Nicholas Carr reviewed the nice offensive haul Ole Miss pulled in yesterday; now we’ll review the defense. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to see that the top talent in this class was a little offense-heavy; Matt Luke and co. signed three four-star players, and all three play offense. Though there were lots and lots of defensive misses, the Rebels still signed some guys that will help immediately, and some guys who will help build for the future. Let’s take a look.
Defensive Tackle: B+
3-star Noah Jefferson
3-star Hal Northern
3-star K.D. Hill
3-star Quentin Bivens
The Rebels definitely improved at defensive tackle, an overlooked weak spot last season. Benito Jones and Josiah Coatney made a serviceable starting unit in 2017 (even with Jones playing through a shoulder injury), but depth issues up front caused major inconsistencies against the run.
Ole Miss added two JUCO stars who could vastly improve the 2-deep right away. Jefferson was an elite prospect out of high school who played as a freshman for Southern Cal. Northern was a JUCO All-American who possesses a great first step, and has often been compared to a smaller Benito Jones. Hill and Bivens are solid high school prospects; Hill has several other good offers, while Bivens possesses a great frame. Bivens was also Ole Miss’ first commitment for the 2017 class, and never wavered.
Defensive End: C
3-star James Williams
Ole Miss loses their two starting defensive ends to the NFL, and it never quite seemed in the cards for the Rebels to seamlessly replace Marquis Haynes or Breeland Speaks. James Williams was an early signing period surprise: with a huge, athletic frame (about 6’5, 270-pounds), Williams was coveted heavily by both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
It’s possible that Ole Miss didn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on the defensive end position because they’re confident in some guys who were either injured or gaining experience during the 2017 season. Victor Evans and Qaadir Sheppard competed for starting reps before being limited by injuries all season, while Charles Wiley and Ryder Anderson showed promise as freshmen. Markel Winters also added some decent contributions in his first year out of junior college.
Still, unless all six scholarship ends contribute next year, depth at the position won’t be ideal. Mississippi’s 2019 recruiting class currently contains FIVE four-star defensive ends; Ole Miss will need to capitalize there.
3-star Vernon Dasher
3-star Kevontae’ Ruggs
3-star Jacquez Jones
3-star Jonathan Hess
3-star Luke Knox
Okay. So linebacker has been a pretty problematic position for Ole Miss the last two seasons. One of the worst position groups in all of Power 5 football. Also, the two leading tacklers among Ole Miss linebackers both graduate. Probably not that important. Also, two young linebackers transferred. So there’s a lot going on, and not much of it is good. So perhaps there’s a little bit too much pressure on this linebacker class to be amazing, to revitalize the Ole Miss defense. That probably won’t happen right away, but there are some pieces to build on here.
Vernon Dasher is an excellent JUCO pickup who has the potential to start right away; he almost has to. Jacquez Jones is purported to be a heady, physical run-stopper who may be able to contribute as a freshman. Ruggs has tons of athleticism and physicality, but needs to add a little weight. Ruggs also played receiver and defensive back, so presumably he’ll also need time to learn the linebacker position inside and out.
Like Ruggs, Hess and Knox both add excellent height/length for the linebacker position, and all have played multiple positions for their high school squads. Knox lacked major offers, but I’m a big fan of his highlights, and think he could contribute soon. I was certainly hoping that he could be convinced to walk on, but given the sheer number of misses on Wednesday, I’m not sure that it really matters.
The real recruiting “win” at linebacker this year might have been hiring Jon Sumrall to replace the paperweight-esque Bradley Peveto. Sumrall has an impressive history of improving defenses wherever he’s been. As with the defensive end position, the 2019 Mississippi class at linebacker is pivotal. 5-star Nakobe Dean and 4-star Zach Edwards both like Ole Miss right now, but obviously their signatures will be hard-won.
Defensive back: C-
3-star Cam White
3-star Jakorey Hawkins
3-star Keidron Smith
2-star Tylan Knight
The Ole Miss secondary was mostly competent last season, and also returns most of the important pieces. A huge haul of corners and safeties wasn’t necessary, but Ole Miss likely failed to add any immediate contributors in 2018. With Wesley McGriff’s recruiting pedigree, along with solid recruiters in Charles Clark and Jason Jones… that’s a little disappointing. Cam White is a good safety signee who should be able to help in a couple of years.
The national narrative was that there was a shortage of good cornerbacks this year. So while neither Hawkins nor Smith appear to be world-beaters, Ole Miss did have to fend off several other strong programs to keep them in the class. Tylan Knight might actually be the most likely signee to contribute, albeit his projected role at the college level is kind of all over the place. He could apply his David Eckstein-tier scrappiness at running back, slot receiver, nickel corner, and most likely of all, on special teams.
The NCAA cloud, uncertainty regarding the coaching staff, and a weak Mississippi class really took a toll on the potential of this defensive class from the start. Still, SEC games are not graded on a curve, and recruiting shouldn’t be any different. While Ole Miss failed to find many pieces that should help right away, they added some key pieces at defensive tackle and linebacker, and added several intriguing (and at the very least, serviceable) prospects across the board.