The picture of the safety position at Ole Miss next year isn't very rosy. While CJ Hampton was a highly prized recruit and has played a decent amount in his first two years at Ole Miss, he hasn't been great. The other true safety position is a big unknown, so it stands to reason that Ole Miss won't easily replicate the effect Mike Hilton and Trae Elston had on the secondary.
But they do get Tony Conner back at Husky, and that could make a huge difference.
"Really excited of the reports I'm getting from our medical staff on him," Hugh Freeze told The Clarion-Ledger about Conner, whose 2015 season was ended by knee surgery. "He started running, I think, two weeks ago. There's been no signs of irritation or swelling after those workouts so just really excited."
In fact, Conner told ESPN that he's stronger now than he was before.
"Rehab is going great right now," Conner said. "I think [the injury] was the best thing that could've ever happened to me. Before, in the weight room, I was kind of strong, but I wasn't as strong as I am now. I'm just trying to get stronger and better at what I do."
Conner's return is key for the 2016 defense
If Conner is back and fully healthy, he could bring a huge amount of stability to an otherwise chaotic back end. While he lost most of last year to a meniscus injury, hearken back to 2014 when he was second on the team with 69 tackles, starting in all 13 games. As a freshman, he had 66. Conner is a heat-seeking missile on runs to the outside and screens. He, nearly singlehandedly, takes away a significant portion of the opponent's playbook.
On top of helping the safeties, Conner also fortifies the linebackers, since he's basically one of them along with his other roles. He's a safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover receivers very well and is listed at 6'0, 215... which means he's big enough to do things like this.
His utility is his greatest asset on the field.
And that's something NFL teams covet
While NFL mock drafts are pretty crazy and unreliable this far out, Conner is still getting some love. Sports Illustrated has him as the No. 27 pick going to the Denver Broncos next year. Athlon lists Conner as the No. 44 college player to watch for in the 2017 draft. Walter Football has him going to the Buccaneers 43rd overall.
I believe we will see Conner start appearing in more and more mock drafts as his health improves. I'm not totally sure he's a first round pick, mostly because of concerns about his tackling technique. If he can shore that up though, he could be a high pick. "Nickel" packages are all the rage in the NFL right now, and Conner does his best in that play style. With good coverage skills and a penchant to play big, Conner allows teams to get someone on the field who doesn't sacrifice much in the running game but takes away some spread concepts that offenses hope to employ.