The opportunity to pursue a professional football career starts Thursday for 17 Vanderbilt standouts when the NFL Draft begins in Dallas.
The three-day draft, which opens Thursday with first-round selections, is the first chance at an NFL career for running backs Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers, wide receivers C.J. Duncan, Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield, tight end Nathan Marcus, defensive linemen Nifae Lealao, Jay Woods and Jonathan Wynn, linebackers Oren Burks and Emmanuel Smith, defensive backs Tre Herndon, Ryan White, Taurean Ferguson and Arnold Tarpley III, placekicker Tommy Openshaw and snapper Scott Sypniewski.
The draft-eligible Vanderbilt players include Webb, the leading rusher in team history, the versatile Burks and Sherfield, who was one of several Commodores to impress NFL scouts at Vanderbilt Pro Day on March 18.
Head coach Derek Mason looks forward to multiple Commodores having their names announced at the draft.
“There’s a lot of talented Commodores available in this draft that would make great additions to any NFL roster,” Mason said. “These men were very productive on the field, including some who set a new standard for the program. They are blessed with tremendous work ethic and driven to succeed, on and off the field.”
Most draft analysts believe Burks, a two-time captain who played safety and linebacker in a four-year starting career, will be the first Commodore selected in the upcoming draft. Burks, from Fairfax Station, Va., set career-highs in 2017 with 45 solo tackles and seven tackles for loss, then impressed scouts at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in late January and the NFL Combine in early March.
Webb, from Gainesville, Fla., enters the draft off one of the most productive careers ever by a Southeastern Conference running back. A 49-game starter, Webb smashed virtually every team rushing record, finishing his career with 4,173 rushing yards, 32 rushing touchdowns, 35 total touchdowns and 16 games of at least 100 rushing yards.
Sherfield, from Danville, Ill., earned the respect of coaches and teammates for his tremendous work ethic. A three-year starter, Sherfield finished his career as the Commodores’ No. 8 all-time receiver with 136 receptions and 1,869 receiving yards. He also tallied nine career touchdown catches.
Two Commodores were selected in the 2017 Draft: All-America linebacker Zach Cunningham (Houston, 2nd Round) and Will Holden (Arizona, 5th Round). Both Cunningham and Holden ended their rookie seasons as NFL starters.
NFL Network, FOX Sports and ESPN will start draft coverage starting Thursday at 7 p.m. CT. The networks will start coverage of Rounds 2-3 Friday at 6 p.m., and Rounds 4-7 Saturday at 11 a.m.
Vanderbilt Notes on the NFL Draft
• Quarterback Bill Wade is Vanderbilt‘s only No. 1 overall pick. He was selected first overall by the Los Angeles Rams in 1952. More than a decade later, Wade guided the Chicago Bears to the 1963 NFL championship.
• Nine Commodores have selected in the first round, including Wade and offensive lineman Chris Williams, who as the 14th pick by the Chicago Bears in 2008 is the most recent first-round draftee. Besides Wade and Williams, other Commodore first-round selections are QB Jay Cutler (No. 11 by Denver, 2005), OL Will Wolford (No. 20 by Buffalo, 1986), CB Leonard Coleman (No. 8 by Baltimore Colts, 1984), RB Tom Moore (No. 5 by Green Bay, 1960), RB Phil King (No. 12 by N.Y. Giants, 1958), RB Charley Horton (No. 11 by Los Angeles Rams, 1956) and RB Jack Jenkins (No. 10 by Washington, 1943).
• Since the draft was reduced to its current seven-round format in 1994, the most Vanderbilt players selected came in 2001 when four Commodores were taken: LB Jamie Winborn (2nd round), LB Matt Stewart (4rd round), PK John Markham (5th round), and DB Jimmy Williams (6th round).
• Six Commodores is the most ever taken in a single draft. It happened in 1956 and 1959, when the draft extended beyond 30 rounds.