‘Dores in the Pros: Spotting Vanderbilt alumni in the NFL

The NFL season is upon us. Here's where you can find Vanderbilt alumni.

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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. (Hustler Multimedia/Ziyi Liu)

Bobby Kent and Hunter Lee

With the NFL season fast approaching and a delayed start to Vanderbilt’s college football season, now is the perfect time to take a look into former Vanderbilt players currently in the NFL. 

The 2020 NFL offseason has been unique, to say the least. Training camp rosters were trimmed down to 80 players, ten fewer than normal. As a school that is not traditionally looked at as a football powerhouse, Vanderbilt graduates often get their opportunities as undrafted free agents In fact, 7 of the 15 current players on rosters or practice squads were undrafted free agents. 

Due in part to these smaller rosters, only three players from the 2019 Commodores team found their way into training camp.For those players in camp, however, the opportunity is larger than normal. Practice squads were expanded from 10 to 16 players. Four of the 15 former Commodores that were on the 80-man NFL rosters last week found their way onto practice squads, while the other eleven earned spots on active rosters.

Trent Sherfield (WR) – Arizona Cardinals

Trent Sherfield played all four years at Vanderbilt, ranking 8th all time in both yards and receptions. He entered the league in 2018, going undrafted and ultimately earning a roster spot with the Cardinals. As a second-string receiver in 2020 behind starters Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Deandre Hopkins, Sherfield’s impact will be mostly limited to special teams. He could still play a small role in a potentially explosive Cardinals offense led by dynamic second-year QB Kyler Murray.

Jared Pinkney (TE) – Atlanta Falcons (Practice Squad)

Coming off a career-best 2018 season that saw him haul in 50 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns, Pinkney was projected to be a fringe first-round pick. But instead of leaving for the NFL, Pinkney returned for a senior season  filled with poor performances and capped off by an injury. As a result, Pinkney went undrafted and signed with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent (UDFA). Pinkney will start the 2020 NFL season on the Falcons practice squad, after not earning a spot on the 53-man roster. 

Will Holden (OG) – Baltimore Ravens (Practice Squad)

Will Holden played four years as an offensive tackle for Vanderbilt and was taken in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL draft. A journeyman to this point in his career, Holden found himself on his 7th NFL team this year, spending training camp with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite being a popular pick to make the 53-man roster, he found himself as the odd man out along the offensive line. He was signed to the practice squad and will provide quality offensive lineman depth for an offensive line that led a historically great rushing offense last season.

Stephen Weatherly (DE) – Carolina Panthers

Stephen Weatherly played four years for Vanderbilt and was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. After landing a spot on the Vikings practice squad, he found a role and was later signed to the active roster. Weatherly left Minnesota in the 2019 offseason, signing a two-year contract with the Panthers. As a first-string defensive end, he figures to play an important role in a defense that many pundits expect will struggle this year. If the defense can hold up, however, the Panthers could be a team to watch behind the resurgent Teddy Bridgewater and a consensus top fantasy pick in running back Christian McCaffery. 

Oren Burks (ILB) – Green Bay Packers

Oren Burks played four seasons at Vanderbilt before being selected by the Packers in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. A mainstay on special teams, he has lived up to his draft position and established himself as a starter. Burks will look to play a key role in a team poised to make the most out of Aaron Rodgers’ remaining years. 

Zach Cunningham (ILB) – Houston Texans 

Zach Cunningham played for three seasons at Vanderbilt and is one of the most recognized individual players in recent Vanderbilt history, having earned first-team All-American honors, while being a finalist for the Butkus Award. Selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, Cunningham cashed in this offseason with a four-year, $58 million contract extension. A dominating force and solid tackler, he figures to be a centerpiece in a solid Texans defense, as they get ready for another playoff run behind star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Tre Herndon (CB) – Jacksonville Jaguars

Tre Herndon played four years at Vanderbilt before entering the league as an UDFA in 2018. He was able to sign with the Jaguars and earn himself a roster spot that year. After a blockbuster trade sent Jalen Ramsey to the Rams, Herndon assumed a starting cornerback role and looks to improve on a promising career while helping the Jaguars get back on track after a relatively poor season last year.

