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Offseason Primer: How will Ole Miss Target the Transfer Portal for 2024?

Most of the Rebs’ needs seem to be concentrated in 2-3 position groups.

Ole Miss v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

As I mentioned in the first of (probably) several offseason primer articles earlier this week, Ole Miss is effectively in the thick of three separate recruiting seasons right now.

The transfer portal officially opens on December 4, but players are already declaring their intent to enter the portal, and even lining up “official visits” that will take place before the portal opens. How does that work? My friend, you’d have to ask the brain trust that we call the NCAA (haha, sarcasm!), because I couldn’t tell you. Regardless, here we are.

On top of that, early signing day for high school seniors is December 20. And as detailed in my post earlier this week, teams will be lobbying many of their current seniors to stick around for an extra year of eligibility granted as a result of the NCAA declaring that the 2020 season “didn’t count.”

Having already laid out the situation facing Lane Kiffin as he tries to convince a core group of seniors to return, let’s take a look at how portal season might shape up for the Rebs, broken down by position group. The landscape here will change quickly and often, but here’s our best crack at how things are looking.

QB: It’s hard to imagine Ole Miss would pursue a quarterback in the portal this cycle, unless Jaxson Dart shocks everyone by declaring for the draft or attempting a grad transfer. In a recent meeting with reporters, Kiffin accidentally (or on purposefully? Who knows?) let slip that Dart was returning next year, which he later walked back after Dart (understandably) protested. The expectation is that he’ll return, but he’ll announce it on his own terms. With Walker Howard looking like he could already be an SEC starter, and promising freshman Austin Simmons behind him, Kiffin has two great backups to work with, and shouldn’t need to dip into the Grove Collective funds to find a fourth QB.

RB: If Lane Kiffin seriously pursues any portal running backs, it will likely be because a current player is leaving, and we just don’t know it yet. Ole Miss is currently set to return five backs (Q. Judkins, U. Bentley IV, J. Griffin, M. Jones, K. Reescano), though Bentley and Griffin would both have to exercise their COVID year. It’s a solid group, and also, NIL funds at the position are going to be HEAVILY tied up in keeping Judkins.

WR: Barring something crazy happening, Tre Harris is gone, leaving Ole Miss without a true #1 wideout. Dayton Wade and Jordan Watkins are more likely to return and are both fantastic as #2 or #3 options. Current freshman Ayden Williams could step into that #1 role, as could former LSU and current Holmes CC superstar Deion Smith, if he signs with the Rebs (as is widely anticipated). However, Kiffin is probably going to want an option with more D1 experience. As he found out in pursuit of Keon Coleman last year, those kinds of guys can quickly get expensive, so we’ll have to see how much of a priority it is vs. other needs. Curiously, the portal guys that are actually on the Rebels’ radar (that we know of) are more slot players. Missouri State’s Raylen Sharpe and North Texas’ Ja’Mori Maclin are both rumored targets.

TE: Earlier this week, we reported that freshman tight end Jayvontay Conner had declared his intent to enter the portal, but just a couple of days later, he retracted his announcement. Around the same time, sophomore TE Kyrin Heath entered the portal. Heath seemed primed for a big role early in the season with starter Caden Prieskorn out with injury, but when Prieskorn returned, he took the absolute lion’s share of snaps. Plus, Hudson Wolfe, when healthy, seemed to slot above Heath on the depth chart. It’s unclear if Heath’s portal declaration might be a good indicator that Prieskorn is coming back, but… it’s not NOT a good sign, right?

OL: I fully expect offensive line to be the position group where Ole Miss exerts the most effort in the portal this offseason. The Rebs lose two starters in Victor Curne and Quincy Magee, both portal grabs from last offseason. The staff must also convince starters Jeremy James and Caleb Warren, as well as valuable backup Reece McIntyre to stick around by using their COVID years. On top of that, there are definite rumblings of some impending portal entries by returning contributors. The good news is, targets are quickly emerging for the Rebs. First, Southern Miss starter Gerquan Scott is visiting this weekend. He’s received an offer, and also holds bids from Auburn, South Carolina, and others. He’s a former teammate of Ole Miss defensive end Cedrick Johnson, and the Rebs could try to strike quickly. Indiana left tackle Carter Smith also says he’s setting up a visit with Ole Miss. A former four-star, Smith started at left tackle this season as a redshirt freshman. The Rebs may also make a big push for Memphis offensive lineman Davion Carter (a former Pearl HS standout). Again, expect a ton of action here in the coming weeks.

DL: Ole Miss senior standout defensive tackle JJ Pegues announced this week that he’ll return for his COVID year, taking a big burden off the coaching staff. If Pete Golding can convince a couple more out of Cedric Johnson, Jared Ivey, and Josh Harris to stick around, the Rebs have a really good head start on the defensive front heading into 2024. Other presumed returners include Zxavian Harris, Akelo Stone, and Jamarious Brown. The Rebs are also primed to bring in a historically deep and talented class of high school defensive linemen. If Kiffin has decent success retaining the returners he wants to retain, I could see a couple of strategies in play: Ole Miss could either try to spend big on one high-profile pass rush specialist (something the defense sorely lacked this season), or could try to play moneyball and find another contributor like Isaac Ukwu to sub in for Cedric Johnson without much dropoff.

LB: The Rebs lose starting linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, the team’s second-leading tackler Ashanti Cistrunk, and contributor Monty Montgomery after this season, and would need Khari Coleman to exercise his COVID year to stick around. That potentially leaves freshman Suntarine Perkins, converted safety Ladarius Tennison, and…not much else returning for 2024. Ole Miss is bringing in a JUCO superstar in Raymond Collins, but we all know first-year JUCOs are a 50/50 proposition at best. No portal targets have popped up yet, but Golding will have to figure out something.

DB: Like offensive line, the Rebs could be poised to spend big NIL bucks replacing contributors at defensive back, with both starting corners and arguably the team’s best safety in Daijahn Anthony all exhausting their eligibility. Starting safety John Saunders would need to use his 5th year of eligibility, as would third corner Deshawn Gaddie (if he even has one available? There is some confusion there). No major portal targets have emerged yet, but surefire starting corners are going to be an expensive commodity. The coaching staff did a phenomenal job scouting Anthony and Saunders last season; a couple of similar finds in the portal would be clutch this offseason.

Specialists: Backup placekicker Caden Costa, the Rebels’ starter in 2021 before catching an unfortunate suspension for taking banned substances, has entered the portal, likely signaling that 2023 starter Caden Davis is returning. Punter Fraser Masin would need to use his COVID year to stick around. Kiffin would presumably be fine with keeping Davis and Masin and calling it a day.

Keep an eye out next week for more breaking portal news when the thing officially opens on December 4. We’ll also be bringing you a look at where Ole Miss stands with high school recruiting as it looks to close out its solid 2024 class.