Biggest Needs: The Rebels return the most starters of any team in the SEC for 2013, only losing seven total. And two of them were on special teams. The immediate needs on offense revolve around building depth on the line of scrimmage and signing skill position players. The notable starters who are gone on offense are do-it-all back Randall Mackey and offensive guard AJ Hawkins. However, the offense returns their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers.
The news is even better on defense. The Rebels merely lose two starters, with the biggest being corner Wesley Pendleton. But depth and impact players are a concern on the line of scrimmage, and if Hugh Freeze truly wants to compete for SEC Championships, he has to upgrade the conference’s 11th best pass defense, too.
Needs Met: Hugh Freeze signed the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country in Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil joins three other offensive linemen, including top 100 tackle Austin Golson. Tunsil and Golson are the future anchors of the Rebels’ line. Ole Miss also signed two quarterbacks in drop back passer Ryan Buchanan and dual-threat Devante Kincade. Either gives Freeze and his staff options in the future. The Rebels signed four running backs and six wide receivers. The backs are led by in-state star Kailo Moore, and signee Laquon Treadwell is the top-rated receiver in the country. Both are instant-impact players at much-needed skill positions. The core is in place, and the Rebels will look to build around this offensive class for the future.
Only two key players don’t return for Ole Miss on defense in corner Wesley Pendleton and tackles Uriah Grant and Gilbert Pena. The Rebels, however, upgraded the position and signed two stars on the defensive line in top JUCO tackle Lavon Hooks and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. Hooks will add immediate size and ability to the teeth of the defense, while Nkemdiche will line up opposite CJ Johnson or Channing Ward and create quite the pass-rushing trio. The Rebels signed two linebackers and hope to get injured DT Shackelford back, too. Five-star safety Tony Conner headlines three secondary signees. Conner should play immediately. He’s that good.
The X-Factor in the class is athlete Nick Brassell. Brassell comes back to Ole Miss from JUCO, and his versatility gives Freeze options at receiver, on special teams and at corner.
Biggest Get: Captain obvious says Robert Nkemdiche is the Rebels’ biggest get, but Lavon Hooks will provide a bigger immediate upgrade to the defense than Nkemdiche will. Hooks is a mauler inside at 6-4, 300 pounds, and he’s SEC-ready straight from JUCO. While Nkemdiche has higher upside than arguably anyone in the country, Hooks is the bigger get for 2013.
Biggest Miss: Ole Miss’ top class was star-studded, but they missed on the biggest in-state prospect in defensive end Chris Jones. After flirting with the Rebels for the last two months, Jones ended up inking with Mississippi State.
Final Evaluation: National Signing Day was one massive Ole Miss infomercial on ESPN. Hugh Freeze won the day, as he was all over TV and getting national exposure. Freeze’s class is a great one, but it’s certainly top heavy, which isn’t bad. He upgraded both lines of scrimmage, although the Rebels did lose five-star end Elijah Daniels on signing day. Championship teams are usually made in back-to-back recruiting classes, and the Rebels’ future success could depend largely on next year’s class adding to the stellar ‘13 class. Look out, SEC West.
Final Grade: A+
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