Wednesday afternoon brought news that Jerrion Ealy, a five-star considered to be the third-best running back prospect in the country, will sign a letter of intent with Ole Miss. Ealy, a Jackson, Miss. native, made the announcement during a live ESPN broadcast, sending a jolt through a Rebel fanbase pining for not-so-distant years under Hugh Freeze when five-stars regularly picked up Ole Miss hats on national television.
Landing Ealy’s signature is a coup for Matt Luke, who seems to be regaining momentum with fans after losing most of it during a disappointing 2018 season. Even if Luke’s 2019 class is a bit dull as a whole, nabbing a prospect as sought-after as Ealy signals to fans (and Luke’s bosses) that he’s successfully rebuilding the reputation of a program battered by NCAA scandal.
But Luke isn’t done recruiting Ealy. Now he has to convince a two-sport star expected to go in the first-round of the MLB Draft to turn down millions of dollars.
Ealy is a stud on the diamond.
Just about any projection you can find on the internet has Ealy going in the top half of the MLB Draft in June—Draft Site has him going sixth overall. The dude has tons of tools: plus speed (6.13 60-yard dash), outfield tracking skills, bat speed and mechanics and a rocket arm from the outfield. There’s potential for upwards of a $5 million signing bonus if he’s taken early in the first round.
An Under Armour All-American in both sports, Ealy faces a decision that’s been compared to that of Kyler Murray, the Heisman-winning quarterback who will soon be a first-round selection in both the MLB and NFL Drafts. The difference is that Murray is immediately eligible to cash in on football, whereas Ealy would have to turn down guaranteed money from baseball and navigate three-years of unpaid college football. That’s a pretty big risk.
Not that Ealy going pro in baseball is automatic.
Ealy, for his part, has offered no hints on which way he’s leaning.
“Money doesn’t define you,” he told the Clarion-Ledger during an interview in which he insisted he’s still mulling his options. “If you let money define you, then you won’t have joy.”
Of course, that’s the thing that Ealy is supposed to say right now. But if you’re looking for a legitimate reason why he might turn down a seven-figure payday to play football, here it is: he’s really damn good at it.
Ealy did it all at during his four years at Jackson Prep, piling up 73 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards on the ground while adding 21 scores and nearly 1,500 yards receiving. Against elite competition at this year’s Under Armour All-American Game, he set a record for rushing yards and was named MVP. The 247 Sports Composite puts him as the 29th best player in his class, regardless of position.
In Oxford, Ealy would likely be an immediate contributor and would be the favorite to take over the starting gig in 2020 after Scottie Phillips graduates (if not earlier). With his elite athleticism and ability to catch balls out of the backfield, he could be the perfect weapon for new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. Pairing Ealy with freshman quarterback Matt Corral could give Rich Rod the type of Steve Slaton-Pat White duo that made his read-option a terror in the mid-2000s.
Oh, and coming to Ole Miss wouldn’t be the end of Ealy’s baseball career.
He’s visited with Rebel baseball coach Mike Bianco and seems pretty comfortable keeping the two-sport thing going.