Becoming Champions: giving Vanderbilt Football a national title-worthy roster

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Vanderbilt has a history of baseball players playing football.

Vanderbilt’s football season has come to a close, and baseball season is still a few months away, but fear not, there’s still a good reason to write about the two. Jackson Martin of The Dirty South Sports Report and friend of the program and fellow baseball nut Andrew King (Vanderbilt, Class of 2013) have come together with me to draft the Vanderbilt baseball team to play football, giving Vanderbilt football the national title-worthy roster it deserves, but maybe not the one it needs.

The rules are simple: draft a team of nine players: 1 quarterback, 5 skill position players, 1 linebacker, 1 defensive back, and 1 kicker (baseball players aren’t really built like linemen). Draft order was determined by a random number generator.

(Hat tip to Andrew King for coming up with this idea by saying Ro Coleman should be Vanderbilt’s third running back after Jerron Seymour was kicked off the team.)

Round 1:

Jackson: Dansby Swanson – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: Started off my draft the right way, by taking a player from Georgia. Dansby is the best all-around athlete available, and I’m going to use him in a multitude of roles. My offensive scheme is built around getting the ball into the best player’s hands, so Dansby will be catching passes, taking handoffs and throwing passes to make sure he gets as many opportunities to put points on the board as possible. Think of him as my Kentucky-era Randall Cobb.
  • Andrew Notes: With Adam Ravenelle and Jared Miller in the pros, Dansby has the best lettuce on the team by far. That could get him picked in the top 3 rounds by itself, but the all-around tools push him over the top. Good pick.
  • Ben Notes: He’s pretty clearly the best player on the baseball team, and he’s athletic enough to be a very good receiver.

Andrew: Jeren Kendall – RB

  • Andrew Notes: The NFL isn’t a running back league anymore, but we aren’t in the NFL so screw it, I’m going with Jeren at RB. He’s fast enough to be a home run threat on every snap, can catch passes out of the backfield, and his hockey background suggests he can handle being hit with regularity. I’ll build my team around that.
  • Jackson Notes: Fastest player on the team. Excellent pick, though I might have used him at wideout instead of running back.
  • Ben Notes: I was going to take him with one of my two picks. Fastest guy on the team, and he played hockey in high school, so I’d guess he’s pretty tough. He’d be great at either receiver or running back.

Ben: Jordan Sheffield – WR

  • Ben Notes: Sheffield should have been the first pick in the draft easy. Have you seen his high school highlight reel? Plus with his arm, I’m sure we could run a ton of Antwaan Randle El-esque gadget plays to get him involved in the passing game. I’m pretty sure most plays are going to start with Sheffield swinging around on a reverse. Also he won the Omaha Challenge this year, so that’s something.
  • Jackson Notes: The player who I initially assessed as the first overall pick. He’s actually played football, and has a strong highlight tape already. Was very hard to pass on him.
  • Andrew Notes: Ah, good Vanderbilt memories…a wide receiver named Jordan as the cornerstone of a team. Hint: not referring to Mr. Cunningham.

Round 2:

Ben: Xavier Turner – RB

  • Ben Notes: I’m getting a 6’2” 220 running back who runs a 6.75 60 time (sixth on the baseball team among times I could find), and apparently he was recruited by Ohio State to play running back before he blew out his knee in high school. Most of my offense will be pounding the ball with X.
  • Jackson Notes: I do not envy anyone who has to tackle X. He will, in fact, give it to ya.
  • Andrew Notes: ^ Well said.

Andrew: Rhett Wiseman – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Watch his running catch against Texas to lead off the 10th inning of the CWS semifinals. Or his diving catch to lead off the 9th inning against Virginia in Game 3 of the CWS Finals. He’s fast, has good hands, and has pretty good size at 6’1” 205; can’t pass up players like that.
  • Ben Notes: Rhett’s shockingly fast (6.51 60) and has good size, but he’ll probably need to bulk up if he’s taking many shots over the middle. I don’t know how many players are better qualified to make crazy catches, though.
  • Jackson Notes: You know how we use the phrase “deceptively fast” to describe white guys who can burn people dowfield? Rhett’s not deceptively fast, he’s just fast.

