Vanderbilt trio make the commodores an intriguing watch in 2019
Vanderbilt fans know college football is endemically unfair. Unlike in the NFL there is little chance of going from worst to first any time soon. As money pours into big time programs, see LSU’s new facilities, the gap widens. As seen with Nick Saban’s Alabama, the recruiting process is a free for all where the top 25 teams regularly haul in a string of 5 star players who don’t see the field straight away.
It's a tough life in the SEC
Life is particularly rough in the SEC. One of college football toughest divisions features teams who will pound the ball, those who will air it out and more often than not have elite defenses to back them up.
Of the 14 members in the division five have failed to win the conference. One of those teams is Vanderbilt. Based in Nashville, the program is surrounded by some of the biggest names in CFB. Bordering Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi the state is surrounded and Vandy remains below in-state rival Tennessee in the pecking order, despite their recent poor performances.
Since 2009, Vanderbilt have only had two winning seasons. Both under the stewardship of now Penn State head coach James Franklin. Current incumbent Derek Mason has only managed two 6-6 seasons in his first five seasons, both leading to bowl losses.
So, what is the M.O. for this Vanderbilt team? Winning the SEC is ultimately an unrealistic target, as with numerous colleges. Being part of the National Championship conversation is a mere pipe dream. For the Commodores there are three main goals:
- Become bowl eligible. Making it to a bowl game is great exposure for the program.
- Make a splash. Vanderbilt will be looking to take down one or two big names in the SEC.
- Get players drafted high. What better way to convince prospective recruits to come to Vandy than show them examples of players who make it to the highest level.
Point 3 is particularly relevant in 2019. Vandy have 3 players on offense alone that if their form continues should be drafted next April. Let’s take a closer look:
Ke’Shawn Vaughn - Running Back
Vaughan featured in our Running Back lookout list after a breakout season in 2018. After sitting out 2017 following his transfer from Illinois, Vaughan averaged 7.9 yards per carry, totalling 1414 yards from scrimmage.
He is a big play machine. Once he breaks loose in the second level he displays exceptional speed and a finishing instinct. In Vanderbilt’s bowl game vs Baylor, Vaughn broke loose for TDs of 68 and 69 yards. His first run, below, shows that when the gap opens he has the vision and long speed to breeze by the safety on his way to the house:
However, at 5’10 and 215lbs, Vaughn isn’t one dimensional, he has the physical attributes needed to succeed at the next level. On this toss play on 3rd down and 4, Vaughn ends up at his own 28 yard line needing to get to the 42. He has the ability to bowl over defenders and keep the drive alive:
In this final clip, we see a combination of the two. Vaughn uses his strength to get into the openfield and makes it all the way to the one yard line. Keeping his balance down the sideline, he is unlucky not to get the score:
Kalija Lipscomb - Wide Receiver
Lipscomb led Vanderbilt in receiving yards (916) and touchdowns (9) in 2018. At 6’1, 200lb he doesn’t project as a big bodied, physical receiver in the NFL. His value would likely be as a Z receiver or operating from the slot. Key to this is being able to find soft spots in the defense and keep hold of the ball in spite of linebackers bearing down.
In this clip, Lipscomb runs the drag route, something you see him do regularly. He has the speed and savvy to find the soft zone against the linebacker. Then, he shows the grit to hold tight and absorb the hit of the middle ‘backer who spots the pass and goes for the hit to jar the ball loose. Lipscomb’s physicality belies his average height for the position:
Next up we have a good example of Lipscomb in the slot role. This could be the easiest way to make a pro roster initially. Creating separation in the redzone is a key trait and Lipscomb shows he has the ability to do that. Lined up against the safety in off coverage, Lipscomb dips the inside shoulder to unbalance the defender before cutting to his out route, leaving him wide open for the TD:
Finally, we see Lipscomb with ball in hand on the Jet Sweep. He is shifty without having blazing speed. Patience and vision allow him to make it all the way for the first down before throwing off the defender at the end. Lipscomb might not break off big runs in this fashion but his desire to get to the marker make him a good option as a runner in addition to his receiving ability:
Jared Pinkney - Tight End
The final piece in the Vanderbilt offensive jigsaw is tight end Jared Pinkney. At 6’5 and 255lbs he has prototypical size for the position. In the modern day NFL the tight end position is one that is changing. It is important for them to possess speed and the ability to be a deep threat while being physical enough to hold up in protection.
Pinkney shows his versatility often for the Commodores. They use him as an inline tight end, split out in the slot and even as a de facto wide receiver. In the below clip, he shows his ability to stretch the defense as he works the middle of the field. At the end he flashes the athleticism to stretch out and make the catch, with surprising ease given his size:
With the NFL asking more of the position each year, being an effective deep threat is extremely valuable. Below, Pinkney shows his ability to work the seam before breaking his route to the outside, finding the soft spot in the coverage, and making the catch. He displays excellent ball tracking to take the catch over his shoulder, bringing it in at the highest point:
Finally, despite the emphasis on blocking being reduced for tight ends, it is not forgotten. Draftniks and scouts were mightily impressed in this year’s cycle by TJ Hockenson’s physicality as a blocker. Pinkney doesn’t possess the same edge in this area and rather than being dominant is best described as adequate. However, in the below clip, he pulls around and seals off Khalid Kareem, the highly touted defensive end from Notre Dame. The block springs the outside lane for his back to cut out into open space:
All things considered Pinkney is a well rounded prospect who can be a game-changing pass catcher.
The season ahead
With so much offensive talent at Vanderbilt’s disposal, the pressure will be on Ball State transfer QB Riley Neal. The Commodores have a balanced attack with Vaughn anchoring the running game and two receiving talents like Lipscomb and Pinkney. Although it’s unlikely they can challenge for the SEC, they should end up with three draftable prospects. That will go a long way to encouraging future recruits that Vanderbilt is a legitimate developer of NFL talent, something that will hopefully secure a successful future for the program.