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Ole Miss recruiting class 2015: Wide receivers/tight ends

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In this multi-part segment, your Red Cup writers analyze the 2015 signing class position by position, and break down how the current signees might fit in this Fall and beyond...

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Signees:

Damarkus Lodge:

6'2, 180lbs

247 composite #43 player overall, #6 WR

Hudl highlights

Based on talent and national rankings, Lodge is the biggest haul of the class. Seems to possess excellent top speed, as well as excellent hands and body control needed to win match-ups in the air. Many of Lodge's highlights feature him just blowing past cornerbacks; impressive when you consider the level of competition he faced in Texas. Notice in the Hudl video linked that Lodge is also quite capable of catching a jump ball, keeping his balance, and running after the catch.

Expect for Lodge to have an immediate impact as an outside receiver, possibly allowing Laquon Treadwell and/or Damore'ea Stringfellow to slide down into the slot at times. Having an imposing blocker in the slot was a great look for Ole Miss in 2013, and Lodge might facilitate the return of that package. It will be interesting to note how much weight and strength Lodge adds; he doesn't have the potential to bulk up quite like Treadwell did, but a few extra pounds might be good for him.

Van Jefferson:

6'2 180lbs

247 composite #108 player overall, #11 WR

Hudl highlights

Most years, Van Jefferson would be the headlining offensive playmaker of the Ole Miss class. This year, Jefferson perhaps flies under the radar a little bit (despite the dramatic twists and turns during his recruitment). Jefferson has every chance to step right into the rotation as a freshman, however. He has a great skill set in terms of size, speed, hands, route-running, and body control. His Hudl highlights seem to demonstrate how he uses explosive route-running to get separation, especially in the red zone.

As has been publicized often, Jefferson's father is the WR coach for the Tennessee Titans. This leads many to believe that Van will arrive in Oxford with quite a bit more technique and polish than an average 18 year-old receiver.

Jalen Julius:

5'10, 170lbs

247 composite #556 player overall, #54 CB

Hudl highlights

One of the most confounding constants under Hugh Freeze has been spotty play from the return game. While special teams coaching in general doesn't seem to be a big issue, finding a reliable punt returner has escaped Freeze so far. After going hard after Isaiah McKenzie (2014) and Ryan Newsome (2015), Freeze may have finally found his man in Julius. Jalen is listed at 5'10; as you know, sometimes college football causes 6'0 tall men to shrink down to 5'9 by the time the NFL combine rolls around, but Julius doesn't look particularly tiny in his highlights. What does pop out is astonishing speed. Julius appears to be a guy who can pull away from pursuers at an alarming rate. Whether that speed translates to a better return game remains to be seen, but at least Ole Miss now has a skilled guy who can dedicate his efforts to that area. Away from special teams, it's in the air whether Julius will be a slot receiver or a cornerback.

Willie Hibbler:

6'5, 215lbs

247 composite #376 player overall, #26 ATH

Hudl highlights

Hibbler is a unique talent who's had quite an interesting year. Hibbler was almost certainly the most talented member of his North Panola team, and played  quarterback, wide receiver,  linebacker, safety, and punter(?). Before the season started, there were reports that Hibbler had quit the North Panola football team. What exactly went down is unclear; it appears that there were some quickly-reconciled differences between Hibbler and his coach. Later in the season, Hibbler and his father were involved in an auto accident. Both sustained minor injuries, and Hibbler missed a game or two. Then came the weight loss... Hibbler was originally listed as about 6'5 or even 6'6, weighing in at around 235. Great size for a tight end, but there were whispers that Hibbler could be headed to the defensive side of the ball as a pass rushing defensive end. Just as talk of a position changed seemed to escalate, Hibbler revealed in an interview that he'd started jogging with garbage bags on, and had slimmed down to as little as 215. Whether this was an indication that Hibbler would rather be a flex TE/WR, or whether he simply felt like the weight was bad for his speed, Hibbler took matters into his own hands, and talk of a position change seems to have died down.

I say all that to say this: Willie had an odd, up and down year for one of the top players in the state. Hibbler's ability to contribute immediately remains to be seen, but he definitely has a terrific frame and tons of athleticism and versatility.

Notable misses:

The coaching staff did a tremendous job managing their risks with this position group. They had a commitment in hand from LaMichael Pettway, but Pettway began leaning towards Arkansas. The eventual de-commit seemed to be coupled with increasing confidence in Ole Miss' chances with Demarkus Lodge (who was at that time committed to Texas A&M). Perhaps they made a strategic move in not fighting too hard to keep Pettway?

As far as Van Jefferson is concerned, this feels like as good of a place as any to note that Ole Miss' involvement with Jefferson may have been heavily influenced by the Rebels' new least favorite Tennessee Volunteer, Drew Richmond. So, thanks Drew?

The only missed opportunities that Ole Miss realistically had a shot with were Ryan Newsome and Will Gragg. Newsome was a slot/return specialist who eventually committed to UCLA, only to flip to the Texas Longhorns. Gragg was a traditionally built tight end who ended up signing with his home state school, Arkansas.

The state of the position:

Ole Miss will carry perhaps the nation's best receiving corps into the 2015 season. With Treadwell expected to make a full recovery, and with the newly-eligible Damore'ea Stringfellow in the mix, look for a top duo similar to what Auburn had in Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams. Beyond that, Ole Miss' depth really emerges. Expect a rotation of Cody Core, Markell Pack, Quincy Adeboyejo, Dayall Harris, Damarkus Lodge, and Van Jefferson at receiver. Behind that group is chronically injured Collins Moore, journeymen Derrick Jones and Q Burdette, freshman athlete Jalen Julius, and reserve Trey Bledsoe.

In his first two seasons, Freeze indicated that he wanted a huge platoon of receivers, but usually ended up leaning on 3 main guys (Moncrief/Sanders/Logan in 2012, and Moncrief/Treadwell/Logan in 2013). Now, we'll get to see how much he opens up the rotation.

Tight end remains very much an unknown quantity. Evan Engram of course is a huge threat, probably the best receiving tight end in the SEC. Beyond that, 2014 saw Jeremy Liggins, Nick Parker, Channing Ward, Carlton Martin, and even a walk-on or two taking snaps at the position. Liggins now appears destined for offensive tackle, but look for him to stay on as a situational TE while he adjusts to the position. We of course haven't seen redshirt Sammie Epps, but early reports are promising. My early guess is that Hibbler will struggle to break into that rotation, but I could be wrong.

Position grade:

A. This is the only A I would issue for this years' recruiting class, and the reasons are clear. Ole Miss identified two elite prospects at the wide receiver position and landed both. Pair that with an exceptional home-state athlete, and you add the strongest group of signees to what is already the strongest position group on the team.