‘Dores in the Pros: Where are They Now?


Ziyi Liu

Trent Sherfield (10) strikes a Heisman Pose as Vanderbilt picked up its first SEC win under Coach Mason 10-3 at Vanderbilt Stadium October 24, 2015. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Simon Gibbs, Senior Writer

Saturday marked the start of a new season for this Vanderbilt Commodores football team. The outcome, a 35-7 win over the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State University, draws parallels to last year’s team–the 2017 season also kicked off with a quality start against MTSU, as the Commodores managed to win 28-6.

There are, however, many glaring differences between these Commodore rosters.

Numerous key players graduated from Vanderbilt last spring and while their time at Vanderbilt came to a close, many were given the opportunity to take their skills to the next level. Not all of the graduates were drafted, but many saw NFL preseason success.

Now that week one of the NFL season is right around the corner, teams have to cut their rosters down to 53 men. Let’s take a look at which Commodores got the golden ticket.

Oren Burks, LB: Made the Green Bay Packers

This should come as absolutely no surprise after the versatile threat was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

Burks began his Commodore career as a safety, but he showed his true colors in his final three seasons as a linebacker. After racking up 82 total tackles in his senior year, Burks managed to set many school-wide records on the defensive side of the ball. In today’s NFL, a player as flexible as Burks can be an asset: many packages hold spots for him as a linebacker, safety or on special teams.

Ralph Webb, RB: Cut by the New England Patriots (Named to Practice Squad)

It might be easier to talk about what Webb didn’t do at Vanderbilt. He was the crux of the Commodore offense for four years, capping off his career with the sixth most rushing yards in SEC history. He had a great senior campaign, and he continued that success into the preseason.

In the very first preseason game against the Washington Redskins, Webb had 46 rushing yards along with two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. It seemed like he had a chance to make the opening day squad, but he was competing in an extremely crowded backfield with the likes of James White, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, and Sony Michel.

The Patriots will keep Webb on their practice squad for a reason. This may not be the season he gets the call, but his preseason performance has at least bought him another chance to prove himself.

Jonathan Wynn, DE: Cut by the Minnesota Vikings

Wynn was a key component of the Vanderbilt defensive front last season and even managed to rack up 85 total tackles in his tenure as a Commodore. He put up a fight for a roster spot on one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but came up short.

At times, Wynn showed he belonged, and after sixth round draft pick Ade Aruna tore his ACL, Wynn’s chances became even greater. In the end, his performance may grant him a chance next season, or even a practice squad spot on another roster.

Tre Herndon, CB: Made the Jacksonville Jaguars

As a senior, Herndon was about as consistent as could be for the Vanderbilt secondary. In his senior season he defended 11 passes, 29 total tackles, and 21 unassisted stops–all of which Vanderbilt will have trouble replacing.

Unlike Burks, Herndon was not drafted, but he made enough of a statement in the preseason to make the team–against the New Orleans Saints, he managed to lead the Jaguars in tackles.

Herndon is the only undrafted free agent to have made the cut for the Jaguars this season and was given a three-year deal with the squad.

C.J. Duncan, WR: Cut by the Arizona Cardinals

Imagine playing wide receiver alongside another fellow Commodore for years, only to be competing with him right upon graduation. Unfortunately, C.J. Duncan and Trent Sherfield were put in this position and it never seemed likely that the Cardinals would take both.

Duncan had a good senior season for the Commodores, racking up over 500 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. In the NFL, his 5′ 10″, 195 pound frame wasn’t going to win him the job, nor was his 4.69 second 40-yard dash time. He had to pave a special role with the Cardinals to receive an offer and while it hasn’t come yet, Duncan has as good a chance as the rest of the undrafted rookies to make a roster next season.

Trent Sherfield, WR: Made the Arizona Cardinals

There is a silver lining in the C.J. Duncan news: there is one former Commodore wide receiver that managed to find a spot on the Cardinals roster.

Ironically, Sherfield making the team as an undrafted rookie comes as no surprise–featured in an offense that finished the NFL preseason dead last in many passing stats, Sherfield still managed a mere 57 receiving yards (sadly, that was good for a Cardinal wide receiver).

Cardinals fans have seen this coming for quite some time. Now it’s time for Sherfield to prove them right.

Caleb Scott, WR: Cut by the Seattle Seahawks (Named to Practice Squad)

Scott spent the beginning of his senior season rehabbing an injury, thus minimizing his impact in 2017. He came close to 200 receiving yards with two touchdowns, but someone with his size (6′ 2″, 202 pounds) will always be given a shot at the big leagues.

Of course Pete Carroll was the coach to give him a shot, as he firmly believes in the importance of big receivers. Scott happened to have been competing with other talented (in the case of Brandon Marshall, experienced), built wide receivers and didn’t find a spot on the team. However, Carroll had enough faith in Scott that he offered a spot on the practice squad.

Emmanuel Smith, LB: Cut by the Atlanta Falcons

Much like Scott, Smith spent lots of his senior season dealing with unfortunate injuries. He was still able to make an impact for the Commodores in 2017, racking up 57 total tackles and creating a tough linebacking core alongside Oren Burks.

Smith had his highlights in the preseason finale; his hit on Dolphins receiver Isaiah Ford helped the team pick-off the pass, yet his name will not find its way onto the depth chart for week one.