Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, tight end Jared Pinkney and wide receiver Kaljia Lipscomb could have heard their names called on stage in downtown Nashville at the 2019 NFL Draft.
Vaughn said he was given projections anywhere from the third round to the seventh round. Pinkney said he was projected between the second and fourth round. Lipscomb said he was given grades in the third-to-fifth round range.
Only six Vanderbilt players since 2000 have gone in the first two rounds of the draft, and Vanderbilt’s three offensive stars want to join that club in 2020 with one more season on West End. Lipscomb announced he was returning back in November, and last week, Vaughn and Pinkney both announced that they would return for one final season.
“Based on what everybody told me from agents to NFL personnel, I was going anywhere from two to four and then some people had me on the high end, some people had me on the low end,” Pinkney said on Wednesday. “I just kind of took from that I’d probably be a third-round pick. That wasn’t good enough for me, obviously. Instead of a draft class with like 20 different dudes that are going to get drafted, I might be a top-five guy maybe. Next year, I’ll definitely be one two or three.”
All three players said they also wanted to come back and finish their Vanderbilt degrees before moving on to the next level. Even with the chance to get a degree in front of him, nobody had a tougher choice than Vaughn, who saw his national profile skyrocket after rushing for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Texas Bowl.
However, according to him, that performance wasn’t on his mind as he made this decision.
“I heard it a lot right after the game,” Vaughn said. “The game really wasn’t going to determine my situation. My situation was more about the best thing for my family and so with me, one of the reasons I stayed was to get what I deserve as far as the next level. I still felt like there was stuff for me to prove on this level to get where I want to be on the next level.”
While Lipscomb announced his return in November after the Commodores beat Tennessee for the third year in a row, Vaughn and Pinkney took a long time to consider all of their options, and they stayed in touch about their thought processes.
When Vaughn announced his decision, it made Pinkney’s choice that much easier.
“I texted Ke like every day to check in, see what he was doing, see what he was thinking,” Pinkney said. “Midway through, it became pretty clear that he was leaning towards coming back, I kind of checked my situation a little bit harder and looked a bit differently at it. I honestly didn’t know, whenever I sent out the Twitter thing, I knew at 10:30 the night before what I was doing. I didn’t know before then.”
All three players have NFL aspirations, but as they learned, making it to the league isn’t as cut-and-dry as it might seem. Head coach Derek Mason talked them through the process and gave them ample resources to make an informed decision. That guidance went a long way in understanding the decision in front of them.
“I feel like Coach Mason, for me individually, he’s sat down with me, gave me everything, the rundown of stuff I didn’t know about the league as far as the money situation, the draft grades,” Vaughn said. “You can get this draft grade, but you might end up getting drafted here. It’s the small stuff I didn’t know about that as a college student just trying to get to the league and get some money, I’m not really thinking about. Sitting down with him, family, I feel like my best decision was to stay.”
With Vanderbilt’s three top weapons returning, what had looked to be a rebuilding year has suddenly become a potential breakout year for the Commodore offense. The biggest question mark will be who steps in at quarterback.
Vanderbilt has plenty of options, most notably grad transfer Riley Neal and redshirt junior Deuce Wallace. Whoever it is should have a smooth transition into the role given the volume of weapons he has coming back.
“We’ve got the best running back in the SEC, the best receiver in the SEC,” Pinkney said. “Regardless of who’s playing, whether it’s Riley, Deuce or Jamil [Muhammad] or Allan [Walters] or Mo [Hasan], we’ve got guys that we’ve got faith in. Whoever we put out there on August 31 against Georgia, they’ll be ready to go and we’ll be ready to play and we’ll be ready to support them.”
Each player has his own motivating factors going into next season, but for Lipscomb, he wants to go down as one of the best to do it at Vanderbilt.
“I want to break that touchdown record that Jordan Matthews holds,” Lipscomb said. “He’s a good guy, but I need that from him.