Ole Miss entered this off season knowing it had a lot of work to do to reinvigorate a team short on difference makers defensively. The Rebels also knew they needed to find offensive players to replace the immense talent that will be leaving next year offensively. The overall class isn’t too bad, coming in at 31st nationally per 247Sports; however actual signing day was an enormous letdown and reinforced a lot of concerns many fans, yours included, have about the Matt Luke hire.
I entered the day giving Luke the benefit of the doubt. Sure, he makes some puzzling crunch-time decisions, doesn’t call his own plays, and didn’t make any staff changes despite having a team with no discipline on defense and a lack of recruiters at certain positions, but he is apparently known for his recruiting. After all, Ross Bjork said he hired Matt Luke so quickly because this recruiting class was so pivotal.
And...it was a big old letdown. They answered some needs but missed horribly on plenty.
They signed wide receivers.
Everyone wants to talk about how the Rebels don’t really have a major need at receiver, given A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, and D.K. Metcalf are so dominant, but what is past them? When Lodge graduates next season and A.J. Brown likely declares for the NFL draft, what is left? With Tre Nixon and Van Jefferson both transferring during the off season, there isn’t much there. Sure, freshman Braylon Sanders is a promising player who showed ability at times last season, but after him who is there?
Kam White, who redshirted last season, was a four-star prospect as well, but him nor Sanders are proven at all. Also, two guys aren’t enough to restock the cupboard, especially if Metcalf were to leave as well (he’ll be a draft-eligible sophomore).
So the coaches made a prerogative to sign good receivers, and they did. Four-star Miles Battle, who all our writers predicted would go to Oregon, spurned the Ducks to give the Rebels a big splash. Four-star Elijah Moore gives the Rebels a shifty, explosive player their receiving corps hasn’t really had for the last few years. And three-star Demarcus Gregory is 6’3, 205 and chose Ole Miss over 22 other schools, including his in-state South Carolina Gamecocks. The Rebels did miss on Tommy Bush, who may or may not have accepted a grayshirt offer to UGA.
Gotta love R.E.M., right?
Ole Miss didn’t sign a recruit the expected caliber of A.J. Brown (No. 4 WR in 2016 class) or DaMarkus Lodge (No. 6 WR in 2015 class), but they put themselves in a good spot at the position, given the circumstances and competition they faced for each prospect.
And they signed linebackers, technically.
The coaching staff didn’t find a hyped linebacker recruit, and it’s reasonable to say they failed in noticeably improving the perceived talent level of the unit. That being said, they found three big linebackers in the early signing period (JUCO Vernon Dasher, as well as high schoolers Jacquez Jones and Jonathan Hess) and followed that up with a 6’4, 220-pound Kevontae’ Ruggs (who never became a take for Alabama in spite of them losing tons of linebacker commitments and his brother being on the roster) along with Luke Knox (whose had other offers from Navy and the Ivy League).
That unit isn’t going to be magically better, but one or two of these guys contributing could go a long way in helping the group become a little less of a glaring weakness. It’s just that none of them are thought to be big difference makers by major programs. Those programs could certainly be wrong though.
One thing that could offset the misses at linebacker is the way Freddie Roach beefed up the defensive line room. JUCO signee Noah Jefferson is an immediate impact guy who will line up next to Benito Jones in the middle and could help keep centers and guards off linebackers, freeing them up to make plays. Now, can these new linebackers actually make the plays? That remains to be seen (looking at you, Jon Sumrall).
Of course, they also got their quarterback.
Jordan Ta’amu graduates next season (unless his waiver is approved), and there isn’t a ton waiting behind him. It was imperative for the coaching staff to add a strong quarterback this off season, and they did that, signing Matt Corral, the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country. Corral is likely to be very good if he can get a handle on when to force things and when to just toss the ball out of bounds.
This was a huge need, and they did an awesome job here.
But they missed on offensive line, running back, safeties, defensive ends, and quality players across the board.
Offensive guard Tank Jenkins and running back Charles Strong signed with Texas A&M. Linebacker Jaylen Moody signed with Alabama. Linebacker Jayden McDonald signed with Iowa. The aforementioned Bush signed with Georgia. As I mentioned, I’m giving the coaches some level of leeway here, given all they were dealing with. That being said, a class outside the top 25 isn’t going to cut it in the SEC. They have to get back to competing against and beating the big boys for some quality players, and more than that, their depth can’t come from guys nobody else of note really wanted. There are only so many diamonds in the rough.
With next year’s loaded Mississippi class, anything outside the top 20 would be an absolute travesty and would hopefully put some heat on Matt Luke and his staff.