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Ole Miss recruiting targets to watch in the 2020 class

The close in February was it’s time to do it all over again. But better.

Chris Todd-USA Today Sports

The 2019 Ole Miss football recruiting class is a closed case now, barring a last second graduate transfer in the spring period.

Matt Luke and his (sort of) new-look staff followed up a disappointing December with a fantastic February, finishing in the top 25 on the heels of signing one of the most explosive players in the country in Jerrion Ealy and the No. 1 junior college linebacker Lakia Henry.

But recruiting never stops and it is time to look ahead to 2020 where a familiar foe rears its ugly head: the city of Memphis. The Bluff City has not been kind to the Rebels of late but this year’s class could help solve some issues. Nine of the state’s top 25 players are currently residing in the 901 and newly-named territory manager Jon Sumrall has to be geeked up to try and tap into that talent pool.

As it stands, the Rebs only have one commit right now, but as we know the spots will begin to fill up fast once targets receive offers and see classes filling up.

So who are the top 2020 prospects to keep an eye on? We put together a list of Matt Luke’s potential top prep targets who could end up in Oxford next year.

All ratings are from the 247Sports composite. Click on each name to see highlights.

5-star Zachary Evans

Overall rank: 2
Running back rank: 1
Hometown: Houston, Tex.

The nation’s top prep running back released a top 11 and Ole Miss made the cut. Rich Rodriguez has a history of successful running backs to show him, including former five-star Noel Devine who, much like Zachary, was an internet sensation well before he signed a NLI. It’s very early, but my money is on the in-state blue bloods, Texas and Texas A&M.

5-star McKinnley Jackson

Overall rank: 16
Defensive tackle rank: 1
Hometown: Lucedale, Miss.

The Rebs struck out on in-state defensive linemen in 2019 but it is all hands on MF’n deck with Mr. Jackson. Freddie Roach and Matt Luke have been on him for over a year now and Matt Luke is running point on this, as well as Jacob Peeler. LSU and the Rebs appear to be the early front-runners for the George County product but it will be a dog fight for sure to the very end.

4-star Omari Thomas

Overall rank: 74
Offensive tackle rank: 7
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

The big fella from Briarcrest is a two-way player for the Saints but has plenty of athleticism to grow into a cornerstone left tackle at the next level. He is every bit of 6’5 and carries 300-pounds about as good as anyone can. His teammate (see below) may or may not hold the keys to his college recruitment. Maybe time will tell on that.

4-star Marcus Henderson

Overall rank: 99
Offensive tackle rank: 12
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

Just down the road from Thomas is another hulking tackle prospect, and he’s at another Ole Miss-friendly high school too. Henderson is another 6’5, 300-pound coke machine with that possesses good feet and a powerful punch at the point of attack. He holds early offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and Tennessee among others but as it stands currently, the Rebels may have the early lead. And his teammate (see below) is one to keep an eye on as well.

4-star Josaih Hayes

Overall rank: 141
Defensive tackle rank: 9
Hometown: Horn Lake, Miss.

This time last year everyone was super excited about the possibilities of Horn Lake High School. Now, if you bring it up, you’re liable to get punched in the throat. But, this is a new cycle and this kid is a monster who is worthy of the chase. At 6’3, 280-pounds, he already has the attention of Alabama and Georgia. Roach and Sumrall need to make their move fast to secure this guy before it’s too late.

4-star Jeremiah Pegues

Overall rank: 161
Athlete rank: 10
Hometown: Oxford, Miss.

Another recruiting class, another blue-chip from the Velvet Ditch. The Swiss Army Knife play maker for the Chargers does it all, playing some Wildcat QB, tight end, defensive line, and linebacker. But, he could grow into a super athletic 3-4 defensive tackle (already 6’3, 280). Ole Miss has the lead right now over Alabama and Auburn is coming after him as well.

4-star Bryson Eason

Overall rank: 190
Inside linebacker rank: 6
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

Eason is one of the most impressive prospects in the city of Memphis. His early offers range from the Big 12 to the SEC to the Pac-12. His teammate below could potentially help and lord knows Ole Miss would like to sew them both up for linebacker early and be done with it but there are plenty of options for him as it stands right now with Oklahoma in the lead.

4-star Dillon Johnson

Overall rank: 289
Athlete rank: 20
Hometown: Greenville, Miss.

Another uber-talented athlete who does it all for his high school team, Mr. Johnson burst onto the scene this past season after he helped St. Joseph’s win a MAIS AA state title. He ran for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns and should continue to grow into his frame (6’1, 180) but he is also athletic enough that he could become a safety or possibly a receiver down the line. The Rebs hold the early lead.

4-star Martavius French

Overall rank: 247
Inside linebacker rank: 8
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

The Memphis area and defensive players will be two major focal points of this recruiting class. Well, look no further than Whitehaven High School and Martavius French. He has a SEC frame already (6’2, 235) and an offer sheet that screams legitimacy. Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee are on him early and with Sumrall being the lead recruiter in the Bluff City now, he is sure to be in his ear about playing linebacker for him in the red and blue early and often.

