Hugh Freeze has been consistently adamant about what his team really needed to take that next step: depth. Ole Miss has consistently gotten better every single year during Freeze's tenure in recruiting. The 2012 class finish ranked 40th. The 2013 class finished ranked 7th. And the 2014 class finished ranked 19th. Despite jumping 33 spots from year one to year two, dropping 12 spots in year three and then falling back in 2015 to 21st, the Rebels are off to a hot start for the 2016 class and are ranked No. 4 in the nation. Ahead of Alabama.
Now, what does all this mean? It means that there is quality depth now that is needed for Ole Miss to compete at the highest level. It also means that there is elite talent on campus right now. The Rebels' met some important needs with the 2015 class and there are five freshmen who are ready to make a name for themselves this season.
By now, you all know about the 6'2, 190-pound wide receiver from Cedar Hill, Tex. From his ridiculous highlight reel from his senior season, to his dominance in Orlando at the Under Armour All-American Game, Lodge has been a household name for a while now. But as for his freshman season in Oxford, he could become even more famous if he is able to crack the starting lineup.
The Rebs have Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Derrick Jones, Markell Pack, Quincy Adeboyejo, Trey Bledsoe, Collins Moore, Quintavius Burdette and fellow blue-chip freshman Van Jefferson. So, yeah, the Rebels are loaded at wide receiver. But honestly, I don't believe it'll be much of a problem for Lodge to find a way on the field. He is very polished for an 18-year old newcomer and possesses elite speed and acrobatics when going up for the ball. His impressive body control in the air helps to fend off defenders and his large hands give him the ability to pluck footballs out of the air and away from the opposition. Despite the crazy depth, Ole Miss is still searching for a legit No. 2 opposite Treadwell. It could very well be Lodge if no one else steps up.
Most crootin services considered the young man from Petal, Miss. the second-highest rated croot in the 2015 Rebel class behind Lodge. So it only makes sense that the 6'3, 307-pound offensive lineman makes this list. Javon handled himself extremely well in San Antonio, Tex. at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl against several other big name croots, so the transition to college shouldn't be too tough for him.
We all know about the offensive line struggles that forced the Rebels to do all sorts of wacky stuff to try and discover a run game last season. Whether it was injuries, weight problems or just overall lack of experience and depth, the Rebels are still searching for a consistent starting five in the trenches. With Justin Bell still battling some weight issues and Aaron Morris recovering from his second knee injury, the offensive guard roles are wide open. Hugh Freeze has been a big-time supporter of the offense being faster this season so a young and slim Patterson could be the answer up front.
Other than the offensive line, the other position of need heading into the 2015 season is linebacker. Sixth-year linebacker and all-around badass Deterrian Shackelford finally ran out of eligibility and PhD degrees and Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant both graduated. So heading into this season, that need was addressed quickly with all-SEC defensive end C.J. Johnson being moved back to his natural position of middle linebacker. He is joined by returnees Christian Russell, Demarquis Gates, Denzel Nkemdiche and newcomer Terry Caldwell. But I'm thinking there's another name that needs to be thrown in the mix: Mr. Armani Linton.
The 6'2, 206-pound freshman from Walnut, Miss. was Mr. Everything in high school, playing multiple positions. His versatility and athleticism could help crack the second level starting lineup for Dave Wommack's Landsharks. Despite not possessing the size you typically see at his position, Linton fits the mold of the speedy, aggressive linebacker that Wommack covets. Linton's measurables and intangibles could very well give him an opportunity to have a Denzel Nkemdiche-type freshman season.
Sticking with the linebacker position, we take a look at the mystery man from the Sunshine State. By mystery man, I mean that Curtis wasn't highly-touted coming out of high school. But neither was Patrick Willis, so who cares? Just take a look at his film.
Mr. Curtis is another example of how the game has changed recruiting a bit. Teams like LSU and Arkansas are bringing back the "line it up and pound the rock, run right at you" offense in a world of spread offenses and hurry up no huddles. Curtis gives you a ridiculous 6'3, 247-pound-frame, the ideal size when facing fellas like Leonard Fournette and Alex Collins up the middle. Curtis could very well back up Johnson and Russell in the middle and provide quality depth this season.
Last but certainly not least, the third position that has been somewhat of a
question running joke (no pun intended) with Ole Miss fans has been punt returner. Not since Nickolas "Snoop" Brassell in the early 2010s has Ole Miss had a legitimate threat standing under footballs that have been skied to the heavens. Have no fear, Rebel faithful, Freeze has found the answer to your punt return concerns. Julius was a coveted four-star croot out of Florida who was pursued by Power 5 programs such as Auburn, Florida, Louisville, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Julius is a solid 6'0, 180-pound athlete who has electrifying athleticism and speed. Strength coach Paul Jackson has already made strides with Julius, who's up to 180 after reporting to Oxford at 170. He possesses elite vision and elusiveness when in the open field and could be an immediate impact guy on special teams. With a legit 4.5 40-yard dash, Julius could jump into the starting lineup and have a similar impact that Isaiah McKenzie had last season at Georgia (three return touchdowns).
Freeze has been stockpiling SEC-caliber talent during his first three years in Oxford. Yes, there is plenty of depth at most of the major positions so redshirts wouldn't be the worst thing for some of these names, but playing freshmen is also not the craziest thing anymore and is one of the things that croots love about Freeze. For the sake of crootin, I vote for letting these kids play.