The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

‘Dores in the Pros: NFL Kickoff

With the 2023 NFL season hours away from kicking off, it’s time to check in on the Commodores who are playing on the gridiron at the next level.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Anfernee Orji, now with the New Orleans Saints, playing against Missouri on Oct. 22, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. As of tomorrow night, when either Harrison Butker or Riley Patterson takes one big swing of his powerful leg at Arrowhead Stadium, the 103rd glorious NFL season will officially begin. With that being said, there couldn’t be a better time to take a look around the league and see where former Commodores will be lacing it up. From practice squad players fighting for an opportunity to players tasked with playing crucial roles in potential Super Bowls runs, these competitors span the gamut. 

Jeremy Lucien, Cornerback (2022): Baltimore Ravens

Lucien’s time at Vanderbilt may have been short lived, but the impact he made after transferring from UConn as a fifth-year senior cannot be overstated. In his lone season as a Commodore, Lucien led all cornerbacks on the team in tackles (48) and passes defensed (5) while facing off against some of the top wide receivers in the SEC. His reliability, in addition to his unique combination of size and jumping ability, led him to be signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent following the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft. He wasted little time making headlines in Baltimore as he recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter of the team’s matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles to help Baltimore extend their preseason winning streak to 24 consecutive games. He followed that up with back-to-back solid performances in Weeks Two and Three which, while not good enough to earn him a spot on Baltimore’s 53-man roster, made him one of sixteen players signed to the Ravens practice squad entering the regular season.

Trent Sherfield, Wide Receiver (2014-2017): Buffalo Bills

Sherfield was a standout during his four years at Vanderbilt, wreaking havoc on opposing defenses week in and week out. His career was headlined by a 240-yard performance against Austin Peay which set the school record for receiving yards in a game, but he also displayed consistency, finishing ninth among Commodores all time in receiving yards and receptions. Following the end of his senior year, Sherfield signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent, but after four unproductive years in Arizona, he left to join the Miami Dolphins prior to the 2022 season. That turned out to be an excellent decision as Sherfield broke out in Miami, recording a career high 31 receptions for 417 yards and 2 touchdowns. He followed up his successful season by signing a one year, $1.77 million contract with the Buffalo Bills for 2023.

Khari Blasingame, Fullback (2014-2018): Chicago Bears

Blasingame took a non-traditional path to the NFL, but he has proven himself to be a valuable commodity since his arrival in the league. After a relatively unsuccessful first season as a linebacker at Vanderbilt, he transitioned to running back entering his sophomore year and quickly showed his worth, scoring 10 touchdowns in his first season at the position. He continued to show promise as a runner and run-blocker over his final two years at the college level and signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2017 season. Since then he has spent time with the Titans and now is with the Bears, where he is currently listed as the starting fullback, paving the way for a dynamic rusher in Khalil Herbert. 

Allan George, Cornerback (2017-2022): Cincinnati Bengals

George spent four years holding his own against the top receivers in the SEC as one of the key pieces of the Vanderbilt secondary. He finished his career with 142 tackles to go along with 19 passes defensed and a pair of interceptions, a resume worthy enough to get him signed by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2022. George spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad but was elevated on four occasions in the regular season to play primarily special teams. He also played four snaps in each of the Bengals’ three playoff games. While George did not make Cincinnati’s starting roster for 2023, he was re-signed to their practice squad and should make an appearance at some point this season. 

Dayo Odeyingbo, Defensive End (2017-2020): Indianapolis Colts

After emerging as the face of the Vanderbilt defense during his first three years in the Black and Gold, Odeyingbo enjoyed a phenomenal senior season in which he tallied eight tackles for loss and five and a half sacks while receiving All-SEC second team honors. His size, speed and production at the college level led Odeyingbo to be selected 54th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts despite suffering a torn achilles just months earlier, making him one of the highest drafted Commodores in recent memory. The achilles injury kept him off the field for much of his rookie season, but 2022 saw him emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the Indianapolis front seven. He should see serious playing time this season as he looks to build upon his five-sack sophomore campaign. 

Tre Herndon, Cornerback (2014-2017): Jacksonville Jaguars

Herndon set the trend of Commodore corners to reach the NFL after a highly successful four-year career at Vanderbilt in which he totaled 126 tackles, 2 interceptions and 25 passes defensed. He also started 36 of a possible 37 games over his final three years with the Commodores, showing remarkable consistency at a difficult position. After joining the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Herndon battled to earn a starting spot heading into his second NFL season. He kept that position for two years, tallying 131 tackles, 3 interceptions and 18 passes defensed, before falling down the depth chart in 2021. Still, he remains on the Jaguars to this day and should be called upon off the bench at numerous times this season. 