3-star Blayne Toll

Overall rank: 369
Tight end rank: 7
Hometown: Hazen, Ark.

Mr. Toll visited Oxford for junior day last weekend, much like a lot of dudes on this list, and seemed to get the coaching staff’s attention. The 6’5, 231-pounder is more of a traditionally-built pass catcher for the spread scheme, but he is also an impressive athlete on the defensive line as well. He had 781 yards receiving as a junior while also collecting 24 tackles for loss. He runs well for his size (4.91) and has a 78” wing span, crucial for winning 50/50 balls in traffic.

3-star Jabari Small

Overall rank: 585
All-purpose back rank: 8
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

The son of former Ole Miss receiver, Eddie Small, is an absolute burner and is practically attached at the hip of teammate and four-star offensive lineman Omari Thomas (see above). He is a compact spark plug (5’10, 190) who runs extremely well and is elusive in the open field once he gets the football in his hands. Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee have offered already, but he is waiting on that Ole Miss offer. He has visited several times already and could possibly commit on the spot if he gets it.

3-star Jakivuan Brown

Overall rank: 674
Tight end rank: 19
Hometown: Horn Lake, Miss.

The Rebels didn’t sign a tight end in 2019 and Octavius Cooley will be running out of eligibility soon, so 2020 seems like the perfect time to snag one. And just down the road in a familiar location lies a pretty damn good one. Hayes’ teammate is built well and runs even better. Baylor and LSU have already offered but if the Rebs were able to get his teammate, me thinks J.B. would be close behind.

3-star Tamarion McDonald

Overall rank: 766
Outside linebacker rank: 62
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

The third Whitehaven name on the list is yet another linebacker, this time of the outside variety. He was offered by the Rebs at the beginning of the month, and if he stays where he is at, could play safety because of his skill set. He was awfully close to committing on the spot but for now he has remain undecided. Sumrall’s prized pupil currently holds other offers from LSU, Cincinnati, Liberty, Memphis, and Southern Miss.

3-star Adam Chaney

Overall rank: 925
Weak-side defensive end rank: 35
Hometown: Saraland, Ala.

The athletic outside backer/defensive end recently made a trip to Oxford for junior day with his teammate (see below) and seemed to have made quite the impression on Coach Matt Luke. The 6’2, 220-pounder already holds offers from Duke, Iowa, LSU, and South Carolina and should continue to impress other staffs during his senior year. The Rebels have had tremendous success in the Yellowhammer State so Chaney is certainly one to keep an eye on.

3-star Devonte Nelson

Overall rank: 934
Cornerback rank: 69
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

Henderson’s teammate is built well and can handle his own in man-to-man coverage. I personally like his game and he reminds me a bit of former Memphis product and Rebel, Cassius Vaughn. The Bluff City is loaded and with Ole Miss in close proximity, I feel like the Rebs and Arkansas Razorbacks are going to do battle this year on the recruiting trail quite a bit. Sean Tuohy, Jr. is on staff with Chad Morris and we know he is quite familiar with Memphis so look for them to try and come in early on targets like Nelson to try and establish a base immediately.

3-star Rashawn McAlpine

Overall rank: 983
Running back rank: 80
Hometown: Saraland, Ala.

One of the early front-runners for name of the class, Rashawn joined Chaney on the junior day trip and got his pic taken with Luke as well. As it stands right now, he only holds one offer from the Troy Trojans but plenty of Power 5 schools are keeping tabs on him. The kid is built like a damn truck and totes it like no other, running for 1,985 yards and 16 touchdowns. If the Rebs are wanting to keep an eye on an under-the-radar back, this is the guy.

3-star Janari Dean

Overall rank: NR
Safety rank: NR
Hometown: Batesville, Miss.

South Panola hasn’t exactly been churning them out like they used to, but Dean is one who may be cut from that cloth. The free safety stands 6’0, 190-pounds and is an impressive athlete to boot. Arkansas and Mississippi State have already offered but the Rebels hold the early lead, per his crystal ball. He ran for 2,030 yards and 18 touchdowns, going over 100+ yards 10 times in 2018. He doesn’t quite have the wheels that Tig Barksdale had but he reminds me a lot of the former Ole Miss signee.

3-star Trey Benson

Overall rank: NR
Running back rank: NR
Hometown: Greenville, Miss.

And speaking of toting it for a bunch of yards, Mr. Benson (Dillon Johnson’s backfield mate) also ran all over the state of Mississippi last year, totaling 1,833 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Fighting Irish. He just wrapped up an unofficial visit with Johnson last weekend and could potentially commit on the spot when he is offered by running backs coach Derrick Nix. And at 6’1, 190-pounds he would be an immediate impact guy once he arrives in Oxford.