Ole Miss needs linebackers to compete in the Southeastern Conference. Plain and simple.
Which is why Thursday afternoon’s loss of four-star commit Diwun Black is bad news for the Rebels defense.
The Forest, Miss. athlete, who pledged to Matt Luke’s team back in April, announced on Twitter that he’s flipped to Florida following an official visit to Gainesville. A one-time Mississippi State commit, Black had already been recruited by Dan Mullen, the new head man in the swamp.
As reported by David Johnson of the Ole Miss Spirit, there’s been some concerns over Black’s ability to qualify, meaning he might not have ended up in Oxford anyway. By flip or by fail, though, losing a linebacker with his ability is a tough hit.
Here’s a quick snapshot of just how bad the Rebel defense was against the run last season (most via SB Nation’s Bill Connelly).
- 76th in rushing S&P+
- 88th in rushing success rate
- 100th in rushing isoPPP (this basically measures how many explosive plays you allow)
- Dead last in rushing plays of 20 yards or more.
Those are, uh, not great. A guy with the size and athletic ability of Black could have gone a long way in increasing the defenses ability to disrupt.
All is not lost, though—Ole Miss is still chasing some big LB prospects.
For starters, linebackers coach Jon Sumrall still has a couple of solid prospects on his commitment list: four-star JUCO Sam Williams and three-star Eric Jeffries.
Williams, who plays an outside linebacker/weak-side defensive end hybrid for Northeast Mississippi Community College, is a 6’5, 250-pound monster capable of making an instant impact and adding some attitude to the second level. At that size, he posted a 4.4 40-yard dash and a 40” vertical at the Ole Miss Elite Camp earlier this summer.
The big fish still out in the water is five-star Nakobe Dean, the top prospect in the state of Mississippi and a top-15 player nationally. He’s being hotly pursued by the typical heavyweights—Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida State—but has legitimate connections to Ole Miss. He lives just an hour’s drive north of Oxford in Horn Lake and his brother is a freshman walk-on for the Rebels.
“I’m always down there because my brother,” Dean told the Ole Miss Spirit after an unofficial visit in February. “I have gotten to know a lot of the people down there at Ole Miss through the last few years. It’s just my kind of people down there.”
But what about Ole Miss getting an official visit? One would surmise, in my opinion, that the Rebels will still get Dean on campus due to his hometown proximity and the fact that his brother, Nikolas Dean, is on the roster as a freshman tight end.
Other linebackers Ole Miss is chasing include...
- Four-star Nashville, Tenn. native Kane Patterson, whose Ohio State commitment could potentially be in jeopardy in the wake of Urban Meyer’s suspension.
- Four-star Katy, Tex. native David Gbenda, who will be tough to reel out of the Lone Star State but could be convinced if the Rebs can get him on campus.
- Three-star Ja’Len Sims, whose home state of Alabama has been fertile recruiting ground for Ole Miss recently.
- Three-star Albany, Ga. native Jamie Pettway, whose offer sheet includes Louisville, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.
- JUCO prospect Wardalis Ducksworth, whose only other offer is from Kansas but should be signed for his name alone.
- Diwun Black: it ain’t over ‘til its over.
There are also some talented young guys already on the roster.
Matt Luke’s 30th-ranked 2018 class included a handful of three-star linebacker prospects: Jacquez Jones, Jonathan Hess, Luke Knox, Kevontae’ Ruggs and JUCO All-American Vernon Dasher. Dasher is probably the only immediate impact guy of that group, but the others round into contributors down the road. All but one are at least 6’3 and they all already carrying SEC-type frames.
Dasher was ranked as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the JUCO ranks and is your prototypical outside guy who can stick his nose in middle or get out in space to cover running backs and receivers. Toss in a thumper like Jones and some long, athletic big dudes like Hess, Knox, and Ruggs and you’ve got some dudes who can push the incumbent players like Donta Evans, Willie Hibbler, Josh Clarke, and Zikerrion Baker.
Still, Luke needs to add quality linebackers this cycle. The Rebels cannot afford to lose another elite talent at a position of need from their own backyard.