I love the SEC and Saturday’s in the southeast during college football season. There is no better conference in America when it comes to college football than the SEC. The rich tradition of the league and the list of stars that have come from this league that changed the game of football and the way that it was played and coached.
Let’s kick this off with a little run-through of some of those names. The coaches are legendary, from Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Pat Dye, and Johnny Majors to Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, this conference has seen coaches that changed the game forever.
Its player’s history is extremely rich too. From Peyton Manning to Herschel Walker, to Bo Jackson and Julio Jones, national championships and thousands of players that have moved on to play in the NFL. The prestige surrounding the conference is incredible, and it makes our Saturdays better in the long run of the fall and winter months.
Every season, there are NFL prospects lined up in large numbers looking to make an impact on the future NFL. The game that they love, that they have given so much for and pursued an almost impossible dream is becoming a reality for many of these players. This, to me, is one of the biggest things that really makes this game special.
Vanderbilt has been a part of the SEC since it’s conception in 1933. The school has never seen a level of sustained success, however, forever riding upon a roller-coaster of ups and downs. They’ve never won 10 games in a single season either. Vanderbilt has appeared in just six bowl games over the last twenty years.
Some notable players have crossed through the school and into professional ranks. Quarterback Jay Cutler was a star at the school before being drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Linebacker Zack Cunningham was the school’s most recent consensus All-American, the team’s first since 1984, who’s had a good career thus far in the NFL.
What Vanderbilt lost from last season
Vanderbilt posted their worst record under head coach Derek Mason last season since his first year with the program, winning just 3 games in 2019.
The offense lost is the key phrase to speak about. The team lost its graduate transfer quarterback, Riley Neal, who played the majority of the season, alongside their leading rusher (Ke’Shawn Vaughn), leading receiver (Kalija Lipscomb), and starting tight end (Jared Pinkney).
Only Vaughn would hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft, selected as a 3rd round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Vanderbilt isn’t exactly a flourishing school full of NFL talent. The last first round talent that the school produced was offensive tackle Chris Williams in 2008, who was selected 14th overall by the Chicago Bears and started 57 NFL games. It’s a school that usually puts at least one prospect into the NFL Draft, but any more than two in a single season is considered an excellent year.
The prospects this season
That all being said, this is still an SEC school that demands respect from mid-level teams across the country. History tells us not to overlook this school because of that fact, and their extraordinary ability to surprisingly win games that they weren’t supposed to.
Here are the six prospects in the school that you should know about.
OT Bryce Bailey (Rs-Jr)
#78 | 6’4″ | 300 lbs | Castle (Newburgh, Indiana)
Vanderbilt really likes Bryce Bailey who enters his first full season as a starter. He started at left guard against Georgia and LSU last season, and also made a start as a tight end against Missouri. In other words, Bailey is both strong and athletic and just doesn’t have the reps yet.
Considering the lack of snaps he’s played in his collegiate career, Bailey is surprisingly sturdy, especially in his pass sets. His hand placement and anchor is outstanding, something that you’re not used to seeing against good opponents.
I definitely think that Bailey can play a little bit too high sometimes, but that being said, he’s got a lot of potential. I’m really excited to revisit this guy once he gets some more repetition under his belt, and see if he held up through a full season.
Grade: Project (Uncertain Future).
IOL Cole Clemens (Sr)
#74 | 6’5″ | 310 lbs | Bingham (South Jordan, Utah)
A two-year starter at right guard, Cole Clemens has been part of the Vanderbilt power package since he was a true freshman in 2017, appearing in five games that season. The Vanderbilt offense saw to their “prolific offense” (by Vanderbilt standards) in 2018 and used Clemens as the power piece on the right side. He missed the final 3 games of the 2019 season due to an injury sustained in the loss to Kentucky.
Clemens is a powerful run blocker. He’s the strongest man on this offensive line and will demand a lot of attention because of that fact. He played both tackle and guard in college, but the reality is that he cannot play offensive tackle in the NFL simply because he’s not fast enough.
If he learns to play lower this year, I will be able to take him seriously as a very good prospect. For now, however, Clemens has some work to do before he can really impact a game, especially in his passing sets.
Grade: Future Impact (Back-up 2+ Years)
IOL Grant Miller (Rs-Jr)
#63 | 6’2″ | 290 lbs | St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Grant Miller is the best offensive lineman in this group. He shows good hand placement and is very quick and savvy in the trenches. He’s quick and agile and can be effective as both a pass protector and a run blocker. His work as a center on the team certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
That being said, Miller appears to lack the core strength to truly be consistent on the offensive line. His consistency isn’t there, as he will often miss with his hand placement or miss-step while dropping into his anchor and pass set. While he is quick, he doesn’t have the pure strength to make up for mistakes. Because he lacks the size currently, he can get rocked and controlled by bigger bodies even when he starts right.
