Which Vanderbilt players could be selected in NFL Draft in future?

Adam Sparks
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt has had a slow but steady stream of players taken in the NFL Draft in recent years.

At least one player has been drafted in eight of the past 10 years, but never more than three in a given year.

Last week, edge rusher Dayo Odeyingbo was the 15th Vanderbilt player drafted in the past decade, going to the Indianapolis Colts in the second round. Linebacker Andre Mintze also signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent.

Which Vanderbilt players have the best chance of being selected in future drafts? 

Much of that depends on how they transition and improve under Clark Lea’s new coaching staff, so the younger players may have the best chance.

NFL DRAFT:What Colts are getting in second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT:What Broncos are getting in Vanderbilt edge rusher Andre Mintze

There are no locks on the roster after a 0-9 season. But here are some of the top candidates:

Wide receiver Chris Pierce

Last season, Chris Pierce flashed his most marketable NFL attributes — size and strength. He has a 6-foot-4, 231-pound frame. He is an above-average run blocker. And his ability to break tackles has helped Pierce average almost 16 yards per catch over the past two seasons despite not touting blazing speed.

Pierce had five TD catches in a four-game stretch last season. If he continues that hot streak as a fifth-year senior, some NFL teams could be intrigued. A solid 40-yard dash time on pro day could boost his status. But catching everything thrown his way against SEC defenders will help more.

Wide receiver Cam Johnson

Cam Johnson can only get to the NFL by being automatic in catching passes on short and intermediate routes. The 6-foot, 198-pounder has better lateral quickness than straight-line speed, so he projects as a slot receiver. 

Johnson, a former Brentwood Academy standout, led Vanderbilt with 56 catches in nine games last season. He needs to be among the most dependable third-down receivers in the SEC, which is doable. But Johnson averaged only 9.7 yards per game in 2020, so putting more dynamic plays on tape wouldn’t hurt.  

Tight end Ben Bresnahan

Vanderbilt tight end Ben Bresnahan (86) races up the field past Mississippi linebacker Ashanti Cistrunk (36) for a touchdown during the second quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Ben Bresnahan has good size (6-4, 244), athleticism and production. He had 28 receptions for 300 yards and four TDs in 2020. Bresnahan will need to exploit one-on-one matchups, especially downfield, to catch scouts’ attention. But offensive coordinator David Raih and passing game coordinator Joey Lynch are well aware of his potential, so he’ll get his chance.

Offensive lineman Tyler Steen

Vanderbilt has a solid history of offensive linemen getting drafted. Tackles Will Holden (2017, Cardinals) and Justin Skule (2019, 49ers) are the most recent examples. Tyler Steen could be the next one, but he’s at a precarious point in his career.

Steen (6-5, 317) started at right tackle in 2019 and left tackle in 2020. During the spring game, he was briefly moved to guard. Does he project better at that position in the NFL, or does it indicate a deficiency detected by Lea’s staff? Steen faces a pivotal season for his NFL potential.

Offensive tackle Bradley Ashmore

Apply the same Vanderbilt draft history to Bradley Ashmore, but he has more upside. Ashmore, a 6-6, 294-pounder, started at both left guard and right tackle as a true freshman in 2020 against only SEC opponents.

Ashmore was at right tackle in spring practice, and he may move to left tackle later in his career. If Ashmore continues to develop, his stock will rise toward the 2024 draft.

Outside linebacker Elijah McAllister

This is sort of an all-or-nothing situation. Elijah McAllister’s knee injuries began in high school, and he sat out last season because of them. But when healthy, McAllister has flashed NFL ability to go along with his 6-6, 245-pound frame.

In 2019, McAllister notched 2½ sacks, 4½ tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and three quarterback hurries. But those stats came from his only 12 games in three years on campus.

Lea needs disruptive pass-rushers in his 3-4 defense, and McAllister has the measurables to fill that role at outside linebacker. But he has work to do in countering his limited playing time and injury history.

Cornerback Allan George

Allan George opted to return this season rather than enter the draft, and it was probably a good decision. The 6-1 cornerback has elite athleticism and plenty of experience with 33 games played (22 starts).

Vanderbilt cornerback Allan George (28) is honored with other seniors before the game against Tennessee at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

But George had only two pass breakups and no interceptions last season. More game film and the perspective of a new coaching staff should help him. 

Who else could have a shot?

Quarterback Ken Seals compares reasonably well to Kyle Shurmur. That’s a plus because Shurmur is Vanderbilt’s career passing leader, but it may be a minus since Shurmur wasn’t drafted.

Cornerback Jaylen Mahoney’s stock is rising after a strong performance in spring practice. Cornerback B.J. Anderson sat out 2020 with an injury, but he has the raw abilities that could develop into a pro prospect.

Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis will get plenty of touches in Vanderbilt’s depleted backfield. His 2019 Freshman All-American season suggests he will be able to produce.

Linebacker Anfernee Orji is far from a complete player. But he led the team with 66 tackles as a sophomore last season, and he still touts plenty of potential. And linebacker Ethan Barr, a 6-3, 236-pounder, showed a physical style of play as a sophomore.

De’Rickey Wright, the top signee of Vanderbilt’s 2020 class, is an athletic 6-4, 207-pound safety. He played a little as a freshman, but that was essentially an acclimation year since the pandemic season didn't count toward eligibility.

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.