Vanderbilt fans, we are finally here! It’s been an extremely long wait, but it is officially game week Commodore nation! After a winless 2020 campaign filled with lots of disappointment, the Vanderbilt football program has a lot to prove for this season. The Commodores ultimately ended the season with an 0-9 record and were practically blown out of the water for the majority of the 2020 campaign. After an 0-8 start to the season, ultimately was enough for Athletic Director Candace Storey Lee and Chancellor Daniel Diermeier to pull the trigger and fire 7th-year Head Coach Derek Mason. This was a huge breath of fresh air for many Commodore fans. Since then, Vanderbilt hired Clark Lea to be the next Head Football coach here on West End. Notre Dame defensive coordinator and Nashville native, Clark Lea was hired as the 29th Head Coach for the Commodores back in mid December. One things for sure, the challenge won’t be easy for the first time Head Coach.
Though it’s very early on, it’s safe to say Clark Lea has done a very solid job at the helm of the football program. Coach Lea has spent the last 6-8 months bringing together a fabulous and unified coaching staff that has committed to bringing a new era and culture into Vanderbilt football that has never been shown before. It’s obvious the newly energized commitment is there from the coaching staff and athletic department (something we’ve hardly ever seen). Additionally, Coach Lea did an outstanding job on retaining the current 2021 commits that were originally bought in on Coach Mason. Keeping this recruiting class together on West End will have lots to show for in next few years displaying for fellow Commodore fans. This leads to one of Coach Lea’s biggest challenges early on in his Vanderbilt tenure. Rebuilding the roster which has been completed depleted in the last several months. With fall camp having wrapped up just this week, we will now take a further analysis on the 2021 Vanderbilt football depth chart before the season opener this Saturday (9/4) against ETSU.
Starter – Ken Seals
Backups – Mike Wright , Jeremy Moussa
Shouldn’t be too much of surprise here. Ken Seals was one of the few bright spots for the sluggish Commodore offense in 2020. Seals had a very impressive freshman season despite limited weapons at the receiver position and a shaky offense line at times. The Azle, Texas native passed for nearly 2,000 yards along side 12 Touchdowns and a 65% completion percentage. Don’t be surprised to see backup Quarterback Mike Wright in certain red zone/zone read offensive packages. Commodore fans saw this package be a success with Wright in the contest against Kentucky last season. Don’t expect to see a lot of JUCO product from Cali, QB Jeremy Moussa as he will serve as the third-string Quarterback for the Commodores in 2021.
Starter – Re’Mahn Davis
Backups – Rocko Griffin , Patrick Smith
Depth is a huge problem here for the Commodores this season. After losing leading rusher Keyon Henry-Brooks to the transfer portal earlier in the offseason and backup Ja’Veon Marlow leaving the team for unknown reasons, the Vanderbilt tailback room lost most of its experience and production from last season. This leaves a for a very young and inexperienced group for the running back room in 2021. Look for Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis to get the starting role and get the majority of the carries at tailback. Davis led the Owls in rushing yards the past two seasons before opting out four games into last season due to COVID-19. At Temple, Davis rushed for 1,244 yards and registered 9 Touchdowns for the Owls. Safe to say he will be the workhorse of this Vanderbilt rushing attack. After him, Vanderbilt severely needs someone to step up. Sophomore RB Rocko Griffin is the most likely option as a backup here. Although Griffin struggled to find his stride in 2020, it seems he is poised to have a breakout year for the Vanderbilt offense. A 1-2 punch of Davis and Griffin would massively help the success of Ken Seals and the Vanderbilt offense in 2021. Other options include Freshman RB’s Patrick Smith and Dylan Betts-Pauley battling to be the third option at tailback and add some depth behind the top tier workhorses. Freshman DB James Ziglor III may get a shot here as well. Reports have said Ziglor is currently taking Reps at tailback due to the lack of depth on the current roster. Story worth staying updated on.
Starter – Cam Johnson
Backups – Quincy Skinner Jr , Devin Boddie Jr.
Starter – Chris Pierce
Backups – Logan Kyle , Tyrell Alexander
Starter – Will Sheppard
Backups – Amir Abdur-Rahman , Gamarion Carter
The 1-2-3 starting trio at receiver will be a very fun and intriguing storyline to keep up with over the course of the 2021 campaign. The experience and talent is definitely there and it’s now gonna be about the production for the starting group. Chris Pierce opting to come back for a 5th year after the COVID free season of eligibility was certainly a huge plus for the Vanderbilt receiving corps. Redshirt Juniors Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman look to match Pierce’s production in 2020 as he arguably labeled himself as the top target for Ken Seals and the Commodore offense a season ago. Vanderbilt will need more than just the main guys, though. Commodore fans, don’t sleep on Sophomore WR Will Sheppard. The Louisiana native is on the come up and is looking to push for a starting role this season. Further down the depth chart, the supporting cast is very young and inexperienced. Look for guys like Freshman phenom Quincy Skinner Jr, redshirt SophomoreDevin Boddie Jr, and Oklahoma State transfer Tyrell Alexander to get most of the reps for the 2nd team. Young receivers like Logan Kyle and Gamarion Carter add more depth here. This is by far the most deep and talented position on Vanderbilt’s roster in my opinion.
