It was obvious Lane Kiffin would need to scramble and hold pieces of the Ole Miss recruiting class together coming into early signing day - only 11 days after he was hired.
Kiffin would also have to try and grab a few new commitments who could meet some needs along the way.
Wednesday was not filled the drama and “flipmas” brags from the new Rebel coaching staff, but the staff succeeded for the most part in holding things together.
While the Rebels have many needs coming off a 4-8 season, the most glaring are on defense, and Ole Miss signed the majority of its players on that side of the ball. It’s a good start, and the coaches will likely drastically alter the hot board now moving forward, hoping to land some difference makers with the roster spots they have left to be signed in February.
The hot board shuffling is undoubtedly part of the coaching change - who does Kiffin want, who doesn’t fit anymore, and so on.
So let’s take a look at which needs have been met and where they’ll still need to focus major efforts. Obviously, with a program rebuilding, coaches will look to sign the best available players regardless of position, but they’ll have to find valuable additions in these key areas especially. I’ll note whenever there’s a known player they’re pursuing at the position, but little is known about who the Rebels will be in on a month from now.
EDITOR’S NOTE: it’s virtually impossible to truly know who the February targets are until the staff is complete and they reset the board. As a staff, we are simply guessing with who we believe, albeit with some sourcing, who they will go after.
- Signees — Eli Acker, Tobias Braun
- Misses — Chris Morris*
- February targets — Robert Scott (committed), Brady Ward
Ole Miss was able to retain the commitment of Acker while adding Tobias Braun. Robert Scott’s status remains uncertain, but keeping a tackle evaluated by Matt Luke and Jack Bicknell seems like a good idea. There were no misses here, within the bounds of reason*.
- Signees — Kentrel Bullock
- Misses — none
- February targets — Henry Parrish, Jalen Berger
Kiffin and new running backs coach Robert Smith did a great job of securing Mississippi’s 3A Mr. Football and earning his signature. Now, the attention turns to four-star Henry Parrish. Smith and Kiffin were previously recruiting him at Florida Atlantic and now the heat will turn up with a little over a month to go. Berger is another big fish to keep an eye on.
- Signees — none
- Misses — none
- February targets — Jaycob Horn (committed), Gary Bryant, Xzavier Henderson, Lavon Bunkley-Shelton, Kaleb Long
We don’t know if Horn will be retained, but I expect Kiffin and his staff to go big here. There isn’t a dire need for pass-catchers in this class, so he will be picky and go for some big fish. Bryant and Bunkley-Shelton are in Kiffin’s old stomping grounds and Long is someone who was on both the Rebels’ and FAU’s radar before the regime change.
- Signee — Cedric Johnson, DeSanto Rollins
- Miss — Josaih Hayes
- February targets — McKinley Jackson, Demon Clowney, Alfred Collins, Reggie Grimes, Marcus Henderson, Jay Hardy
Josiah Hayes decommitted from the Rebels back in October, but many people expected Kiffin to step back in and shore up the defensive lineman out of Horn Lake. The big man didn’t land on the Rebels however as the four-star signed with Kentucky on Wednesday. Obviously some level of uncertainty regarding the staff likely played a part, but it seemed things weren’t going great with him before the staff changeover, given the timing of his decommitment.
The Rebels will really need to put an emphasis on this position moving forward with the loss of Benito Jones, Qaadir Sheppard, and Josiah Coatney ravaging the depth chart. Rollins and Johnson are a good start, but a strong close is needed. If you’re sensing a theme here, good, but we expect Kiffin to go big here as well.
- Signees — Jakivuan Brown, Austin Keys
- Misses — none
- February targets — unknown at this time
Ole Miss has to continue to improve its linebacker depth. While the position has several good starters at the moment, Sam Williams and Lakia Henry will be seniors next season. The Rebels had to find some good prospects at the position, and they likely did. Of course adding a third would be helpful. Don’t forget Momo Sanogo comes back next year off a season ending injury, so linebackers could become a strength as depth improves in 2020.
- Signees — Derek Bermudez, Daran Branch, Daylen Gill
- Misses — Eric Reed Jr.
- February target — Kelee Ringo, Avantae Williams, Dwight McGlothern, Javier Morton, De’Arre McDonald (committed), Daran Branch (committed)
The coaches were able to find some players here including Bermudez who had a solid offer sheet, but losing Reed to the Tigers sucked and seeing McDonald push his signing back to February could spell trouble. Elsewhere, I expect this staff to go for some highly-rated prospects.
- Signees — DaMarcus Thomas
- Misses — Jeremiah Pegues
- February targets — Darnell Washington
This one stung, even though Pegues didn’t seem likely to sign with the Rebels anyway. Losing an Oxford prospect at a major position of need is a problem, but DaMarcus Thomas is no slouch. I like his film a lot and think he fills a huge need at the position. Again, look for the Rebels to find another player here, especially if they can get one from the transfer portal.
The class so far fills a few needs, but it lacks on star power. It’s not necessarily fair to grade the coaching staff on this signing day or really even fully in a couple months with high level results. I expect a handful of higher caliber players to entertain the Rebels in January, though it’s likely the biggest jump in that arena comes with next year’s class.