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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #16 Ole Miss

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 4, 2014

#16 Ole Miss Rebels

 

2013 Recap:

8-5 was a nice season for Ole Miss as Hugh Freeze is earning more and more respect with each passing season. Ole Miss rebounded well after a 3 week stretch that saw losses to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, two coming by a combined total of 11 points. The overtime loss at the end of the season to Mississippi State was heartbreaking but the Rebels responded with a sound bowl win over Georgia Tech.

 

Coaching:

15-11 in the SEC is not a bad way to start your first two seasons. Freeze needs to be at least .500 or better this season in order to keep it going. There have to be believers out there in what is going on because Ole Miss has landed a top 10 recruiting class two years in a row. The quality of athlete is there and the production seems to be slowly following.

 

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Bo Wallace is an interesting prospect as he has yet to make the full transformation into the star quarterback people have been waiting for, but he is showing steady progression. Now with the big name quarterbacks from last year gone (A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, and Aaron Murray), Wallace is ready to ascend into the poster child for the league under center. Wallace threw for over 3,300 yards and 18 passing scores, but also moves well as he added nearly 500 yards on the ground and 6 rushing TD’s. This could be the breakout season and could cause Mississippi to be the breakout team of the year. That is a role many thought they were starting to play last year when they started 3-0 after waxing Texas 44-23 on the road, before they hit that 3-game patch with Alabama, Auburn, and Texas A&M. Wallace has a number of people behind him to hand the ball to and his running backs catch well out of the backfield. The “bigger” story may be the backup quarterback as Jeremy Liggins has his eligibility from the NCAA assured and the sophomore has three seasons at Ole Miss. This is significant because Liggins plays at nearly 300 pounds and stands 6’3”. Liggins is no stranger to success as he was a two-time state champion in Louisiana playing quarterback and there were games when he outweighed everyone blocking for him. Expect Liggins to get a healthy dose of short yardage situational playing time as he could be responsible for more than 10 touchdowns.

Best Draft Prospect: Bo Wallace QB 6th Round 2015.

 

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Laquon Treadwell caught a whopping 72 passes as a true freshman but he averaged less than 9 YPC. The reason was that he worked exclusively in the slot and that was his job with Ole Miss. This season Treadwell moves outside after the departure of Donte Moncrief for the NFL and Treadwell should take off and establish himself as one of the finest wide receivers in the country. He could possibly make a run to be the first off the board at his position in 2016, when he is draft eligible. Quincy Adeboyejo looks like he will be the primary slot option with Vince Sanders along the outside with Treadwell.

The true key to the whole passing game could be sophomore tight end Evan Engram who has game breaking ability and looks like he is destined for life in the NFL one day. This is a group that needs a little seasoning but with an experienced Wallace at the helm all should be well for Ole Miss.

Best Draft Prospect: Laquon Treadwell WR 1st Round 2017 (Looks like 2016 early entrant).

 

 

Offensive Line:

If  it is starting to seem like Ole Miss has prospects all over the place it's because they do. Laremy Tunsil is a true sophomore and will not be draft eligible until 2016, but he has first round talent and the possibility of being the first tackle selected overall. Tunsil may be the best lineman in the SEC outside of the polished and accomplished Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M. Tunsil is one of only two returning starters along the line as right guard Justin Bell is the other. This is a typical Ole Miss line, where the players are a little bit bigger than usual with an average weight of about 315 pounds. Robert Conyers is currently not slated as a starter but that could change for the sophomore center as Ole Miss is searching for the right player at the position. Aaron Morris is back at the left guard spot returning from an ACL tear. If he is healthy and able to hold up, it will help the line tremendously as he showed some NFL potential before going down early last season. This is a good line but there are some question marks and the rebels struggled with consistency a season ago.

Best Draft Prospect: Laremy Tunsil OT 1st Round 2017 (Looks like 2016 early entrant).

