After a long, exhilarating streak of wins on the football field and in the recruiting world, Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin finally hit a major pothole, with star running back Quinshon Judkins entering the portal. If you read the recruiting boards (I know I do!), there was a fair amount of turd-polishing going on after the news broke, along with plenty of weeping and teeth-gnashing. By day’s end, most of the message board crowd had convinced themselves that Ole Miss losing an offensive centerpiece was good, actually! The truth, like in most cases, will probably lie somewhere between the best and worst-case scenarios. Here is my short, bullet-point-based take on the situation:
- Losing Judkins, who put the team on his back in several games this year and last, definitely hurts. Ole Miss will almost certainly not replace him with a better running back.
- Judkins was almost certainly demanding an unreasonable NIL sum for a running back.
- There was definitely tension this season between Judkins and his teammates.
- Judkins’ yards-per-carry production dropped from 5.7 in 2022 to 4.3 in 2023. A good bit of this can be blamed on the offensive line, but definitely not all.
- The Grove Collective now has a sizable amount of NIL funds that were earmarked for Judkins. If they play their cards right, they COULD get more utility out of those funds than they would have by keeping Judkins.
Judkins’ departure sets the table for the next few days of portal recruiting. The Rebs were already in search of another offensive lineman or three, and now will likely add a running back to the wish list, especially with fellow running back Jam Griffin entering the portal on the same day.
Fortunately, the offensive line candidates are starting to take shape, and the list is extremely encouraging. Let’s take a look:
- UNC starting left tackle Diego Pounds, a 6’6, 330 lb redshirt sophomore, is visiting Ole Miss this weekend. Immediately upon entering the portal, there was buzz that the Rebels were the favorite to land Pounds. Watching some highlights, I’m confident Pounds would be a moderate upgrade over the left tackles the Rebs trotted out this year.
- Mississippi State offensive lineman Percy Lewis, a part-time starter at left tackle for the Bulldogs this season, will also visit Oxford this weekend. A 6’8, 360-lb JUCO transfer, Lewis was heavily recruited by Ole Miss coming out of Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. He’s already visited Arkansas, and Auburn is also somewhere in the picture.
- LSU offensive tackle Zalance Heard, a true freshman who served as the Tigers’ 6th offensive lineman, is now in the portal, with Ole Miss heavily involved. Heard (obviously) has three years of eligibility remaining, and almost certainly has the highest ceiling of any of the linemen on the Rebels’ board. He was only the #22 overall player in the country for the 2023 class. Pete Golding gets the credit if Heard eventually heads to Oxford.
If Ole Miss can land two of these three guys, in addition to versatile Southern Miss transfer Gerquan Scott, an overall upgrade across the offensive line seems pretty likely.
On the running back front, the first objective for Ole Miss is making sure Ulysses Bentley IV returns for his COVID year. Bentley looked electric this season, even with Judkins getting the lion’s share of opportunities. I mentioned Judkins’ 5.7 ypc for the 2022 season, right? Well, Bentley’s 2023 ypc average was… 5.7. However, Bentley was dinged up off and on this season, after also missing much of 2022 due to injury. It would be foolish to count on Bentley as an every-down back, but if he manages to stay healthy… watch out.
I fully expect a major portal target to emerge for the Rebs, likely about 5 minutes after I hit “publish” on this article, but right now, there aren’t too many appealing candidates. Still, Lane Kiffin and staff didn’t let Judkins walk without any sort of plan in place, so we’ll watch as things unfold and let you know what’s up.