Ole Miss football: 5 biggest holes to fill in 2021 starting lineup
Most of Ole Miss’ 5-5 team in 2020 returns under Lane Kiffin in 2021.
The Rebels return 4 starters on the offensive line, their entire backfield and every receiver not named Elijah Moore. Defensively, it is a similar story. Defensive end Ryder Anderson announced his intention to transfer, but outside of that, Ole Miss returns essentially everyone who made a significant impact in 2020.
With that said, let’s take a look at the 5 biggest holes that need to be filled in 2021.
Slot WR: John Rhys Plumlee replacing Elijah Moore
Let’s start with the biggest and most glaring. Moore will go down as one of the most explosive players in the history of the program and his 1,193-yard season in 8 SEC games may not ever be fully appreciated. As Moore moves on to professional football, the Rebels are tasked with making up the production.
Their bowl win over Indiana birthed a new storyline and perhaps a new future for John Rhys Plumlee. The quarterback-turned-receiver caught 5 passes out of the slot and showed he is more than capable of making the switch full time if he commits to learning the intricacies of the position in the offseason. He’s still the same explosive athlete who ran for 1,000+ yards and 9 TDs as a true freshman in 2019.
It will be up to Plumlee and newcomer J.J. Henry to fill the void Moore leaves behind in the slot.
RT: Eli Acker replacing Royce Newman
Ole Miss is in good shape up front, but Newman elected to move on to professional football and that does create an opening for 2021. He started every game at right tackle on a line that led the SEC in rushing yards per game (210). Who replaces him? Ole Miss has options. Eli Acker seems like a the most likely candidate, along with Hamilton Hall, unless Kiffin and the staff decide to transition one of the younger interior linemen like Reece McIntyre or Jalen Cunningham outside to tackle. The Rebels have options, but with a roster largely still intact, this is a relevant hole to fill.
TE: Casey Kelly/Chase Rogers replacing Kenny Yeboah
Yeboah was the most impactful transfer Ole Miss has had in some time and revived a tight end position that had been essentially dormant since Evan Engram’s departure in 2016. (Give Kiffin’s scheme some credit for that development, too.)
Yeboah caught 27 passes for 524 yards and 6 scores and was a consistent threat over the middle. Yeboah opted out of the season-finale at LSU, but Casey Kelly played well in his place. Louisiana transfer Chase Rogers will likely see more playing time next year. The way-too-early expectation is that Ole Miss uses a committee approach to replace Yeboah’s production.
DE: Jamond Gordon/Cedric Johnson replacing Ryder Anderson
In a somewhat surprising occurrence, Anderson — who became a vocal leader — transferred to Indiana for his final season of eligibility. Anderson is a fine player, but this is less of a seismic hole and more of a reason to discuss what will be a new-look defensive line in 2021.
The Rebels struggled on the defensive line and it was the core source of a lot of their defensive problems. Landing two-sport star Tywone Malone last week was a crucial land for the defense (and potentially the middle of the Rebels’ baseball lineup at some point). He will provide much-needed help on the interior, along with JUCO newcomers Isaiah Iton and Jamond Gordon. As far as a direct replacement on the end, Gordon and Cedric Johnson are candidates to watch. But regardless of who it is, the defensive line as a whole will look much different next year.
PK: Caden Costa replacing Luke Logan
As strange as it seems, this is a significant hole to fill, but not because of who is leaving. Logan had a tumultuous 2 seasons and was just 1-for-5 outside 30 yards in 2020. The Rebels’ woes in the kicking game cost them points and field position in the sense that Kiffin was hyper-aggressive when it came to 4th-down calls in plus territory.
Ole Miss needs to find a serviceable kicker if it wishes to be a better team in 2021 and it is a large reason Kiffin awarded a scholarship to incoming freshman Caden Costa. Costa is the No. 7-ranked kicker in the 2021 class and had a long of 51 yards in high school. We’ve seen freshman kickers have immediate success in the SEC. Whether Costa or someone else that wins this job, the Rebels need more stability here next season.