Jackson: Ro Coleman – RB

  • Jackson Notes: Shifty back, he’s quicker than he is fast. Getting him the ball in space will be absolutely key for my offense, so expect to see him utilized much like Darren Sproles was for Kansas State. Also planning on using this play at least once.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder if you only picked him because Tony Kemp wasn’t on the board. He’s quick, but I worry about his durability, so I wouldn’t have taken him as the primary back on a team.
  • Ben Notes: You might just be able to hide Ro behind the line on every play. Then again, he’s not going to be able to hits like X will at running back.

Round 3:

Jackson: Zander Wiel – LB

  • Jackson Notes: I need a quarterback for my defense. Zander is built like a linebacker, and fits into this role as well as anyone else in this draft does. Would have gone higher if linebacker was a more valued position.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would have picked him as a TE, but he’d be a scary good linebacker too.
  • Ben Notes: Going defense this early? Bold.

Andrew: Will Toffey – DB

  • Andrew Notes: I sure as hell wouldn’t want a fast, 6’2” hockey player bearing down on me in the open field. It’s a no brainer plugging him in at DB to solidify the back end of my defense. Disclaimer: I’m by far the biggest hockey fan of the three of us, so it’s no surprise I’ve picked 2 former hockey standouts in the first 3 rounds.
  • Jackson Notes: Is there any reason so many of these guys played hockey in addition to baseball? Is that just a thing people do in the north? I always thought Tom Glavine was unique for being drafted in both MLB and the NHL.
  • Jackson note #2: You’re only the biggest hockey fan because my beloved Thrashers were taken from me. #RIPThrashers
  • Ben Notes: Toffey won two New England Prep National Championships in hockey, I’ll assume he’s a tough guy too. I could see him as a hard-hitting safety too probably because he’s got some of the best power on the baseball team.

Ben: Joey Mundy – LB

  • Ben Notes: Since we’re on a run of defensive players, I’ll take someone who actually played defense in high school. Mundy was an outside linebacker for a Huntington High School team that went 13-1 and only gave up 10.2 points per game his senior year. At 6’3” 215, he’s also one of the bigger guys on roster.
  • Andrew Notes: I don’t know anything about Joey Mundy, but choosing a linebacker to play linebacker seems reasonable.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben’s on a run of taking guys who actually played football in high school. It’s times like this where I feel like a little more research could have done wonders for my team.

Round 4:

Ben: Tyler Ferguson – TE

  • Ben Notes: Tight ends are going to be a big part of my offense, and Ferguson is a big dude at 6’3” 225. I assume I won’t need to do this, but I could use him as an emergency quarterback or even use him on trick plays.
  • Andrew Notes: You have 3 players on offense alone who could reasonably lay claim to being your starting quarterback (Buehler, Sheffield, Ferguson). If there’s anything we’ve learned from former Vanderbilt Offensive Coordinator Karl Dorrell, it’s that you can never play too many quarterbacks, right? Now if only you had a redshirt to burn…
  • Jackson Notes: I mean, these are baseball players we’re talking about. They throw balls as their job (you know, a job where a shadowy organization won’t allow you to be paid for doing your job). I kind of assume all of them would make for at least passable quarterbacks.

Andrew: Drake Parker – ATH

  • Andrew Notes: I’m building my offense around speed in the open field, and I just found my Dexter McCluster. Woohoo!
  • Jackson Notes: Got the second smallest guy on the team. I’m thinking you were jealous of my Ro Coleman pick after all?
  • Ben Notes: Parker could be really useful if you can get him free in open field. I’m personally a bigger fan of players with size, but Parker’s speed is definitely exciting.

Jackson: Tyler Green – TE

  • Jackson Notes: Absolutely cannot believe Green lasted this long. He’s the tallest guy on the team, and was drafted to play hockey — so he seems like a perfect fit at tight end.
  • Andrew Notes: I’m just excited that he and Ro are on the same team. Wouldn’t you love to see the biggest guy block for the smallest guy? Me too. And he’d be a beast in the red zone.
  • Ben Notes: I’m actually really upset you took Green here. I really wanted him and was going to use him with Ferguson in my twin tight end sets. Dude is a mountain of a man, although my only concern is his 7.25 60 time.

Round 5:

Jackson: Bryan Reynolds – WR

  • Jackson Notes: Bryan has some wheels, and he’s prototypical receiver size at 6’2, 195 pounds. He’s a guy who I trust to catch the ball and make plays in space, so this is an exciting player to get in the fifth round.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would’ve been drafted sooner, but his moustache tool graded out as a 30 on the 20 to 80 scale and scouts were concerned it would keep him from reaching his full potential.
  • Ben Notes: How did Bryan last this long in the draft? He’s got size and speed and actually catches balls in baseball.

