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Ole Miss doesn’t return a ton of offensive production in 2017, but it might not matter

On the surface, the Rebels are losing a lot on offense, but they have the talent to make up for it.

Mississippi v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Over the past two offseasons, forecasting the Rebels’ performance has inevitably meant addressing the heavy roster turnover, not only from losing big names to the NFL draft, but also from the departures of more subtle pieces that had carved out critical roles on the team’s roster.

This will be the second consecutive year that Ole Miss enters the new season ranking in the bottom half of college football when it comes to returning production, having gone into 2016 with 64% of past production intact (83rd most nationally) and entering 2017 with only 50% (110th). Considering, well, everything, there’s a wide range of opinions regarding the Rebels’ S&P+ ranking projection of 26th, but either way, the severe lack of continuity has limited the hope of many for some kind of dramatic resurgence.

Weighing down any kind of systematic prognosis on this team is that just 37 percent of last year’s offensive production is returning, the lowest mark in the SEC. It won’t be easy to overcome such inexperience on that side of the ball, but Hugh Freeze might have the pieces to do it.

The argument can be made that an influx of fresh faces at certain positions is less of a worry this time around. The areas most affected by youth and inexperience last year have largely been shored up, maybe, while a group of former blue chips will be taking over a handful of newly available spots in the rotation.

Shea Patterson and friends are due for a major bounce-back.

It’s been proven that continuity in the passing game is much more important than what you’re getting back on the ground. Here’s a breakdown of what Ole Miss is losing through the air.

Position Player Yards
Position Player Yards
QB Chad Kelly 2758
WR/TE Evan Engram 926
Damore'ea Stringfellow 716
Quincy Adeboyejo 456
Akeem Judd 106
Taz Zettergren 79
Hunter Thurley 34

On top of losing their starting quarterback, the Rebels will be without 59 percent of last year’s receiving production. Ahem: fifty-nine percent.

It’s silly to think that a changing of the guard on this side of the ball won’t come with its set of road bumps. An almost completely new starting unit in the passing game, along with an unproven offensive coordinator, won’t make for a completely smooth transition.

Here’s the good news: Chad Kelly and three of his four top targets are being replaced by what could end up being an even better quarterback and receiving corps. While Shea Patterson’s late-season debut was far from perfect, it wasn’t exactly a unique struggle for a true freshman signal caller. Aside from being considered the least likely to bust in his recruiting class, Patterson showed enough upside for us to conclude that he’ll be just fine.

The receivers are too talented to be overly concerned about youth.

The second-year QB will still need a deep, competent stable of receivers, and given the bevy of pass-catchers in the 2016 recruiting class, it’s hard to be all that worried. Replacing Evan Engram and Damore’ea Stringfellow will be a tall order, but the options to absorb their leftover targets are seemingly endless.

Rising sophomore A.J. Brown used his limited share of 2016 targets to lead the group in success rate and finish among the top three in just about every other efficiency-related metric. Given that he’ll be absorbing a chunk of passes that were going to Quincy Adeboyejo, who caught barely over half of his targets last season, a new name among the starting receivers will almost certainly be a good thing. He’ll be complemented by a relatively seasoned Van Jefferson, along with D.K. Metcalf, who proved to be a solid red zone target in an admittedly small sample size.

Here’s how this year’s projected receiving depth chart compares to the beginning of 2016 in terms of their average 247Sports composite rating.

Year Position 1st String Rating 2nd String Rating
Year Position 1st String Rating 2nd String Rating
2016 WR Damore'ea Stringfellow 0.9653 D.K. Metcalf 0.9445
WR Quincy Adeboyejo 0.8696 DaMarkus Lodge 0.9807
Slot Van Jefferson 0.9489 Markell Pack 0.938
2017 WR A.J. Brown 0.9792 DaMarkus Lodge 0.9807
WR D.K. Metcalf 0.9445 Markell Pack 0.938
Slot Van Jefferson 0.9489 Tre Nixon 0.9224

All in all, the new crop of receivers forms a higher average rating than the year prior. The fact that a player like Tre Nixon is something of an afterthought among his peers says it all — this receiving group is loaded.

It obviously takes more than one stellar recruiting cycle to erase legitimate doubt over stability in personnel. Normally, losing this many pieces in one offseason would spell catastrophe for Ole Miss, and that hasn’t been totally ruled out yet.

The difference is just how concentrated the team’s most talented players are on roster spots that arguably need immediate production the most. For an offense that, even with a decent amount of upperclassmen, had its own set of flaws last year, a new look may not be such a bad thing.