There’s no way around it. Cam Akers’ decision to spurn his home-state team and commit to Florida State is a huge blow to an Ole Miss program desperate for positive momentum. Akers is a generational talent, one who just polished off a senior season in which he accumulated 3,128 yards passing, 2,105 yards on the ground, and 65 total touchdowns in just 15 games. Couple that with Ole Miss’ longstanding lack of a game-breaking back, as well as a disappointing recruiting class that currently ranks 48th in the nation, and missing on Akers seems downright tragic. And yet, despairing Ole Miss fans should perhaps take a step back from the ledge. Even without Cam Akers, the 2017 Ole Miss offense is brimming with young talent and potential.
Shea Patterson committed early (in February of 2015) and remained steadfast in his commitment all the way to signing day, so his recruitment didn’t generate the level of hype that surrounded Cam Akers’. However, Patterson’s signing was perhaps the greatest recruiting feat in Ole Miss football history. Despite unexpectedly being thrust into the starting role after Chad Kelly’s injury, the former No. 1 quarterback recruit flashed his potential in several admirable late-season performances. Remember this?
Patterson struggled in losses against Vandy and State, too often bailing on plays to lean on his mobility. But he continued to showcase his physical ability throughout, and an offseason spent watching tape and taking No. 1 snaps should lead to major progress in 2017.
And let’s not forget that Patterson will have a whole damn arsenal of targets to throw to next season in Phil Longo’s Air Raid offense. Sure, Longo’s system may be a bit more run-heavy than the typical Air Raid attack, but let’s be honest, the Rebels are going to air it out next year. Wide receivers like Van Jefferson, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Demarkus Lodge—all former four-stars—provide a ridiculous amount of depth in an offense that will demand it. Even more enticingly, each fulfills a different role in the passing attack. Whether it be Jefferson’s route-running, Brown’s physicality, or Metcalf’s jump-ball ability, the Rebels will employ a whole host of talents that should give opposing secondaries nightmares.
It doesn’t hurt matters that the majority of the Ole Miss offensive line remains intact, anchored by returning starters Rod Taylor, Sean Rawlings, Javon Patterson, and Jordan Sims. And don’t forget Greg Little, the top offensive tackle prospect in the 2016. If that group is able to take a step forward in 2017, Patterson should have plenty of time to pick apart opposing defenses.
And while Akers would have played an immediate role in the backfield, the Rebels’ running back corps could be pleasantly productive even without him. An ACL tear and academic ineligibility robbed the Rebels of their running back depth in 2016, but Jordan Wilkins and Eric Swinney are both set to return in 2017. When given the opportunity, freshman D’Vaughn Pennamon exhibited a unique skill-set that should earn him more playing time.
Of course, it would be dishonest to pretend that Akers’ commitment to Florida State doesn’t hurt. Missing out on an in-state, five-star recruit, especially one who had expressed interest in staying close to home, always hurts. It’s another blow in what has been a painful end to 2016, a year that began with a Sugar Bowl victory and a top-10 recruiting class. But don’t give up yet, Rebel fans. Ole Miss has endured far worse, and hope is on the horizon, even if that horizon might have appeared a bit brighter had Akers chosen Ole Miss on Tuesday night.