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Ole Miss recruiting targets to watch in the 2017 class

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Now that National Signing Day 2016 is over, it is time to turn the attention to the next crop of croots. Here are the top names that we think you should know.

Student Sports

The Rebels have just put the exclamation point on the 2016 recruiting class that finished No. 6 overall. But, there is no time to waste, now to look towards 2017. With the emphatic finish on the offensive side of the football, you can best believe that Hugh Freeze and Co. will be looking to knock it out of the park on the defensive side this cycle.

Also, because the Rebs only signed 24 in 2016, they can can count back seven scholarships this December towards the 2016 class with early enrollees. With the graduating seniors and the normal attrition, that number could increase. For now, it appears that the Rebels will take the best available at a few offensive positions and then use the remainder of their focus on revamping the Landshark defense.

Now, let's take a look at the top 15 names to know before next February.

All ratings are from the 247Sports composite, click on each croot to see highlights

4-star Tee Higgins

Overall rank: 39
Wide receiver rank: 7
Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Higgins is one of the main targets on the Rebs' offensive board. He is a mismatch nightmare anywhere on the field, mostly in the red zone (6'5, 190-pounds). When you look at Higgins statistics, you can see that he is a big-play machine. He only snagged 46 catches in 2015 but had 841 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Tee just decommitted from the Vols and looks to be interested in Clemson and Ole Miss. He already holds 16 offers but expect that number to dramatically increase.

4-star Cam Akers

Overall rank: 41
Running back rank: 4
Hometown: Clinton, Miss.

At 6'0 and 210-pounds, it was pretty obvious why Nick Saban went after Akers and secured an early commitment. But, we all know how solid those early verbal commitments to the Tide are from Mississippi kids (SPOILER: not very). With his dynamic skill set and explosive athleticism, he could very well be priority No. 1 for Ole Miss in 2017. And now Derrick Nix is pissed because the Magnolia State is his crootin world, everyone else is just living in it. I, personally, expect a flip in the near future.

4-star D.D. Bowie

Overall rank: 52
Wide receiver rank: 9
Hometown: Morton, Miss.

The super athlete flipped from Alabama to Ole Miss last season after the win over Texas A&M and became the first commit of the 2017 class. Bowie excels in space with his quickness and top-end speed. At 6'1 and 170-pounds, he would be difficult for linebackers and safeties to matchup against in the slot. He might also be counted on as a recruiter for a certain teammate who plays a certain position that Ole Miss desperately needs help at.

4-star Trey Smith

Overall rank: 63
Offensive tackle rank: 10
Hometown: Jackson, Tenn.

The potential heir apparent to Greg Little, Smith received his first scholarship from the Rebels when he was a freshman. The University School of Jackson star is already 6'5, 290 and according to his Crystal Ball, has a top four of Alabama, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Tennessee. With some added bulk and refined pass pro technique, Smith could be a bookend tackle wherever he goes. He already has the athleticism to go along with a vicious initial punch and attitude to finish blocks downfield. If I had to guess, Smith will either be a Rebel or a Vol.

4-star Anthony Hines

Overall rank: 74
Inside linebacker rank: 1
Hometown: Plano, Texas

The former Mississippi State commit has reopened his recruitment, probably because he can go wherever he wants because he has a total of 75 offers. The 6'3, 230-pound backer plays sideline-to-sideline and will be an instant impact dude wherever he goes (unless it's Bama because they have 11 five-star linebackers on the roster already). Grant Heard and Co. have recruited the Lone Star State well, but they'll have their work cut out for them to try and get Hines. Also of note, the kid has a fantastic afro.

4-star Ty Chandler

Overall rank: 104
Running back rank: 8
Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Chandler is a Rebel legacy (father, Chico played at Ole Miss in the late 90's) and an absolute hoss. As a junior for Montgomery Bell Academy, the 5'11, 190-pounder only seemed to get stronger as the game went on (2,558 yards and 31 touchdowns) despite not being very bulky. Chandler has a well-built frame and enough speed to beat defenders to the edge. The Music City product seems to favor a top five of Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, but the Rebs hold a huge lead in the Crystal Ball prediction at 86%.

4-star Tristan Gebbia

Overall rank: 123
Pro-style quarterback rank: 7
Hometown: Calabasas, Calif.