Andrew: Kyle Smith – LB

  • Andrew Notes: Serious size at 6’3” 220lbs, solid speed, and he’s strong like bull. Sure, I’ll slot him in at LB.
  • Ben Notes: Kyle would’ve been great for tight end or linebacker. I hope is defense in football is better than his defense in baseball, though.
  • Jackson Notes: Big dude, seems like a fit at linebacker.

Ben: Walker Buehler – QB

  • Ben Notes: Walker gets the edge over Carson Fulmer at quarterback for me because he has a couple inches on Carson, and I feel like as he fills out his 160-pound frame, he may gain a little more arm strength. He’s definitely going to be a pocket passer with a 7.65 60 time (!!!!), but I’m not too worried with his arm and my first couple picks on offense.
  • Jackson Notes: I’m surprised Walker lasted this long. Has a huge arm and his favorite TV shows are The League and Blue Mountain State, so you know he can ball.
  • Andrew Notes: His big arm and thin frame reminds me a lot of Wade Freebeck, who you may recognize as a recurring contestant on Karl Dorrell’s Musical Quarterbacks. The show got terrible ratings and has since been canceled. Can you tell I’m still bitter?

Round 6:

Ben: Penn Murfee – WR

  • Ben Notes: Penn hasn’t gotten to see much of the field yet in baseball, but he’s got a great size-speed combination at 6’2” and a 6.74 60 time (fourth fastest on the team among those listed). That’s about all I know about Penn to be honest.
  • Jackson Notes: Apparently everyone in his family is a competitive swimmer. I don’t know how well that’s going to translate to football, considering it’s played on land.
  • Andrew Notes: What is a Penn Murfee?

Andrew: Ben Bowden – TE

  • Andrew Notes: He has good size for a TE, and he played PF for his high school basketball team so I presume he’s got a halfway-decent vertical and can go up and make plays in traffic.
  • Ben Notes: Great size at 6’4” 220, which should play well at tight end. He was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts for Baseball, so that’s cool.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben Bowden is a rock-solid name for a tight end. Not quite Heath Miller good, but definitely up there.

Jackson: Aubrey McCarty – QB

  • Jackson Notes: My insane offensive plan has finally played out to perfection. McCarty is notable for being ambidextrous, a skill I will use to full effect as my quarterback. He’s going to be rolling out to both sides, adding a great wrinkle to our hurry-up spread scheme. He also went to Colquitt County High School in south Georgia, which is coached by Rush Probst (of Two-A-Days fame) and is currently the No. 3 high school team in the country. Go Packers.
  • Andrew Notes: Damn, I wanted McCarty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ambidextrous QB, and I would be so interested to see how it would work in the right scheme.
  • Ben Notes: No surprise Jackson, a fellow ambidextrous athlete*, takes McCarty.
  • Jackson Note #2: Not sure I like your tone there, Ben.

Round 7:

Jackson: Tyler Campbell – DB

  • Jackson Notes: Great size, great speed, dad is a professional wrestler. Tyler is basically the ideal free safety.
  • Andrew Notes: I honestly thought someone was going to pick him as their kicker. Not a knock on his athleticism, but he claims that riding a unicycle is his most unique talent, and that just strikes me as something a kicker would do.
  • Ben Notes: I have nothing bad to say about the College World Series hero.

Andrew: Nolan Rogers – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Wes Welker, welcome aboard.
  • Jackson Notes: There’s only ever been one NFL wide receiver ever with Nolan as a first name, and he caught just one pass in his career. What a terrible pick, Andrew.
  • Ben Notes: I debated for a long time between Rogers (to play either DB or wide receiver) and Murfee. I think I got the better athlete, but I could also see Rogers as a great slot receiver. Also, let it be known that Andrew took Kyle Wright first before switching his pick before I could swipe up Rogers.

Ben: Carson Fulmer – DB

  • Ben Notes: I don’t know if Carson fits well at any one position, since he’s a little short for quarterback at 5’11”, but he’s a high-energy guy, which makes me see him as a great safety.
  • Andrew Notes: Thank you for saving him from being a kicker, where he could’ve probably made field goals from 70 yards but would’ve lasted one made extra point or field goal before vigorously celebrating and pulling a Bill Gramatica.
  • Jackson Notes: I was definitely going to draft him as a kicker.