Starter – Ben Bresnahan
Backups – Gavin Shoenwald , Justin Ball
The tight end position was dominated by one player last year and expect anything different for the 2021 season. Rising Senior Ben Bresnahan looks to have another impressive season as the Vanderbilt starting tight end. For Bresnahan, 2020 was a breakout season and really put up numbers no one expected. The Georgia native tallied 28 receptions for an even 300 yards and scored 4 touchdowns as one of Commodores main targets. Not only did he prove himself as a reliable receiver but also displayed himself in the running game as a solid edge blocker. Bresnahan looks to have an even better season in 2021 with a more experienced Quarterback under center. Look for Gavin Shoenwald and Justin Ball to add more depth at the tight end position. Both did see much action in 2020 due to Bresnahan’s presence in the Commodore offense. The success and production of the tight end position will obviously be heavy on the shoulders of Ben Bresnahan for this 2021 season.
Starter – Tyler Steen
Backup – Junior Uzebu
Starter – Cole Clemens
Backup – Dan Dawkins
Starter – Michael Warden
Backup- Kevo Wesley
Starter – Bryce Bailey
Backup – Ben Cox
Starter – Bradley Ashmore
Backup- Jonathan Stewart
It’s safe to say the 2020 season was a unfortunate and frustrating year for the offensive line. Weeks before the season opener a 4 potential starters decided they would opt out of the season due to COVID-19. These included Stephen Spanellis, Cole Clemens, Bryce Bailey, and Jonathan Stewart. The good news? Three of those four are returning for the 2021 campaign and all are certainly potential candidates to lead the Commodore offensive front. The tackle positions seem to be in good hands early on as Senior Tyler Steen and Sophomore Bradley Ashmore are two very impressive players that were vital to the offensive line a year ago. Both seem to be pencilled in starters for 2021. The interior is where the question marks begin to align. Even more so now that sixth year Senior Drew Birchmeier decided to leave the team right before fall camp. However, Cole Clemens seems very likely to be the starter at one of the guard positions based on the size and experience he has. Junior Dan Dawkins and Senior Bryce Bailey seem to be battling it out for the other starting guard position. Sophomore Ben Cox could also be another option there. Center is a huge question mark. After losing two year starter Grant Miller to the transfer portal, a huge gap remains unknown in the Commodore offensive front. Redshirt Freshman, Kevo Wesley, has a ton of potential to be a nice contributor in the near future snapping the football. Other options in the middle include Julian Hernandez and walk-on Michael Warden. Coach Blazek and staff desperately need someone to step up here. Overall, with the return of the opt-outs and adding a quality transfer in Junior Ubezu from West Virginia, this Offensive line seems to be in a much better spot than this time last year. Still lots of work and development to be accomplished from first year coach AJ Blazek.
DEFENSE (4 – 2 – 5)
Starter – Elijah McAllister
Backup – Nate Clifton
Starter – Daevion Davis
Backup – Derek Green , Marcus Bradley
Starter – Malik Langham
Backups – Raashaan Wilkins , Tank Sugick
Starter – Alex Williams
Backup – Christian James
It’s safe to say the defensive line was the strength of the Commodore defense a season ago. After losing edge rushers Dayo Odeybingo and Andre Mintze to the NFL draft, there are some big shoes to fill for this group in 2021. It all starts in the middle with Junior Daevion Davis, who is determined to have a very productive season for this defensive front. Throughout fall camp, the defensive side of the ball has been led by Davis and also emerging is redshirt Junior Elijah McAllister, who will be a huge asset on the edge. McAllister missed all of 2020 recovering from a torn ACL. Having him back at 100% will be a huge lift in getting constant pressure on opposing Quarterbacks. The supporting cast around these two will be severely important as well. Transfers Malik Langham (Florida), Alex Williams (Ohio Sate), and Derek Green (Oklahoma) will need to be solid from a productive and consistency standpoint. These guys staying active up front will give this position much more depth and will give the ability to throw multiple looks on opposing offenses over the course of the season. Senior Raashaan Wilkins along with key Freshman Marcus Bradley and Tank Sugick will add more depth on the interior for the Vanderbilt defensive line. Look for guys like Nate Clifton and Christian James to hear their names called on the edge throughout this season. This group has a chance to the strength of this team once again in 2021, but needs multiple guys to step up and replace the lost production from a season ago.
