Ok, at this point, Ole Miss recruiting things are happening too fast for one part-time sports bloggeur to keep up, so I’m just gonna throw a bunch of stuff at you today and *hopefully* get us all caught up. Hold on tight!
New portal commits:
After securing a commitment Friday from Arkansas linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul, the Rebs kept the momentum rolling on defense, adding a second defender from the portal in cornerback Tahveon Nicholson. The starting corner for Illinois is currently ranked as the #28 corner in the portal, but his rating keeps skipping around; at one point he was the #4 corner; I think something is currently wrong with On3’s portal rankings. The junior defender should have just one year of eligibility remaining, but fills a dire need for Ole Miss, which will lose four of its top five cornerbacks from 2023. Senior starters Deantre Prince and Zamari Walton are out of eligibility, as is top reserve DeShawn Gaddie. Sophomore Demarko Williams, another regular contributor off the bench, has entered the portal.
Next to jump in the boat is Indiana safety Louis Moore. A grad transfer after spending two years at Navarro College in Texas and two years at IU, Moore was extremely productive in 2023, with 83 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. At the time of writing, On3’s portal rankings are completed borked, as Moore is rated the #83 safety. That is… not correct. He was something like #8 last time I checked. Anyways, Moore would likely step right in for Daijahn Anthony, and might even be an upgrade over one of the Rebels’ most electric defenders this season. As far as I know, Moore didn’t even visit Oxford before committing; he seemed to catch all of the recruiting wonks by surprise.
Finally, Southern Miss offensive lineman Gerquan Scott hopped aboard the Flagship on Tuesday evening, marking the Rebs’ first offensive portal commit. Scott visited several days ago, and things looked good at the time, but then he visited Auburn, and things seemed to cool a bit. However, Scott was just doing his due diligence, as most people would in his situation. Scott is listed as an offensive tackle, but he started at guard for the Golden Eagles and will play guard or center at Ole Miss, barring unforeseen circumstances.
2023 Rebel standouts continue to announce 2024 return:
This is old news now that we’ve already reported on Tre Harris returning, but two other major pieces of the Ole Miss offense this season also announced their intent to return for 2024. Starting tight end Caden Prieskorn, who despite being slowed by a foot injury all season, was perhaps the most important individual blocker in the Rebels’ run game. Prieskorn’s highlights from his time at Memphis showed a much more sprightly receiving target, to put it lightly, so Prieskorn likely wants to get fully healthy and show off what he can do in the passing game.
Wide receiver Jordan Watkins also announced plans to come back for a third year as a key cog in the Rebels’ wide receiver corps. One of the three Ole Miss receivers to eclipse 700 yards this season, Watkins has been supremely reliable and has shown a knack for getting himself WIDE open at key moments. Also, we are absolutely loving the Ric Flair-themed announcement video:
Ole Miss is still awaiting an official announcement from Jaxson Dart, but he is almost certain to return. Other players for whom we’re still waiting on announcements include RB Ulysses Bentley, and offensive linemen Jeremy James, Caleb Warren, and Reece McIntyre.
Senior defensive end Cedric Johnson, meanwhile, has accepted an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, indicating that he’ll take his chances in the NFL draft. Johnson has had a solid career at Ole Miss, and I don’t think anyone would fault him for striking while the NFL iron is hot.
Fellow defensive lineman Jared Ivey, however, will return for 2024, providing Ole Miss with a rock-solid starter at defensive end. With his announcement, Ole Miss returns two of the three defensive linemen who were most likely to leave. JJ Pegues was among the first Ole Miss seniors to announce a 2024 comeback.
On defense, the only names we’re still waiting to hear from are safety John Saunders, linebacker Khari Coleman, and nose tackle Josh Harris.
Remaining portal targets:
While Lane Kiffin and staff have definitely cast a wide net in portal recruiting, their efforts right now seem to be focused on a core group of difference makers. Let’s take a quick look:
Juice Wells, South Carolina wide receiver: a pre-season All-SEC selection, Wells’ season was ended prematurely by injury, but he should be good to go well before spring practices. Wells canceled a visit to Texas to instead visit Oxford. There was a lot of heat surrounding his visit, and it seemed like a commitment was imminent. Now, Wells is maybe taking some more time to mull things over, but the Rebs are still the team to beat – for now.
Carter Smith, Indiana offensive tackle: like Wells, Smith already visited Oxford, and the good vibes were flowing – until they weren’t. Indiana’s redshirt freshman starter at left tackle visited Florida State right after Ole Miss, and while he didn’t commit to the Noles, the Rebs’ odds with Smith appear to be 50/50 at absolute best right now.
Princely Umanmielen, Florida EDGE: there have been several Ole Miss recruiting storylines that I just haven’t bought into at all so far this offseason – but it seems like a lot of those stories are coming true. Not much has been more surprising than the Rebs becoming the outright leader for an All-SEC second-teamer at EDGE, which is what we’ve seen unfold with Florida’s All-name team shoo-in Princely Umanmielen. Umanmielen lived like royalty in opponents’ backfields all year, racking up 7 sacks on the season. He’s the top-ranked portal EDGE rusher, and with the departure of Cedric Johnson, couldn’t come at a better time. He is currently on the tail-end of a two day visit with coaches in Oxford, and the vibes are VERY GOOD.
Walter Nolen, Texas A&M defensive tackle: another name that I openly scoffed at when it first surfaced was former #1 overall recruit Walter Nolen, a super-athletic defensive tackle who is now the #1 overall player in the portal. However, again, things are actually happening with Nolen. He first visited Oregon, with some analysts thinking he might commit to the Ducks in short time. That did not happen, and now Nolen is going to head to Oxford in the very near future. I still expect some other teams to get involved and drive up the price for Nolen’s services, but we haven’t heard such yet. The all-world DT spent some time at Olive Branch HS, though he bopped around quite a bit for a high-schooler. Still, having some sort of MS connection is hardly a bad thing. I’m still super hesitant to get optimistic about Nolen, *especially* if the Rebs break the vault open securing a commitment from Umanmielen, but here we are, talking about it, so…
Key Lawrence, Oklahoma safety: Lawrence already visited early last week, and rumors at the time seeped out that he was close to a commitment. Since then, Indiana safety Louis Moore committed. Those things may be completely unrelated, but with Trey Washington and John Saunders both likely to return, there’s really just one surefire starting safety spot up for grabs in Oxford.
Corey Thornton, UCF cornerback: Thornton visited Ole Miss earlier this week, and may also be on the verge of a commitment. The four-year starter for UCF is one of the best corners in the portal, and would provide the Rebs with a really solid trio to go along with Chris Graves and Illinois transfer Tahveon Nicholson.
There are absolutely more portal targets out there, but until things move forward with these guys, the coaching staff’s focus will likely remain on these six prospects.