A lot of attention was on Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral this week at SEC Media Days. And for good reason. The Rebels signal caller is the reigning national leader in yards per game at just under 390, a Heisman Trophy dark horse, and is already receiving 2022 NFL Draft buzz.
But, Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense’s best player may not even be the quarterback. No disrespect to No. 2 under center, but junior running back Jerrion Ealy may be even more valuable. The third-team All-American and second-team All-SEC performer a year ago gives Ole Miss a ton of options offensively for how they want to attack people in 2021.
A year ago, Ealy ran for 745 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine games. Out of the backfield, he hauled in 15 receptions for 155 yards and another touchdowns. And in the return game, he averaged 28.9 per return and housed one damn near 110 yards against LSU.
The Mississippian’s biggest attribute is his athleticism. The once-projected, sure-fire first round pick in baseball has seemingly turned his focus to football, opting out of the 2021 baseball season to undergo shoulder surgery so he could be full-go in the fall for the Rebels. Now, with fall camp in sight, Ealy is poised for a breakout year.
Let’s take a look at how he can be utilized this year in the offense.
There’s no denying his ability in the backfield.
Ealy almost defies physics with his ability to run between the tackles. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder isn’t the most physically imposing, but he excels with little to no wasted movement and his commitment to where he is going.
Ealy’s first step is without question one of his best tools, but right behind that in my opinion is his first cut and forward lean.
This is my favorite run from this past weekend. Jerrion Ealy showcasing lots of good traits on this run. Have him ranked RB #9 in my Devy Dashboard. Love the uniforms too!— Brandon Lejeune (@DevyDeepDive) September 29, 2020
Elusiveness#Devy All The Time pic.twitter.com/qQGT1J0V2w
At 190-pounds, he has a heavy running style and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there to get the tough yards. Here, he doesn’t give up on the play, hits the hole, jump cuts, and eludes the final three defenders for six points.
Another example of Ealy’s no fear attitude is how he isn’t shy to make people miss in small spaces. Against Alabama, he embarrassed some poor soul with one cut, leaving him grabbing for air as he scoots in for a touchdown.
That is something that is a great asset to have in order to give his fellow backfield mates, Snoop Conner, Henry Parrish and Kentrell Bullock a breather from slamming it in there inside.
Speaking of the trio in the backfield with Ealy...
This might be, collectively, more valuable. All three are more than capable of doing their part to shoulder the load and take a ton of pressure and hits off of Ealy. Conner ran for 421 yards an eight touchdowns a year ago while splitting time and could be in line for more touches in 2021 due to Ealy’s ability to be multiple and play elsewhere.
Despite being the biggest of the bunch (5-foot-10, 215-pounds), he’s got some burst to him as well. Sure he’s not the home run threat that Ealy is, but he can get out in space and run away from folks. As we see here against Alabama in short yardage, the initial read was an inside run, but he kicked outside the hashes and got the first down with relative ease.
Then there’s the sophomore. Parrish ran for 263 yards and scored twice in a limited role in 2020 and should be ready to make a jump this year. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder is somewhere in between Ealy and Conner. He has the breakaway speed to hurt you down the sideline while also being able to get the tough yards on the interior as well.
In Ole Miss’ 26-20 win over Indiana in the Outback Bowl, the Goulds, Fla. native was crucial in the Rebels’ ability to confuse Kane Wommack’s talented defense, running for 63 yards on 17 carries. I fully expect for him to be a bigger piece of the offense this fall.
Bullock is the third option in the running back room and he is nothing to sneeze at. The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder can tote the rock. His only two carries of the 2020 season came in the Outback Bowl, but he gives the Rebels another viable option when they want to go fast and doesn’t force them to abbreviate anything.
Wide receiver? No problem
During Kiffin’s stint in Los Angeles with Southern California, Reggie Bush had two of his best seasons. And in 2004 and 2005, he was able to make an impact in the passing game like a slot receiver. Bush made 80 catches for 987 yards and scored nine times via the forward pass en route to 25 wins, a national title, and a Heisman trophy.
Fast forward to 2021 and I could see Kiffin and Lebby utilizing Ealy the exact same way.
The offensive brain trust got creative here, running a modified wheel route out of the backfield, but Ealy is just too fast and too athletic for the South Carolina safety to make a play.
There’s no doubt that Corral is the key to Ole Miss’ success as the trigger man, but Ealy can be as big of a piece for Kiffin and Lebby this season. I feel safe in speaking for everyone that there is a ton of excitement and intrigue to see what year two of this offense looks like with those two in the backfield. And with Ealy’s versatility and selflessness to do whatever it takes, the SEC has been put on notice.