Gebbia is another Ole Miss legacy (father, Rich played in the late 80's) who recently put Ole Miss in his top five. More importantly, the 6'3, 180 signal caller has zero West Coast teams in his top five. Even though Shea Patterson is now on campus, Gebbia could sign with Ole Miss, redshirt and be the starter his redshirt sophomore season. Ole Miss leads Nebraska in the Crystal Ball prediction with 60%. Gebbia tossed for 4,435 yards and 45 touchdowns his junior year.

4-star Cordarrian Richardson

Overall rank: 146
Running back rank: 11
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

The Bluff City product is another running back that the Rebs covet. With a powerful build and downhill running style, Richardson is a handful in the open field. The 5'10, 220-pound star single-handedly led the Trezevant Bears to a 2A state title after running for 2,390 yards and 18 touchdowns his junior year. Richardson already holds 14 offers and seems to be keen on Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

4-star Walker Little

Overall rank: 163
Offensive tackle rank: 25
Hometown: Bellaire, Texas

If Trey Smith is the replacement for Greg Little, then Walker Little could be the eventual replacement for Bryce Mathews. Walker is already 6'7 and 301-pounds and bulldozes defenders like it's nothing. With some technique refinement with his pass blocking, Little could be a contributor very quickly once he gets to college. With 29 offers, it looks like Mr. Little is already down to Ole Miss and Texas. Hugh Freeze might have the upper hand on Charlie Strong due to the fact that Little has two siblings that attend Ole Miss.

4-star C.J. Avery

Overall rank: 170
Safety rank: 11
Hometown: Grenada, Miss.

This recruitment has already taken an interesting turn as C.J.'s cousin, Genard, has expressed legitimate interest in transferring from Memphis to Ole Miss. If this were to happen, the Rebels would be in great position to land the 6'1, 196-pounder. Avery totaled 76 tackles and five interceptions his junior year. He already has early offers from the likes of Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Stanford.

4-star Willie Gay

Overall rank: 203
Outside linebacker rank: 14
Hometown: Starkville, Miss.

The in-state talent is not nearly as deep in 2017, but Willie is one of the top priorities in this class. Despite hailing from Starkville, Miss., this staff showed in 2016 that they are perfectly capable of going into enemy territory and stealing a blue-chip prospect. Gay is 6'2 and 216 and reminds me a little of Tony Conner. He has tremendous length and athleticism and with some added bulk would be perfect for Dave Wommack's Husky position. Gay finished 2015 with 84 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions.

3-star Aaron Odom

Overall rank: 387
Weak-side defensive end rank: 22
Hometown: Jackson, Miss.

Ole Miss has always done a phenomenal job recruiting Callaway High School (Justin Bell, Breeland Speaks and Rod Taylor) and Odom could be next in line. Odom only has three offers from Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss but his recruitment should blow up soon. He is 6'4, 230-pounds and is an absolute handful for folks on the high school level. He could be one of the top names on the board for Wommack and the defensive staff. Odom's junior year was video game worthy as he collected 124 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 18 sacks.

3-star Freddie Hartz

Overall rank: 400
Inside linebacker rank: 8
Hometown: Morton, Miss.

Hartz is teammates with Ole Miss commit D.D. Bowie and is an outstanding athlete who is a two-way player for the Panthers. The 6'2, 230-pounder has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss but should stay in state for college. The versatile Hartz had 61 tackles and 1,665 kickoff return yards and a touchdown during his junior campaign. You have to think the Rebels' need for inside linebackers has to be a fantastic selling point that has Hartz's attention.

3-star Tyree Johnson

Overall rank: 565
Weak-side defensive end rank: 31
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Despite missing on five-star Terrell Hall, Ole Miss is going to stay vigilant in their pursuit of defenders in the D.C. area. Listed as a defensive end, but only 6'3, 220-pounds, Johnson is one of those tweeners who is just too athletic and too physically-gifted to NOT have on the field. He is a quick twitch prospect who looks comfortable in the open field covering running backs or with his hand on the ground rushing the passer. Johnson already has offers from Maryland, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

3-star O'Bryan Goodson

Overall rank: NR
Defensive tackle rank: NR
Hometown: Batesville, Miss.

This South Panola product might remind you of current Rebel All-American and former Tiger, Issac Gross. Goodson is a tad bit undersized, just like Gross, but that did not seem to stop him during his rampage through 6A football in 2015. The 6'1, 245-pounder collected 52 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and six sacks. Despite not having an offer from Ole Miss, he still lists the Rebels as his overall favorite at this point during his recruitment.