Starter – Ethan Barr
Backups – Alston Orji , Feleti Afemui
Starter – Anfernee Orji
Backup – Brayden DeVault-Smith
This group returns most of its production from a season ago. Losing Dimitri Moore to the transfer portal is just about the only notable loss here. If the Linebacker corps can stay healthy, expect to see some pretty noticeable improvements under new LB’s coach John Egorugwu. The leader and most talented of the position is no doubt Anfernee Orji. Expect to see big things from the Rockwall, Texas native, who has had a very impressive fall camp. The other spot for the most part seems to be in good hands as well. Expect another Texas native, Ethan Barr, to take my of the reps at the other Linebacker position. Barr was thrown into action a season ago due to multiple injuries and surprisingly played pretty well for a true freshman. Beyond these two, the Commodores have two-to-three pretty reliable and experienced bodies to add nice depth to this position. Fifth-year Seniors Feleti Afemui and Brayden DeVault-Smith along with Senior Alston Orji will also seek key roles in this brand new Vanderbilt 4-2-5 defense. Position worth keep an eye on over the course of the 2021 campaign.
Starter – De’Rickey Wright
Backup – Michael Owusu
Starter – Jaylen Mahoney
Backups – Allan George , John Howse IV
Starter – Gabe Jeudy-Lally
Backups – BJ Anderson , Tyson Russell
Starter – Dashaun Jerkins
Backups – Brendon Harris
Starter – Maxwell Worship
Backups – Chase Lloyd , Justin Harris
This was by far Vanderbilt’s weakest unit as a whole a season ago. After hiring former Ravens DB Coach Jesse Minter as the defensive coordinator, there seems to be some cautious optimism building around the potential of this group. Additionally, switching to a 4-2-5 defense has certainly seemed to benefit the defensive secondary through fall camp, which is a good sign. The leader and most talented of this group is Safety Dashaun Jerkins, in my opinion. As a Junior in 2020, Jerkins was third on the team with 45 total tackles, additionally caused two fumbles and recovered one. Expect even bigger things from the rising Senior in 2021. Maxwell Worship has emerged as a solid second option at the safety position. Also a senior, Worship brings a level of experience and leadership this Commodore defense desperately needs on the back end. Production out of these two would mean the world to the success of the defense early on. The same situation is in play for the Cornerbacks this season. The experience and leadership seems to be there, but it’s going to
take a bit more. This unit was pretty poor a season ago. Don’t expect there to be any definite starters heading into Week 1. Guys like fifth-year Senior Allan George, Sophomore Gabe Jeudy-Lally, and Juniors BJ Anderson and Jaylen Mahoney should lead this group as the season goes on. Freshmen Tyson Russell and John Howse IV very well could push for some early playing time, as this unit is not overwhelmingly deep. The new “Anchor” position under head coach Clark Lea’s new defense looks like it could very well be Sophomore De’Rickey Wright. The former 4-star recruit would be a huge lift to the Vanderbilt defense in 2021. This puts a wrap on the defensive side of the ball, expecting some significant improvements from a season ago.
Starter – Joseph Bulovas
Backups – Pierson Cooke , Jack Cardillo
It’s safe to say this position was a very interesting and historic one to say the least. After struggles and inconsistencies from Pierson Cooke and walk-on Wes Farley, the Commodores were scrambling for a starting place kicker. Well, we all know how this situation turned out. Vanderbilt women’s soccer goalie Sarah Fuller was called upon to kick for the football team and later became the first female ever to take a snap in a Power 5 collegiate football game. Clark Lea quickly erased most of the concerns of the kicking duties for the 2021 season. Former Alabama place kicker and two-year starter, Joseph Bulovas, announced he was transferring to Vanderbilt back in early February. In 2019, Bulovas was 8/11 on FG attempts and made a long of 43 yards. Bulovas seems to be the likely candidate to be the starting place kicker for the Commodores in 2021 as the depth chart is solid as of now. Vanderbilt Special Teams coach Justin Lustig also added Indiana transfer and redshirt-Junior, Jack Cardillo, who will serve as a quality second option behind Bulovas. Walk-ons Pierson Cooke and Will Farris are other potential options.
Starter – Harrison Smith
Backup – Jared Wheatley
There’s no doubt this position is a lock. Now a rising Senior, Harrison Smith looks to continue and finish out his very solid career as the Vanderbilt starting punter. If indeed Smith wins the job (as expected), this would be his third straight season as the Commodores starting punter. At times, Smith has had his struggles with accuracy and ball placements but one thing is certain, the leg strength is an issue by any means. The punter position will be pretty slim position for Vanderbilt in 2021. As of now, the only other punter on the roster is Sophomore Jared Wheatley, who had just had five punts a season ago. The production and success of the punting unit will obviously fall heavily on the shoulders of Harrison Smith. Special Teams will be a huge point of emphasis under first year coach, Clark Lea.
This wraps up the analysis for the 2021 Vanderbilt football depth chart. Let us know your thoughts and takeaways in the comments below!