Anfernee Orji, Linebacker (2019-2022): New Orleans Saints

Orji is one of the most recent Commodore stars, concluding his final season at Vanderbilt leading the SEC in tackles per game (9.0). Orji was the first Commodore since Moses Osemweige (2003-2005) to lead Vanderbilt in tackles for three consecutive years. Hours after going undrafted in April, Orji signed with the New Orleans Saints. In Orji’s first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Orji led the team in tackles with three and was the second highest graded defensive rookie by Pro Football Focus (92.6). The Saints’ linebacker room has become somewhat crowded, (veteran signee Jaylon Smith didn’t even make the roster) so Orji will have to stay ready in the depths of the practice squad for his opportunity. With Orji’s undeniable talent and athleticism, his chance will come.

Zach Cunningham, Linebacker (2013-2016): Philadelphia Eagles

Cunningham had an illustrious career in the Black and Gold. He posted one of the best seasons that the Vanderbilt faithful has ever witnessed in his final year, becoming the first Commodore in school history to earn a unanimous First Team All-America recognition. Cunningham ranks third all time at Vanderbilt in tackles for loss (39.5) and posted 285 tackles in his three years as a starter. Since being drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans, Cunningham has taken the league by storm. After signing a four-year, $58 million contract extension with the Texans in 2020, Cunningham went on to lead the NFL in total tackles (164) and solo tackles (106). After struggling with injury and having a brief stint back in the Music City with the Tennessee Titans, Cunningham finds himself atop the depth chart of one the premiere rosters in football. The newly-minted Philadelphia Eagle will join a linebacking core alongside Nakobe Dean and Haason Reddick that is undoubtedly on a quest to bring a Lombardi to the City of Brotherly Love.

Oren Burks, Linebacker (2013-2017): San Francisco 49ers

In his time on West End, Burks played four seasons where he started at three different positions: he played at safety as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, at “star” (a linebacker-safety hybrid) as a junior and at inside linebacker as a senior. He was a third round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2018 (who traded up to get him), but he hasn’t made a major impact since then. Burks hasn’t eclipsed 40 total tackles in a season to date as a professional, but, like Cunnigham, he’ll have a golden opportunity this year as a starter on one of the most formidable units in the game. Burks will be the strongside linebacker alongside the talented Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner.

Justin Skule, Offensive Tackle (2015-2018): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Skule was a model of consistency in college: he made 40 consecutive starts. He played every game at left tackle as a senior, protecting the blindside of quarterback Kyle Shurmur during his legendary 3,310-yard, 24 TD season. After being selected as a sixth rounder by the 49ers, he was part of a squad that made a Super Bowl appearance in 2020. Skule tore his ACL in a summer practice in 2021 and never got back on track with San Francisco. After bouncing around in the Buccaneers organization for a year, Skule has carved himself a role backing up star left tackle Tristan Wirfs.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Running Back (2017-2019): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Vaughn transferred to Vanderbilt as a redshirt sophomore from Illinois. In his senior year as a Commodore, Vaughn rushed for 1,015 yards (eighth highest in team history) and 9 rushing TDs (sixth most in team history). Vaughn only made 23 career appearances yet posted 2,259 yards (fifth all-time amongst Vanderbilt RBs). Vaughn was a 2020 third round selection by Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl in his rookie season. His first NFL TD came via a nine-yard pass from Tom Brady in their Week 4 victory over the Chargers that season. This season, Vaughn will serve as the fourth option in a crowded running back room consisting of Rachaad White, Sean Tucker and Chase Edmonds.

Adam Butler, Defensive Tackle (2012-2016): Las Vegas Raiders

A true fixture of the Vanderbilt defensive line for four straight seasons, Butler consistently terrorized opposing offenses. He finished his senior season having racked up 31 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Butler tied his career high in tackles (7 total, 3 solo) in the Camping World Independence Bowl. He signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Butler went on to make two Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots, winning a ring against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Butler has bounced around since then and now finds himself with the Las Vegas Raiders. He will back up starting defensive tackle Bilal Nichols.

Tyler Steen, Right Guard (2018-2021): Philadelphia Eagles

Steen started his Vanderbilt career on the defensive line, seeing significant time as a true freshman on the defensive side of the ball. As a sophomore, he flipped to the offensive unit, starting all 12 games at right tackle. He was the only Commodore offensive lineman to start every game that season. During his junior season, Steen moved once again, starting all nine Vanderbilt games at left tackle. After his senior season, Steen transferred to the University of Alabama, where he quickly slotted in as the starting left tackle and was recognized as second team All-SEC. Steen was a third-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles this past April and is now slotted behind starting right guard Cam Jurgens. Steen will get to learn from perhaps the best offensive line unit in football while he prepares to thrive at the next level.

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About the Contributors
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Senior Staff Writer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
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