James Franklin continues to outdo himself on the recruiting trail.
According to several recruiting services, Vanderbilt’s 2013 signing class will be the best in Franklin’s three years as coach, if not in program history. The Commodores currently have 24 commits and the class could get larger with two or possibly three late signees on National Signing Day on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN.com ranked Vanderbilt’s signing class 19th, 20th and 21st, respectively. 24/7Sports ranks the Commodores at 33rd.
“I think it is the best class they’ve had in certainly the modern era,” 24/7 Sports recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said. “Last year’s class was really good but I think they’ve built on it. … The mathematical formula [used by 24/7Sports] that the computer spits out for whatever reason just values their class a little bit lower than some others. But as I look at the class and I look at the players they’re getting, to me it is the best group they’ve ever had.”
Of course, in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference, the Commodores are still battling to reach the middle of the pack.
Scout.com ranked Vanderbilt seventh out of the league’s 14 teams. Rivals.com and ESPN.com had the Commodores at ninth. 24/7Sports placed Vanderbilt 12th, ahead of just Missouri and Kentucky. Two-time defending national champ Alabama ranks No. 1 in the country, according to both Rivals.com and 247Sports.
Winning the Music City Bowl and finishing the 2012 season at 9-4 built momentum. But the pressure from conference rivals has picked up in the last couple weeks.
Prized recruit and four-star running back Johnathan Ford decommitted from Vanderbilt last week after he visited Auburn. Ford, a native of New Hope, Ala., reportedly has narrowed his choices down to Auburn and Tennessee.
Then the Commodores lost out on Florida high school standout Matt Dayes. The three-star running back chose North Carolina State, which lost to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl.
On Saturday, the Commodores finally got some good running back news with a commitment from Rapheal Webb. The lone tailback in the class, Webb is a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder that Simmons calls an “outstanding get.” He chose Vanderbilt over Boston College, Florida Atlantic and Minnesota.
“You can’t deny the fact that the Johnathan Ford decommitment hurt because they evaluated him before anyone else,” Simmons said. “That left them certainly in a challenging spot. But I think they responded really well with Webb, a guy who may very well fit what Vanderbilt likes to do offensively better than Ford even. He is a really complete, physical back who has been playing against the best competition in the state of Florida.”
Simmons also said Vanderbilt addressed several areas of need, most specifically wide receiver and tight end. The Commodores have four wide receiver commitments in Carlos Burse, DeAndre Woods and Memphis products Gerald Perry and Latevius Ford. Simmons believes as many as three can compete right away for the third starting spot behind Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. They also have commitments from four tight ends, including four-star recruit Mitchell Parsons out of Parker, Colo., and Brandon Vandenburg, a highly touted junior college transfer.
Simmons expects the Commodores to lock up two more four-star recruits before the end of signing day.
Vanderbilt is the mix with Oregon and Auburn for linebacker Zach Cunningham (Pinson, Ala.) and is competing against Florida State for wide receiver Jordan Cunningham (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). Simmons also says the Commodores could snag four-star linebacker Skai Moore, a high school teammate of Jordan Cunningham’s who has narrowed his decision to Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Rutgers.
“It is strange to say but I think a lot of people around the country have to look twice when they see [Vanderbilt] but it is the reality,” Simmons said. “There have been a lot of cases where Vanderbilt really is becoming the team to beat for four-star, five-star level guys. That is where they want to be. Now they have to get to the point to where they close and they finish the job on a couple more guys.”