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Introducing the defensive line, another area of the field with another player with a ridiculous amount of talent. Robert Nkemdiche was a starter from day 1 last season as he came to Mississippi not only as the top defensive end in the land, but the top overall prospect at any position. Nkemdiche got a lot of attention and didn't make the impact on the stat sheet the team was hoping for, but he showed glimpses of being very dominant. Late in the season Nkemdiche moved inside to tackle and the results were immediate. This may not be the long term solution but things are working right now, especially with C.J. Johnson coming back from injury to man a defensive end spot. Mississippi has the ability and depth to plug Nkemdiche inside as a starter and use him occasionally on the outside, or move him around to keep opposing offenses guessing. Nkemdiche finished off his freshman campaign with 34 tackles with 8 for loss and a pair of sacks in 11 games of action. C.J. Johnson was limited to 4 games but the SEC has been able to see what he can do when he is healthy. 2012 saw Johnson post 8.5 tackles for loss with 6 sacks and that was with missing a few games to injury. Woodrow Hamilton saw a lot of action inside last year and started most of the season. Hamilton looks to be the run stuffing specialist opposite Nkemdiche. This is a nice defensive line because of the versatility of a few players that can line up at multiple positions. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy he could have a monster season and see his name rise up the draft boards.

Best Draft Prospect: Robert Nkemdiche DE/DT 1st Round 2017 (Looks like 2016 early entrant).

 

Linebackers:

This looks to be the weakest link on defense, although weak is still pretty strong for this team. Ole Miss has some athletes here that sly around the ball and they are led by Serderius Bryant who is a late round draft prospect for 2015. Bryant led the defense with 78 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss, receiving All-SEC honors. Bryant will miss a lot of tackles though and is better in support than tackling one-on-one in space. What Bryant is really good at is creating mismatches and getting penetration in the running game. Tony Connor is back and he excels at getting to the passer. He is not particularly fast or strong, but he is just one of those players who finds a way to get things done. Ole Miss will switch things up and we could see a 4-2-5 formation at times, which would play to the Ole Miss strength on defense, the secondary. D.T. Shackleford will be in the linebacking corps as well as Nkemdiche....Denzel that is. Denzel is Robert's older brother and a junior that contributed 35 tackles with a pair coming for loss in six starts a season ago. We will see the lineup juggled a bit with the linebackers.

Best Draft Prospect: Serderius Bryant LB 6th Round 2015.

 

Secondary:

Cody Prewitt is the jewel here as he currently carries a 3rd round grade for the upcoming draft, as he made the right decision in coming back for his senior season after toying with the thought of leaving last year. That is a grade we could definitely see increase though. Over the course of the last two years Prewitt has 151 tackles with 7 interceptions (6 of them came last season), 10 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Trae Elston will start at strong safety as the junior has started for most of his career and isn't far behind Prewitt with 123 tackles over the same span. Elston and Prewitt help form what may be the best safety tandem in the league and it gets better with converted quarterback Anthony Alford as a key reserve. He will see a ton of time in passing situations and could be the beneficiary of a lot of time when Mississippi moves to a five defensive back alignment. Ole Miss returns both corners in Mike Hilton and Senquez Golson who combined for 69 tackles and 4 interceptions a season ago. It's hard to find a weak piece in the secondary. Playing in the outfield isn't foreign to these guys as there is some baseball blood, as Alford was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2012 MLB Draft and Golson was drafted in the 8th round in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Best Draft Prospect: Cody Prewitt S 3rd Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

The kicking and punting spots are handled by new personnel so there are some questions going into the season. The return game was very inconsistent a season ago and the coverage units for kickoffs had a pair go back for touchdowns against them. Ole Miss has to realize there are three areas for a football team, and special teams cannot be ignored especially in the nation's premier conference like the SEC. It was a special teams' play that altered the landscape a season ago, Chris Davis' 109-yard return for Auburn against Alabama.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 

Schedule:

A home game with Boise State to open the year is an interesting twist. October is when things start getting hairy with Alabama looming, although this is a home game for the Rebels. Texas A&M and LSU are road games during the month. Auburn starts off November but that too is a home game, as is the Egg Bowl with Mississippi State, a game that the Rebels can ill-afford to lose for a second straight year.

 

Draft Outlook:

From the sheer standpoint of draft talent this team is right there with LSU and Alabama for the number of prospects on the squad, and not just prospects but top quality 1st round talent. Ole Miss is a fun team to watch and they could be this year's Missouri of the SEC with a few breaks.

 

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