Round 8:

Ben: Kyle Wright – TE

  • Ben Notes: I couldn’t land Tyler Green, so I’ll settle for Kyle Wright as my second tight end. X will enjoy the extra blocking with the two-tight end sets, and Kyle may actually be a very good receiver with his size (6’4” 200) and speed (he ran track in high school). Plus even though he didn’t play football in high school, the fact that he’s from Alabama must help in some way.
  • Andrew Notes: In case you didn’t hear it enough during the CWS run last year: *Aaron Boone says something about Tim Corbin’s affinity for recruiting ultra-athletic guys*
  • Jackson Notes: Two tight ends? Looks like Ben is setting up a nasty-big power run game.

Andrew: Hayden Stone – K

  • Andrew Notes: Special teams are hugely important, and I probably gave more thought to this pick than any other, so bear with me. Relievers are like kickers: they’re an afterthought until late in the game, at which point they need to have nerves of steel because they know that “holy crap the outcome of this game and our season comes down to this.” Relievers also have a lot of time on their hands to develop eccentricities and amuse themselves by becoming good at random things…perhaps like kicking field goals. Don’t believe me? Last year, Adam Ravenelle excelled as Vanderbilt’s closer late in the season. He was also nearly perfect in mid-inning shenanigans field goal attempts, including this clutch kick at the CWS. Hayden is a prime candidate to take over in the 9th inning from the Ravenelle/Brian Miller duo, so he’s the clear choice at kicker.
  • Jackson Notes: Again, I was going to draft him at kicker. Relief pitchers are the specials teams players of baseball.
  • Ben Notes: Maybe Andrew figured out the new market inefficiency: drafting kickers before the last round.

Jackson: Liam Sabino – K

  • Jackson Notes: Y’all took both my kickers, so I resorted to Sabino — whose mom is from Brazil. I understand that I’m stereotyping here, but that seems like a safe bet for an average at worst kicker.
  • Andrew Notes: As long as you have a reason, who am I to judge?
  • Ben Notes: I’m very glad we’re breaking stereotypes here and drafting a non-white kicker.

Round 9:

Jackson: Karl Ellison – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: From the same city in Florida as Tim Tebow. Can you say intangibles? Much like Tebow, he’s probably best-suited to play tight end. HEYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOO.
  • Andrew Notes: Are those similar to Lunchables?
  • Ben Notes: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Andrew: Jason Delay – QB

  • Andrew Notes: Catchers have good arms, are tough as nails, and they’re basically an extension of the coaching staff on the field, which is precisely why I want a catcher to be my quarterback. Plus, Jason claims to be good at solving Rubix Cubes. If there’s anybody on this team I’d trust to decipher a defense, make good adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and quickly get the ball to my speedy playmakers in space, it’s him.
  • Ben Notes: I was kind of hoping to get Delay with my final pick since all the pitchers love him, and somehow my team is made up of mostly pitchers.
  • Jackson Notes: I’d laugh at you for drafting a catcher, but I just took one as an Athlete. So, uh, shit…

Ben: John Kilichowski – K

  • Ben Notes: Look, he’s lefty, and his name sounds close enough to Sebastian Janikowski that I think I might have just gotten the steal of the draft.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder what John would look like sporting the signature Janikowski goatee-and-shaved-head look to complete the resemblance…probably equally terrifying.
  • Jackson Notes: Sure.

Team Rosters

Ben Andrew Jackson
QB: Walker Buehler QB: Jason Delay QB: Aubrey McCarty
RB: Xavier Turner RB: Jeren Kendall RB: Ro Coleman
WR: Jordan Sheffield RB/WR: Drake Parker WR: Dansby Swanson
WR: Penn Murfee WR: Rhett Wiseman WR: Bryan Reynolds
TE: Tyler Ferguson WR: Nolan Rogers TE: Tyler Green
TE: Kyle Wright TE: Ben Bowden TE: Karl Ellison
LB: Joey Mundy LB: Kyle Smith LB: Zander Wiel
DB: Carson Fulmer DB: Will Toffey DB: Tyler Campbell
K: John Kilichowski K: Hayden Stone K: Liam Sabino

Team Writeups:

Ben:

At first, I was torn between a John Donovan-style offense and a Karl Dorrell-style offense, but after heavy consideration, I think I’ll choose a different path. I know this is college, but I’m going to base my offense off an improved 2003/04 Panthers squad. Much of my offense will revolve around giving the rock to Xavier Turner, who is built like an absolute workhorse (think Stephen Davis). Although pistol was little used back in the day, I could also see Jordan Sheffield (Steve Smith) set up in the backfield for a little pistol formation, which could get really creative since he’s a more-than-capable passer.

