Last year’s early signing day saw Lane Kiffin and his brand new staff scramble and make the most out of a week’s worth of recruiting. They solidified a few commitments and grabbed a few surprises this time last year.
A year later, there was no drama and the Rebels signed 21 prospects, putting them 19th nationally. Kiffin’s first official full class currently holds an average star rating of 3.3, good enough for seventh in the Southeastern Conference. In a year that was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, that is about as good as it gets. No official visits and no face-to-face contact with recruits and the staff still managed to sign seven four-stars, four on defense.
As far as the biggest accomplishment for Ole Miss, it was addressing their needs on defense, fixating on versatility.
Four-stars Dink Jackson and Tysheem Johnson give defensive coordinators DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge a ton to work with at the second level. Both are expected to be play makers at and around the line of scrimmage with their athleticism and quickness. Jackson will be imperative in improving the pass rush in years to come and Johnson will be a guy who can do a number of things.
At quarterback, Kiffin was able to flip four-star Luke Altmyer away from Mike Norvell and the Florida State Seminoles earlier this month. The Starkville, Miss. native appears to be the heir apparent to Matt Corral and brings a ton of tools to this offense. The Elite 11 prospect shredded 6A football in Mississippi the last two seasons and has similar measurables to Ole Miss’ current quarterback. I fully anticipate him coming in next season, learning the playbook, and being the guy under center in 2022.
Kiffin’s late flip of Savannah, Tenn. tight end Hudson Wolfe could be a direct ripple effect from the Altmyer flip. Tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley calls the No. 52 player in the country an “every down, traditional” tight end. He’s a mammoth of a player and has an impressive catch radius for a guy his size. Kiffin said he reminds him a lot of former FAU and current Cleveland Browns tight end Harrison Bryant.
Oh, and special teams coach Blake Gideon added a kicker in Caden Costa who drilled 50+-yard field goals in high school like it was nothing.
On the defensive line, defensive line coach Deke Adams added two legitimate day one contributors in Jamond Gordon and Isaiah Iton. The Rebels defense struggled to “get home” in third down scenarios this year, but those two will help tremendously not only in pass rush situations, but taking pressure off the linebackers by eating blocks and drawing double teams.
Prep prospect Taleeq Robbins chose Ole Miss over Georgia and Texas A&M, giving Ole Miss that coveted high school defensive tackle that they’ve been missing past classes. The Philadelphia native should be a guy that comes in and competes for playing time right away. Joining Robbins up front on defense are high school signees JJ Hawkins and Demarcus Smith. Yup, you guessed it. Long and athletic. Both tip the scales at 6-foot-4 and 250-pounds and will be nice pieces to an improving pass rush that needs this kind of talent influx.
In the secondary, cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley might have a bone to pick for Recruiter of the Year. The biggest splash on Wednesday was Ole Miss flipping MJ Daniels back to the Rebels. The in-state prospect gives the defense a ton to work with his ball skills that translate to both corner and safety.
This staff seems to be very high on both Trey Washington and Demarko Williams, two versatile corners who are very physical in run support and speedy enough to contribute on special teams as well. Joining those two at corner is Pahokee, Fla. native Markevious Brown. The IMG Academy defensive back has a lot of reps under his belt against some of the nation’s best due to the Ascenders national schedule. He is yet another long and rangy corner that embodies their size:speed mantra in the secondary.
Not to be forgotten, Biloxi, Miss. native Elijah Sabbatini re-joined the 2021 class despite a late surge from Matt Luke and Georgia. The staff really likes his physicality and how he tested in camp drills. He’s one that could be a sleeper and a multi-year starter down the road.
It’s hard to call a four-star underrated, but another secondary piece that was added that was lost in the shuffle due to an early commitment is Nashville, Tenn. prospect Kyndrich Breedlove. Once again, the Rebels add a do-it-all prospect who fits the bill for Power 5 football. At 6-foot-0 and 180-pounds, the Pearl-Cohn High School corner is going to be a name Ole Miss fans will hear a lot in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in the coming years.
Up front, offensive line coach Randy Clements focused on length and quickness. Cedrick Nicely, Micah Pettus, and Jayden Williams are all 6-foot-5 or taller and have good feet and move well in both pass protection and run blocking. The Rebels’ run game has been the unsung hero in 2020 and Clements’ did a nice job of adding more quality depth to his room.
Last but certainly not least, the wide receiver room reloaded. The headliner is Bralon Brown. The St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) product committed early in the process but will not be forgotten once he arrives on campus. He is a legitimate big-bodied pass-catcher that I think will step right in and compete for touches on the outside.
Elijah Moore will be gone after this season, but the Rebels addressed replacing his production by adding JJ Henry out of Texas. The slot receiver has all the makings of a matchup nightmare and might be asked to step in right away to play that Swiss Army knife role in Jeff Lebby’s offense.
The wild card in this class is Flowood, Miss. native Brandon Buckhaulter. The Mississippi prospect is a legit 6-foot-4 and 210-pounds and could get a look on both sides of the ball given his frame and ability to high-point the football. Wherever he finds a home, Nix did a nice job fending off Mississippi State and flipping one of the state’s premier prospects.
Lastly, Bergen Catholic (NJ) four-star Tywone Malone remains on the board and will sign in February. The two-sport star is this class’ No. 1 target and, as of this writing, is trending towards Oxford. Offensively, they’re still waiting on four-star IMG Academy (Fla.) wide receiver Malik McClain. The Daphne, Ala. product would give this class yet another bonafide outside receiver with the ability to compete early and often for receptions in the nation’s most explosive attack.
Overall, you couldn’t have asked for a better early signing day for Ole Miss. They missed on linebackers Junior Colson and John Lewis and their last-ditch effort to flip wide receiver Deion Smith didn’t work, but they seem poised to address those empty spots in February with the aforementioned targets and/or the NCAA Transfer Portal.