Last season, Miller was a redshirt sophomore. He has a lot of time to learn how to get into his pass set, be more consistent with his footwork and his hand placement. I think we might see a good improvement from last year to this season, but it’s going to be an impending issue that the NFL will be watching for sure.
Grade: Future Impact (Back-up 2+ Years)
IDL Drew Birchmeier (Rs-Sr)
#91 | 6’3″ | 295 lbs | Cosby (Midlothian, Virginia)
When you look at Drew Birchmeier’s profile on the Vanderbilt football website, your first impression is this dude is a nerd. He has a pair of black circled glasses and was on both of the 2017 and 2018 SEC Academic Honor Rolls. Yes, he may look like a nerd, but he’s a big dude and he plays SEC football.
Now entering his third season as a starter, Birchmeier’s role had diminished significantly in the defense during his redshirt junior season last year. As a result, his production dropped and most analysts have written him off.
Birchmeier is a 1-tech or a 3-tech, and doesn’t offer much outside of those roles. He’s a gap penetrator, and scrappy at that. I think that he shows good explosion and good burst off of the line of scrimmage, but his trouble is sustaining power throughout his rep. He struggles to get offensive linemen into a back-pedal and keep them going. The reason for that? He starts low but tries to extend his body and push through the offensive lineman too early. His pad level increases as they absorb the move, and he get’s shut down and put under control.
Unfortunately for Birchmeier, gap penetrators aren’t a hot commodity in the NFL anymore. They want people who can demand respect and absorb double teams, and that’s not something that he does well. He lacks the intensity needed on double teams. Granted, there are some interesting things there, but Birchmeier is a long ways away from amounting to much of anything in the NFL.
Grade: Low Priority (UDFA).
DL Dayo Odeyingbo (Sr)
#10 | 6’5″ | 270 lbs | Carrolton Ranchview (Irving, Texas)
Dayo Odenyingbo is already a two-year starter, now having 21 starts on his belt from the last two seasons. He’s been productive as a run stopper, compiling 16.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons (12 last year), but hasn’t been able to really get his pass-rushing set going.
The thing with Dayo is that he’s playing in a scheme that limits his real potential. Vanderbilt tries to unleash him by lining him up across the line, but he could be more of an effective weapon in a more 3-4 base set. Odeyingbo can line up across the offensive line, inside and outside, and is an effective defender in any tech-placement. He lacks real explosion and burst and is a bit more of a “lumbering” athlete than he is a real threat when making a run on the quarterback.
I can see Odeyingbo playing extremely well in a 3-4 system that flexes him and uses him to destroy lineman assignments pre-snap with a late shift. He’s going to be a real run defender in the NFL, but unless he makes some serious strides with his pass-rushing this season, he’s going to have a lot of work before he will have a chance at being a 3-down lineman.
Grade: Future Impact (Back-up 2+ years).
LB Dimitri Moore (Rs-Jr)
#7 | 6’2″ | 215 lbs | Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill, Texas)
An All-SEC Freshman in 2018, Moore is now entering his 3rd season as a starter for the Commodores, proving his worth as an on-ball linebacker. He’s started 19 games over two seasons and registered double-digit tackle totals in five SEC games (Florida in 2018, and Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky in 2019).
Moore is a tackler, a player who can impact the box on run downs with quick reaction and reflex. In fact, Moore led the team in tackles last season while placing 4th in the SEC in that category. The issue with him is that to me, he doesn’t have the athleticism to be a difference-maker as a pass defender. More times than not, he had blown coverage on a linebacker moving out of the backfield and is awkward as hell flipping his hips to turn upfield with a tight end.
To say the least, I was not much impressed with his performance against LSU.
Regardless, there is talent here, and if Moore can show better instincts off of the ball, his draft status will rise this season. However, the jump from year one to year two was almost non-existent, so you have to wonder if Moore has already hit his potential.
Grade: Future Impact (Back-up 2+ years)
Vanderbilt Commodores NFL Draft Projections
At this point, it’s always difficult to tell where people are going to go. The fact of the matter about this Vanderbilt team this season is that there isn’t much of a chance that these prospects will be impact starters for an NFL team at any point of their career.
I think the guy who will have the best career here: Grant Miller. He’s a solid, overall prospect and those types of players generally find a place in this league for several years. A long shot to also like is Bryce Bailey. If he shows consistency, he could be a guy who could rise tremendously.
Future Impact (2+ Years Back-up)
IOL Cole Clemens^
IOL Grant Miller^
EDGE Dayo Odeyingbo
LB Dimitri Moore^
Project (Uncertain Future)
OT Bryce Bailey^
Low Priority (UDFA)
IDL Drew Birchmeier
^Denotes that the prospect has more than a 50% chance of raising his grade during the 2020 season.