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Ole Miss recruiting: The Rebels’ talent deficit is only growing

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A mediocre recruiting cycle is putting Matt Luke’s team behind the rest of the conference.

Mississippi v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Aside from the penalties themselves, perhaps the harshest effect of the NCAA probe has been how it has impacted national perception of Ole Miss football on the recruiting trail. Understandably, few highly coveted players want to take the leap of committing to a program that’s seen in any way as being hindered from operating at full speed, especially with a bevy of more attractive options elsewhere.

We’ve become all too familiar with that reality over the past three recruiting cycles, as the fifth-ranked 2016 class has been followed by two consecutive classes just outside the top 30. Consequently, the Rebels have been trending downward in terms of overall talent.

If the on-field results haven’t provided enough evidence of that, here’s how Ole Miss has ranked in terms of 247 Sports’ Team Talent Composite, which takes into account individual player ratings.

Ole Miss Football - Talent Composite Rankings

Year 247 Talent Composite Ranking Average Recruiting Ranking (Last Three Classes)
Year 247 Talent Composite Ranking Average Recruiting Ranking (Last Three Classes)
2015 19th 13
2016 15th 12
2017 18th 18
2018 22nd 23
Because of early departures, we only look at the last three classes (instead of last four).

The 2019 group’s current national ranking of 25th comes with a major caveat: they have secured more early commitments than any other Power Five program. They may well slip on National Signing Day. Granted, their average player rating of 0.875 is an improvement from the prior two classes, but they’re lacking in blue chips who can make an immediate impact, currently ranking 11th in the SEC even with those 28 commitments.

This newest crop of players may be a slight improvement in terms of both quality and quantity, but it doesn’t come close to making up for the talent leaving Oxford. If the current rank of 25th holds (which it probably won’t), Ole Miss’ past three classes would average out to the 29th best group in the country.

A new set of coordinators could change this, but the early returns on the Matt Luke era suggest he’s unable to challenge teams with more firepower, let alone fully leverage what talent he has to work with. This, combined with the underwhelming recruiting, doesn’t bode well for 2019.

So far, we’ve only looked at things from a very high-level perspective, but it’s worth seeing how, if at all, the story changes when looking at specific position groups. Below shows the 2018 roster when removing this year’s seniors and draft departures compared to the 2019 class as-is. I left out special teams and quarterback, since there should be relative stability there with Matt Corral and Grant Tisdale.

Even with A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge leaving, the wide receiver corps is heading into next season with a handful of former blue chips with at least some experience.

Ole Miss Roster Breakdown by Position

Position Total on Roster Walk-Ons/Not Rated Average 247 Rating 2019 Signees/Commits 4/5 Stars Average 247 Rating
Position Total on Roster Walk-Ons/Not Rated Average 247 Rating 2019 Signees/Commits 4/5 Stars Average 247 Rating
DB 15 2 0.855 7 0 0.860
DL 17 5 0.868 1 1 0.874
LB 11 2 0.859 3 0 0.868
OL 14 5 0.872 8 1 0.866
RB 6 2 0.881 2 1 0.917
TE 7 3 0.885 0 0
WR 11 7 0.891 5 2 0.898

It’s no secret that Ole Miss will be losing their top three receivers to the NFL Draft, which is one of the main reasons the offense ranks 130th in returning production heading into the 2019 season. The good news on that front is they’ll have a pair of blue chip wideouts (if they can hang on to Jonathan Mingo) to go along with some proven pieces like Braylon Sanders and Elijah Moore. Lack of experience is a concern, but the talent is there, including at the quarterback position.

Judging by average recruit rating, the Rebels should see marginal improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but that’s the issue. Ole Miss needed to land some immediate impact players like Nakobe Dean to make a turn, and it feels safe to say they’ve come up short.

It should be noted that just because recruiting continues to underwhelm doesn’t mean Ole Miss is guaranteed to get worse on the field. There’s a case to be made that they’ve drastically underachieved the last few seasons, so with definitive upgrades in coordinators, it’s not terribly bullish to think they could improve on last year’s meager win total.