Vanderbilt welcomed 21 freshmen to Nashville with its 2016 recruiting class.
Of them, 5 players found their way onto the field as true freshmen. Four appeared in at least 11 games, while 2 (P Sam Loy, FB Bailey McElwain) saw action in all 13 contests.
Andy Ludwig’s offense saw 14 different players catch a pass last season, a list that includes Kalija Lipscomb, who appeared in 12 of Vanderbilt’s 13 games. The true freshman had 27 catches for 319 yards, with the latter total good for fourth best on the squad. His pair of scoring grabs tied him with Jared Pinkney and fellow freshman Bailey McElwain for the team lead.
McElwain was the No. 3 fullback in the country out of Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.), according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he turned out to be a blessing for Vanderbilt, appearing in all 13 games and providing support for the backfield tandem of Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame, who combined for 1,732 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. McElwain’s touchdown catches came in home wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee.
True freshman wide receiver Donaven Tennyson saw action in 8 games, failing to make a catch. In fact, all 28 yards Tennyson accrued in 2016 came on 4 carries, all courtesy of reverses out of the wide receiver slot.
Joejuan Williams was the lone true freshman to play for Vanderbilt defensively in 2016. He appeared in 11 games, making 19 tackles (14 solo) to go with 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 passes defended. He saved his best for last, registering 3 solo tackles and 1 tackle for loss in Vanderbilt’s Independence Bowl loss to N.C. State.
Sam Loy took over punting duties from Reid Nelson after just 2 punts in the season opener against South Carolina and never gave the position back en route to being named to Athlon Sports’ second-team All-SEC freshmen squad. Loy, who has the ability to punt both traditionally and rugby-style, booted 68 punts — 12 of which went more than 50 yards — for 2,832 yards. His 41.7 average ranked 50th in the country.
Who we will meet this year
If you haven’t heard the name Jamauri Wakefield, then you missed coach Derek Mason’s Independence Bowl press conferences. Wakefield earned the coach’s praise, despite redshirting in 2016.
The running back was a standout scout-team member during his first year in Nashville. He instantly impressed this spring, rushing for 50 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Commodores’ spring scrimmage.
If that scrimmage was any indication, Vanderbilt arguably could have one of the best backfields in the SEC in 2017, at least in the SEC East. Wakefield complements a deep backfield that already boasts the aforementioned Ralph Webb, the program’s all-time leading rusher, and Khari Blasingame. Junior Josh Crawford (51 yards, TD in spring scrimmage) also will vie for rushing attempts.
Several redshirt freshmen will get an opportunity to amend one of Vanderbilt’s most-glaring weaknesses: the pass rush. The Commodores finished last in the SEC last season in sacks (15).
Among those who will get a chance to showcase themselves before the season opener against Middle Tennessee State: defensive tackles Drew Birchmeier, Josiah Sa’o and Cameron Tidd. Tidd impressed the most out of the 3 during the spring scrimmage, earning a sack. Birchmeier added a half-sack.