When five-star defensive end Jeffery Simmons stepped in front of a festively-draped podium in Noxubee County, Miss. in the early afternoon on Wednesday, Ole Miss was having one hell of a National Signing Day. Top-ranked offensive tackle Greg Little had just sent in his LOI; four-star running back D'Vaughn Pennamon had resisted the pull of Nick Saban; and the excitement of four-star wideout (and more significantly, Starkville native) A.J. Brown's shocking Ole Miss commitment was still surging.
Then Simmons reached for a maroon Mississippi State hat and things started sliding downhill. Over the next few hours, Ole Miss watched key defensive prospects Mique Juarez, Jonathan Kongbo and David Luafatasaga ink elsewhere, bringing a sour finish to an otherwise wildly successful National Signing Day.
Because yes, even with the disappointing finish, this is a phenomenal haul for Hugh Freeze. As of the writing of this article, it ranks No. 6 nationally in the 247Sports Composite and includes two of the top four prospects in the country (Little and QB Shea Patterson). There are three five-stars -- tied with Bama and Georgia for the most in the country -- and 13 four-stars.
The disappointment is more the result of timing and perception -- had guys like Little or Patterson announced at the last minute as opposed to committing months in advance, Rebel fans would be a lot more excited about this class.
Let's take a deep dive into both the good and the bad from National Signing Day 2016.
Don't forget about Shea Patterson.
Since the top quarterback prospect in the country was already on campus taking classes when NSD started, it's easy to gloss over him when looking at the final results. But Patterson is easily the single most significant recruiting pull in this class (if not ever) when you considering how woefully Ole Miss has historically recruited the position. Remember, Randall Mackey, Bo Wallace, and Chad Kelly were all JUCO transfers and Eli only showed up on campus because of his dad. Recruiting a quarterback of Shea's caliber out of high school is unprecedented at Ole Miss.
Shea's gonna have one hell of a receiving corps, by the way.
Not only did Freeze pilfer Brown out of Dan Mullen's backyard, he signed two other four-star wideouts in D.K. Metcalf (from Oxford) and Tre Nixon. He also bagged athletic receiving tight end Octavious Cooley, who could replace Evan Engram after next season.
Look at the group Shea could be throwing to in 2017:
2014 four-star Markell Pack
2015 four-star Damarkus Lodge
2015 four-star Van Jefferson
2016 four-star A.J. Brown
2016 four-star D.K. Metcalf
2016 four-star Tre Nixon
2016 four-star Octavoius Cooley
Oh and offensive linemen, too!
Freeze wasn't able to address his position need at linebacker, but man did he crush it at offensive tackle, where starters Laremy Tunsil and Fahn Cooper are both gone in 2016. Greg Little is an elite-level guy who could potentially step in as an immediate starter at left tackle, and four-star Bryce Mathews could end up competing for a starting job on the right side down the road. Throw in three-stars Royce Newman and Chandler Tuitt and it was a great day for offensive tackle depth.
Back to those defensive whiffs...
As surprising as Jeffery Simmons' commitment to State was, it's far from a crippling blow for a D-line that's already loaded and added five-star DT Benito Jones as an early enrollee.
But linebacker is a different story. Mique Juarez's commitment to UCLA late in the day would have at least been palatable had it not been for the late defection of four-star JUCO David Luafatasaga, who backed out on his commitment to Ole Miss and flipped to Utah. Freeze did add three-star Donta Evans and we could see three-star defensive end Tariqious Tisdale and/or four-star tight end Jacob Mathis move positions, but they're not enough to make up for the loss of starters C.J. Johnson and Denzel Nkemdiche, at least in the short term. How this staff failed so miserably at a position of such desperate need is baffling.
A four-star committed WHILE JUMPING OUT OF A DAMN PLANE.
The coolest announcement of the day goes to four-star safety Deontay Anderson, who's Ole Miss commitment came via a prerecorded Bleacher Report video of him skydiving. It literally doesn't matter if this guy does another thing during his three-four years in Oxford (he'll probably be an immediate contributor for an understaffed Rebel secondary), he'll always be my favorite player in this class.
It was a successful day in the secondary, where Anderson is joined by four-star Jaylon Jones and three-star early enrollees Greg Eisworth and Myles Hartsfield (though four-star Shyheim Carter, who most expected to sign with Ole Miss, ended up in Tuscaloosa).