My main strategy in drafting was to take the best athletes who played football (Sheffield and Turner) and then grabbed a lot of size. Penn Murfee (Muhsin Muhammad) isn’t a burner, but he’s fast enough to cause matchup problems against defensive backs. Where this team gets fun is with the tight ends, who come in at 6’3” and 6’4”. The Panthers didn’t really have any good tight ends on their Super Bowl run, but Walker Buehler (good Jake Delhomme) may have his own Wesley Walls and Greg Olsen to work with in Tyler Ferguson and Kyle Wright.

Defensively, I’ve always been a proponent of a modified 3-4, which will play into my hands, since I’ll have as many Joey Mundy’s on defense as possible.

Much like the mid-2000s Steelers, there will be plenty of room in the playbook for gadget plays. The more times we get the ball in Sheffield’s hands the better. But we’ve also got a workhorse back, size, and very good athletes. I’m more than happy to just run it down your throat with Jerome Bettis.

Andrew:

I normally have a strong distaste for Pac 12 football, but there’s something captivating about watching Oregon boat-race people every week. My team is built with similar ideologies and boy will they put points on the board as games turn into a track meet. Speed is a killer, and that’s our biggest weapon. The 2011 Oregon team with LaMichael James at Halfback (Jeren Kendall), Kenjon Barner as the Slotback (Drake Parker), and De’Anthony Thomas at WR1 (Rhett Wiseman) is probably a good comparison for my squad, but I ended up with a QB in Delay who is not as fleet of foot as Darron Thomas was (update: as of 2013 Delay was clocked at 6.99s in the 60, which isn’t bad). That being said, I bet Delay would add a tough, physical element as a ball-carrier, perhaps closer to the Dak Prescott mold in that regard.

Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t find many wildcat formations, multiple QB sets, or exotic gadget plays here. We’re going to push the pace, force opponents to cover the entire width of the field, and test the stretched-out defense’s ability to make solo tackles in space. The offense will be slightly pass-heavy, so you can expect a lot of mid-range throws to generate yards after the catch, a healthy amount of pre-snap motion, a moving launch point to keep defenses guessing, and a variety of creative screens. Our personnel will make it tough to pound the ball up the middle consistently, so in the run game you’ll see a lot of zone-blocking, misdirection, and backs who are very active catching balls on both swing passes and wheel routes.

On a random note, I like Oregon’s option plays with a flared-out slotback, so we’ll do that a bunch. Why? Because this is my baseball-turned-football team dammit. Just like this.

On defense, we’ll play a base 4-2-5 like Gary Patterson’s TCU team to take advantage of our athletic, physical secondary which consists of 5 Will Toffey clones. We only drafted two players on defense, so that’s plenty of defensive scheming.

Jackson:

I come from the (gag) Urban Meyer school of thought when it comes to offenses — get the ball in your playmakers hands and give them a chance to make plays. That means I took a bunch of athletes who can line up in multiple positions and get the ball in different ways. We’ll utilize spread formations to get one-on-one matchups in space and terrorize the defense by mixing the run and the pass effectively. The closest current college offense to my ideal philosophy is probably Baylor — a team that uses the run to open up deep passes and especially leans on read-options and playaction passes to force the defense into leaving open space. We’ll definitely play an up-tempo style because I don’t think anyone else has the athletes to match up with my team.

Expect multiple guys to throw the ball on this team. We’re going to creatively use our ambidextrous quarterback to create extra separation and maximize the effectiveness of pop passes (a read-option that has the quarterback throw a pass instead of running if the receiver is uncovered). Dansby will also be taking snaps at quarterback — calling this the Wildcat is disingenuous because he has just as good an arm as our quarterback.

Deception is key in keeping a defense off-balance. Between the option plays, pop passes, playaction, six trick plays per game and our (listed height) 5’5” running back, I want the defense to not know where the ball is half the time. You can’t stop what you can’t see.

As for the defense, well, much like Bill Murray: I don’t play defense.

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