While the Titans will be in Nashville’s spotlight during the upcoming NFL Draft, which starts Thursday night, it should also be a big evening for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have three defenders who’ve been put under a microscope by NFL scouts this spring and have a reasonable chance of being drafted. Here’s a closer look at each player:
Casey Hayward could work his way into the first two rounds
Without a doubt, Hayward is the most highly-coveted prospect among the Commodores this year. Few cornerbacks in the draft had a career to match Hayward’s, as he leaves Nashville as Vandy’s career co-leader in interceptions with 15. He was also a sure tackler in the open field.
Hayward contributed at Vanderbilt for four years, but the 2011 season was probably his best. He had seven interceptions, and led the Southeastern Conference with passes defended. One of those interceptions was retured for a score. Hayward also played some offense for the Commodores, carrying five times for 60 yards For those efforts, he was named a second team All-American.
The knocks on Hayward are that he sometimes struggles to turn and find the ball, and that he lacks top-end speed (he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine this spring).
Despite the sub-par track-and-field stats, Hayward can flat-out play football. Respected draft expert Corey Chavous (who also played cornerback at Vanderbilt before moving on to a long NFL career) places great weight on on-field performance, and thus ranks Hayward the 21st-best prospect in this draft at his website, DraftNasty.com. While he won’t be a first-rounder, Hayward could go off the board sometime in the second round.
Sean Richardson’s workouts turn heads
Richardson, a safety, is sort of the anti-Hayward: he wasn’t as productive in the passing game, but the Combine workouts helped him tremendously. To say that his workout numbers were impressive would be an understatement: among safeties at the Combine, Richardson ranked first in the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump. He ran well in the shuttle drills, and his 40 time was second-best among safeties. Some draft experts referred to his speed as “elite” for the position.
On the field at VU, Richardson did some good things. Standing 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he was almost like an extra linebacker, and played well against the run. He was talented and durable: he started three years, and played through the 2010 season despite having hand surgery early in the year. He had a good attitude and was respected by his teammates for his work ethic.
However, Richardson struggled to defend the pass; teams threw at him often and he had just one career interception. After his eye-popping workouts, many wondered why his athleticism didn’t translate into more productive football. For that reason, Richardson is now looking like a player who’ll be a seventh-rounder.
Tim Fugger making a late entry onto draft boards
After watching Fugger play as a senior, I was surprised when he didn’t get invited to the Combine. Fugger always had some athleticism — he came to Vandy as a tight end — and he certainly had a productive season in 2011, leading the team with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He was named a second-team All-SEC player by the coaches.
Because he didn’t get invited to the Combine, Fugger had to turn heads at Vanderbilt’s Pro Day in late-March. He performed brilliantly, running a 4.57 40-yard dash and bench-pressing 225 pounds 29 times.
The issue with Fugger seems to be what position he’ll play. At Vandy, he was a defensive end, but at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he’d be a bit light that position in the NFL. For that reason, a number draft experts, including Chavous, view Fugger as an outside linebacker in the NFL, even though he never played there at VU.
Despite the questions, Fugger’s workouts opened the eyes of many people, and many view him as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
Kyle Fischer, Brandon Barden also hoping for shots
While the ‘Dores likely won’t have anyone else drafted, Fischer and Barden also played well enough at points in their careers to get a shot. Fischer, a right tackle, was an honorable mention All-SEC pick last year, and at 6-foot-6 and 308 pounds, size isn’t an issue.
Barden’s pass-catching numbers fell off as a senior, but he had 107 catches for 1,234 yards in his career. The doubts about Barden have always been around his blocking, but he runs well for a big man and his pass-catching ability will get him a look with someone.
Many expected Chris Marve to get a shot at pro football, but VU’s decorated former middle linebacker has chosen to pursue law school instead of football.