It didn't take long for Hugh Freeze to find his potential replacement for Laremy Tunsil: Ole Miss coaches have received a letter of intent from Greg Little, the country's No. 1 offensive tackle prospect. Little, who's ranked the third-best recruit in the country by the 247Sports Composite, committed to the Rebels back in mid-December, bolstering a critical area of need for a team losing its star left tackle to the NFL Draft.
Little's signing is the biggest recruiting win for Freeze's staff since No. 1 overall Robert Nkemdiche, and the Rebels' 2016 haul is shaping up to be even better than that legendary 2013 class. Little becomes the third five-star player to sign with Ole Miss, joining top quarterback prospect Shea Patterson and D-lineman Benito Jones, both of who are already on campus in Oxford as early enrollees. The class came into National Signing Day ranked as high as No. 3 and no lower than No. 5 among the major recruiting sites.
How he fits in
Tunsil isn't the only offensive tackle leaving Oxford this offseason: starting right tackle Fahn Cooper has graduated. To illustrate how key Little's arrival is, I'll borrow from a post I wrote back in December:
Before the commitment of Little, Freeze was out of luck in terms of replacements at the bookends. The only players on the roster with starting experience at the position will be Sean Rawlings, a current freshman, and Robert Conyers, who was moved to center this season. It's likely the Rebs would have headed into 2016 with Rawlings making his first ever start on the left side and either Conyers or incoming true freshman Bryce Mathews starting on the right. Hell, Jeremy Liggins might have cracked the two-deep.
Ole Miss' explosive offense has been built around Kelly and the vertical passing game (the Rebs are 10th nationally in passing plays of 20 or more yards), but an inability to slow edge rushers would limit Chad's ability to push the ball downfield. Any uncertainty at the left tackle spot could cripple Ole Miss' entire offense.
With that said, don't take it as a forgone conclusion that Little will be able to step in and immediately excel as the starting left tackle. Tunsil spoiled us a bit, and SB Nation Recruiting Director Bud Elliott cautions Rebel fans not to burden him with unrealistic expectations:
I don't know if he's ready to start in the SEC West next year, though it sounds like it'll be trail by fire. It's realistic he'll start just because Ole Miss has lack of numbers at tackle. But I think it's unrealistic to expect him to play like Tunsil played as a freshman, just because Tunsil was an outlier. For the most part, a freshman at left tackle gets smoked.
I think Ole Miss can help him. They don't run a whole lot of straight drop back stuff â everything is either quick hitters or pop pass or play-action type stuff.