For those stuck in a cave recently, the Vanderbilt Commodores aren’t the SEC‘s doormat anymore. Coming off their second straight bowl bid and a 9-win season, the ‘Dores entered the 2013 season with as much hype as they’ve ever had, and with many intriguing pro prospects.
Granted, this team won’t rival some of their powerhouse conference rivals yet in terms of acquiring and developing first-round talent, but they’ve got a lot of talent, especially in the receiving corps.
It all starts with wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The 6-foot 3, 205-pound Matthews is one of the most recognized receivers in the country after erupting during his junior season last year to the tune of 94 receptions for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns, good for first-team All-SEC. No, he’s not going to turn in lightning times on his 40-yard dash, but it’s not absolutely necessary to have elite straight-line speed to excel in the NFL (just ask Matthew’s cousin, Jerry Rice).
Matthew’s real strength is his hands and route-running. He’s got great body control, is a good leaper, is fluid in his breaks and is a tough guy. If his first game (two days ago against Ole Miss) was any indication (10 receptions, 178 yards and a TD), Matthews is going to continue building off last year’s success and solidify his rating as an easy first-round talent.
I wasn’t lying when I said there’s talent in the receiving corps, because the second ranked prospect after Matthews is fellow receiver Chris Boyd. Boyd is another big receiver at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and like Matthews, he isn’t a track star (projected 4.57 40-yard dash). Still, he’s been a big-play machine for the ‘Dores the last two years, averaging 15.4 yards per reception with 13 touchdowns. Still a junior, Boyd has possibly an even higher ceiling than Matthews.
While Boyd is long on talent, he’s also long on controversy. No, I’m not calling him a diva like Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens, but he’s got some serious problems right now with ‘Johnny Law’. Boyd is one of five Vandy players indicted on alleged rape charges (classy, huh?). Allegedly, Boyd gave one of the rapists advice on how to cover it all up, and has since been indefinitely suspended, while the other four players have been kicked off the team.
Needless to say, this isn’t helping his draft stock.
Free safety Kenny Ladler has been overshadowed a bit with the other physical safeties in the SEC, but he’s as reliable as they come. Entering his fourth consecutive year as a starter, Ladler quietly had a phenomenal season in 2012 with 90 tackles, two picks, a sack and a forced fumble. He’s a consistent wrap-up tackler but can also lay the wood, and is a good center fielder playing off the quarterback.
Ladler’s looking like a fourth to fifth-round prospect at this point, but could very easily raise his stock with another strong season.
Cornerback Andre Hal and offensive tackle Wes Johnson are next in line. Both of them have a ton of experience and have been instrumental in helping change the losing culture in Nashville. Both are fringe late-round prospects, so they’ll have a ton of incentives this fall.
These are just a few of the top pro prospects at Vandy. Normally, they’d have just one or two, but now they have 5-6 guys that are legitimate NFL-caliber prospects. What’s scarier is that this is only the beginning. The way coach James Franklin is recruiting, I’ll expect a lot more Commodores being called on Draft Day in the future.