Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason and his coaching staff went into the 2017 NFL Draft expected to receive good news over the three day period and that's what exactly happened.
The Commodores are sending eight players into NFL training camps, which begin for the rookies next week. All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham was selected in the 2nd round with 58th pick overall by the Houston Texans. In the 5th round, Vanderbilt offensive tackle Will Holden was taken with the 157th pick by the Arizona Cardinals.
Both Cunningham and Holden were expected to hear their names called during the NFL Draft while several other former Commodores didn't know if they would be selected or have to sign free agent deals. Well by the end of the draft, only two Commodores were drafted but several players signed with teams that present an opportunity at not only making the team but possibly carving out a significant role.
Here is a quick run-down on the players who signed free agent deals
DT Adam Butler: New England Patriots - If Vanderbilt was going to have a third player drafted last weekend, it would of been Butler. The 6'4 versatile lineman could and probably should have been drafted due his ability to play every defensive line position and his vast experience playing against top competition in the SEC. New England only drafted four players last weekend, so not only does the Patriots like Butler but he has a great opportunity at making the team. The Patriots are known for finding undrafted stars and maybe Butler could be that next guy.
CB Torren McGaster: Cincinnati Bengals - McGaster is a well seasoned cover corner who might have went to the best situation in the NFL for him. The Bengals are known for having a hard nosed, physical defense and that is the style of play McGaster plays with on the field. The Bengals were one of the team's that scouted McGaster at his pro day and even considered drafting him at the end of the draft. This is a good situation for McGaster. The Bengals fit his style and they are in need of depth at corner back.
OL Barrett Gouger: NY Jets - Vanderbilt has been pushing more and more lineman into the NFL lately. Holden was drafted and Gouger was signed by the Jets and like other Commodore players, the interior lineman signed with a team that is looking for depth on their line and a situation that fits the Nashville native. Gouger can play center or guard in the NFL and the Jets don't have a current backup to starter and former Commodore Wesley Johnson. Both Gouger and Johnson know each other, so this could be the perfect situation for Gouger at making an NFL roster.
OL Andrew Jelks: New England Patriots - It was a tough career for Jelks at Vanderbilt but a fresh and new opportunity in the NFL could be just what he needs, especially with him signing with the Patriots. New England does things different and seem to know what they are doing up there, so signing Jelks shows and tells me that they think he has a shot at competing in camp and possibly earning a spot on their team. If Jelks is able to show that he is healthy and even willing to move positions along the line, he could find himself having a better pro career than then one he had in college.
LB Jakarri Thomas: Tennessee Titans - If someone positioned themselves for a shot at the pro's after being an unknown for much of his college career, it has to be Thomas. After playing back-up roles over three years, Thomas was given a chance to starting last season and he more than impressed. Thomas is a physical and active inside linebacker who has the athleticism, smarts and work ethic to make an NFL roster. Special teams is where he could make his mark early with the Titans but he will have to beat out 5th round pick Jayon Brown for a role on the team.
Ath Darrius Sims: Tennessee Titans - The Commodores offensive swiss army knife has received a camp tryout with the Titans and they are in need of special team guys and players who can run and bring explosive plays to the field. Sims can line up in many positions on a football team but may be better suited to a slot receiver and return man in the NFL. He could have an uphill battle in camp with the Titans, especially after signing several players who are much like Sims. The Memphis native is a hard worker, so don't count him out as he starts rookie camp next week.