It's easy to forget that Houston Nutt actually fielded a couple of pretty good football teams in 2008 and 2009. While inconsistency and depth plagued these two teams, they had more in common with Hugh Freeze's teams than you might suspect: a gunslinger QB, NFL talent at receiver, mid-level talent on the OL, and a terrifying defensive line. One of the biggest differences turned out to be the secondary. Well-coached and experienced, the Rebel secondary was almost certainly the best unit in the country under Freeze in 2014. It took a step back in 2015, however, and risks taking another if it can't replace Trae Elston and Mike Hilton.
The 2014 and 2015 classes brought five secondary signees each, with truly mixed results. In the 2014 class, C.J. Hampton shows talent, but also hasn't looked ready to jump into a starting safety role. Ken Webster has looked great at times, and should be a very solid SEC corner. Tee Shepard left the team after a frustrating two years, and the Moore twins have contributed significantly to special teams.
2015 is clearly way too early to judge, but Tony Bridges appears to be a tremendous athlete at corner, though still adjusting to SEC play. Zedrick Woods looks to be a versatile, physical safety; he's not Tony Conner, but was much better as a freshman than almost anyone expected. Cam Ordway burned his redshirt in a reserve role at corner, while Jalen Julius and Montrell Custis will see their first action in 2016.
Here's who joins them in 2016:
4-star Deontay Anderson
No. 2 safety, No. 53 overall
6'1, 192 lbs
Anderson draws a lot of comparisons to Tony Conner: he's big, extremely fast, and physical in run support. While Conner has been quiet and businesslike, Anderson seems to have a big personality... just look at his NSD skydiving announcement.
While Conner seemed to always play close to the line of scrimmage at South Panola, Anderson plays a more traditional deep safety position for Manvel, Texas. How this might affect his transition into the Ole Miss secondary will be an interesting story to follow. Either way, Anderson is an absolutely huge get.
No. 19 cornerback, No. 219 overall
5'11, 182 lbs
I wrote about Jones in this article on NSD. I remain extremely excited about him, and think he could easily push for playing time in the Fall. Dave Wommack has had plenty of success with smaller, heady safeties who can still hit... Jones seems to show all of those attributes. It's also possible Jones could play cornerback in a pinch, but the depth chart situation likely keeps him at safety.
No. 14 running back, No. 323 overall
5'10, 190 lbs
Connor may have been listed at running back, but it seems as though Ole Miss (as well as his other suitors) has always recruited him as a defensive back. With a couple of significant misses at the cornerback position, that position change is now pretty much a sure thing. Connor was a do-everything kind of player at North Panola, playing running back as well as multiple positions in the secondary. He shows good speed, quickness, and balance at running back in his highlights, and flashes a few Landsharks on defense as well. With all of the drama in recruiting, it's easy to forget about a guy who's been committed for two and a half years (August of 2013!!!), but Justin Connor could very well be the cure for the late misses at corner.
No. 36 safety, No. 564 overall
6'0, 185 lbs
Greg Eisworth is another do-it-all athlete, but Eisworth did-it-all for a giant-ass Texas high school with about 3,000 students. He's the type of guy that the Houston Nutts of the world like to call a FOOT-BALL PLAYER. His highlights show lots of crazy athletic plays at quarterback, as well as some really nice highlights at safety. Coaches have apparently likened Eisworth to a taller version of Mike Hilton. That may not be a half-bad comparison. Eisworth would probably normally be in line for a redshirt, but he got a leg up on his two other Texan safety counterparts by enrolling early. So with the need to playmakers at safety, and with a few extra months' head start in SEC football life, Eisworth might follow in Mike Hilton, Trae Elston, and Zedrick Woods' footsteps and show up ready to play as a true freshman.
No. 1 (post-graduate) cornerback, No. 3 (post-graduate) overall
6'0, 195 lbs
A former Penn State commit, Myles Hartsfield ended up at East Coast Prep in Massachusetts. Another early signee, Hartsfield may really surprise some people in 2016. He was listed as one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the East by Scout earlier this year, where he was praised for his quick hips and physical play. Hartsfield's highlights show a dangerous kick returner, a physical tackler, and extremely tight coverage skills. He also appears to have a knack for forcing fumbles. It will be really interesting to see how Hartsfield fares in competition against Cam Ordway and Jalen Julius. If the Rebels can find a quality SEC starter out of those three, it's a big win in terms of evaluation and development.