Breakout Players of 2015: Vanderbilt

The inaugural season under head coach Derek Mason didn’t go as well as some had hoped. Going into the 2015 season, the Vanderbilt football team is looking to take that next step and become a competitive team inside the Southeastern Conference.

If Vanderbilt hopes to put together a winning season several players will need to step their games up and even possibly become a force that helps the team towards victories.

Here are five particular players that have the talents and abilities to not only breakout in 2015 but also become key contributors to the team.

1. OLB Stephen Weatherly ­ Junior ­ 6’5 250 lbs

­ Weatherly has been a guy the Vanderbilt fan base has been waiting to breakout ever since he stepped on campus. He is one of those that steps off the bus and you immediately think, athletic powerhouse. Weatherly is a long, athletic and fast pass rusher that began to show off his wow capabilities late last year and this season, the defense and coaching staff are looking for the Georgian to explode on the scene. Weatherly has all the tools to become a dominating pass rusher and someone who plays against the run equally well. If the 2015 Vanderbilt defense plans to become a force, Weatherly needs to be one of the guys to get them there. If he plays up to his abilities, the Vandy defense could become scary game in and game out.

2. ILB Zach Cunningham ­ RS Sophomore ­ 6’4 234 lbs

­ Vanderbilt signed Cunningham with the idea of him one day becoming a starter inside their linebacking corps. Last season he cracked the starting lineup late in the year and immediately began to make a name for himself. His counterpart in Nigel Bowden could be among this list too but Cunningham may have more upside and the talents to one day find himself playing in the NFL. The Birmingham native is a long, active tackler with loads of potential and the ability to play both the run and the pass. Playing in the Commodores 3­4 defense, Cunningham lines up inside but has enough versatility to play on the outside as well if needed. Cunningham flashes outstanding abilities when he is on the field and after another year inside the weight room, look for the inside linebacker to bust out as a star and even possibly lead the team in tackles.

3. OG Delando Crooks ­ RS Sophomore ­ 6’5 312 lbs ­

Some people may think this is a little high for an interior offensive lineman to be listed but the 2014 Vanderbilt offensive line struggled mightily and is in desperate need of a physical mauler to handle SEC defensive lineman. Crooks is a big, physical specimen that has shined on the Commodores scout team for two years. Last season he got a small taste of action but for the 2015 year, he will be asked to step his role up and become an every game starter for the Dores. Crooks has the skill level and physicality to star on the offensive line and even in time, fight to become an All­SEC type candidate.

4. S Oren Burks ­ RS Sophomore ­ 6’3 212 lbs

­ Vanderbilt coaches were expecting big things from Oren Burks going into the 2014 season but after an injury early in the year, the redshirt sophomore was put on the shelf until late in the season but he still never got back to full strength. Burks is not your prototypical safety. Standing 6’3, the Virginia native has the size, athleticism and tools to become a standout safety.

5. WR Latevius Rayford ­ Junior ­ 6’1 192 lbs

­ Vanderbilt struggled big time on the offensive side of the ball in 2014 and did not have anyone that scared opposing defenses down the field. The Dores lacked playmakers on the outside and are in desperate need of someone to become one and give whoever is the quarterback, someone they can depend on. Rayford may be that guy. As the season went along, Rayford eventually emerged as one of the most reliable players on offense and someone that did not mind catching passes over the middle. The Memphis native showed toughness last year and the ability to go catch the ball at its highest point. Rayford, too, has enough versatility to play in the slot or line up outside. Rayford's hands, strength and hand eye coordination are his biggest traits as a receiver and Vanderbilt will need him a lot in 2015 if they want to see their offense improve.

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