Joejuan Williams  (CB) – New England Patriots 

Joejuan Williams played three years at Vanderbilt before declaring for the 2019 NFL draft following his junior season. A second-team All-SEC honoree, Williams was selected in the second round by the New England Patriots. So far, Williams’ role with New England has been limited. Unless the Patriots see a rash of injuries at the cornerback positions, he is unlikely to see much of the field outside of the occasional nickel or dime package.

Adam Butler (DT) – New England Patriots

After a four year career at Vanderbilt, Adam Butler declared for the 2017 NFL Draft but was not selected. He signed with the Patriots and worked himself onto the roster, slowly rising up the depth chart and establishing himself as a starter. He re-signed with the Patriots on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this offseason and remains a starting DT on a defense that was ranked first in both scoring and yardage last year.

Casey Hayward Jr. (CB) – Los Angeles Chargers

Since his entrance into the NFL as a second-round pick of Green Bay in 2012, Casey Hayward Jr. has been one of the league’s most dominant and underappreciated corners. Since 2016, he has ranked first in both Pro Football Focus’s cornerback and coverage grades (92.0 and 92.5, respectively). A four-year player at Vanderbilt, Hayward Jr. recorded more than six interceptions in his final two seasons with the Commodores. Hayward Jr. will look to continue his shutdown corner status in 2020 for a Chargers defense that still has high expectations, despite the loss of safety Derwin James to a season-ending injury. 

Kalija Lipscomb (WR) – Kansas City Chiefs (Practice Squad) 

Similar to Jared Pinkney, Lipscomb entered the 2019 season with high expectations of boosting his draft stock. However, a disappointing season, with 400 fewer receiving yards and catch six fewer touchdowns than 2018, sank his draft stock. Ultimately, Lipscomb was not selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. After signing with the Chiefs as an UDFA, Lipscomb did not make the active 53-man roster and will start the 2020 season on the practice squad. 

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After an electric three-year career at Vanderbilt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn declared for the 2020 draft and was selected in the third round by the Buccaneers. With Leonard Fournette, Lesean McCoy and Ronald Jones all above him on the depth chart to start the season, Vaughn is unlikely to find opportunities as a running back early in the season. However, with strong play in practice and on special teams, he could work himself towards some opportunities. With the struggles the Bucs have had running the ball in recent seasons, Vaughn’s exciting running style could be the spark plug the offense needs if he gets an opportunity later in the season.

Khari Blasingame (FB/RB) – Tennessee Titans

Khari Blasingame came into Vanderbilt as a linebacker before switching to running back his sophomore year. He had some success as a runner but did not get drafted. Instead, he was signed to the Vikings practice squad after an impressive preseason and was later signed off the practice squad by the Tennessee Titans. He should have a key role blocking for the powerful Derrick Henry as he continues his career in Nashville and the Titans push for another AFC Championship appearance.

Spencer Pulley (OG/C) – New York Giants

Spencer Pulley was a four-year starter at center and guard for Vanderbilt after redshirting his freshman year in 2011. Despite making 41 starts for the Commodores. Pulley went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft and eventually signed with the Chargers. Throughout his NFL career, he has played in more than 60 games at multiple offensive line positions. He will look to make an impact as a role player for New York in 2020. 

Justin Skule (OT) – San Francisco 49ers

Justin Skule was a four-year starter at tackle for Vanderbilt but never garnered much national recognition, eventually becoming a sixth-round pick for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. He appeared in all 16 games in 2019 and was an instrumental part of their Super Bowl run that ended in an 11-point loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. However, he starts this season as the second-string tackle after the signing of Trent Williams from the Redskins. Skule will still fill an important role as a backup tackle, giving QB Jimmy Garopollo peace of mind, should one of his starting tackles go down. ‘Dores in the Pros: Spotting Vanderbilt alumni in the NFL