarterback situation far from settled, and the Commodores looking for anyone to step up at wide receiver, Cunningham will be given plenty of opportunities to be the go-to guy. His 15 receptions from last season are actually the most of any player coming back for Vandy, so there's inexperience all around him. Cunningham has the big-play ability to be a real game-changer. He has solid speed and isn't afraid to make plays over the middle with his size. He'll need some help in order avoid constant double teams, but Cunningham possess the athleticism to create his own space.
Also watch for: As mentioned earlier, Vandy is still trying to figure out its quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary was in the thick of the competition with redshirt sophomore Patton Robinette, who saw plenty of time last fall. The thing that makes McCrary an exciting player to watch is his size (6-4, 222 pounds) and his athleticism. Redshirt freshman running back Ralph Webb could be a very solid player for the Commodores this fall. He'll share carries with vets Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour, but the coaches were pleased with his play this spring, and he could be a budding star for the Dores. Redshirt freshman linebacker Nigel Bowden has a chance to get a good amount of reps and has the makings of a breakout player. Another redshirt freshman with plenty of upside is defensive tackle Jay Woods, who was one of Vandy's top signees from the 2013 class.