Jerrion Ealy's decision is nearing, and with it could come major implications for Matt Luke
I’ve got a prediction for next week’s MLB Draft in regards to Jerrion Ealy.
More Ole Miss fans than ever will be glued to their televisions/phones/computers on Monday and Tuesday night because of Ealy’s upcoming decision of playing Major League Baseball or playing football and baseball in Oxford.
Bold prediction, right?
Here’s another not-so-bold prediction: Whatever happens with Ealy’s decision will have major implications for Ole Miss.
After all, we’re talking about a 5-star tailback who set the Under Armour All-America Game rushing record. That was few months before Ole Miss watched 5 offensive players — including 3 skill players — get drafted. That didn’t include the graduated Jordan Ta’amu, who turned the offense over to redshirt freshman Matt Corral. As a result, the Ole Miss offense ranks dead last in FBS in percentage of returning offensive production.
So yes, Ealy’s decision is a huge one for that reason alone. When you factor in the “prove it” year that lies ahead for Luke, this feels like an even bigger potential momentum swing for Ole Miss.
If you’re under the impression that Luke doesn’t have a “prove it” year, then you simply haven’t been paying attention this offseason. Coming off a 5-win season that ended with a touchdown-less blowout loss in the Egg Bowl, Luke didn’t receive a contract extension. That’s significant because state law only allows for contracts to be 4 years in length, and now, Luke’s current deal only runs through 2021.
To make matters more interesting, the guy who shed Luke’s interim tag in the wake of the Hugh Freeze scandal, athletic director Ross Bjork, just left Ole Miss to take the same position at Texas A&M. In other words, Luke will soon have a new boss who, in all likelihood, is going to do everything in their power to capitalize on Ole Miss’ post-sanctions era ahead.
Luke knows his time is now. That’s why he put his ego aside — I’m actually not sure Luke has an ego — and hired a pair of former Power 5 coaches to be his coordinators. Atypical? Absolutely. Could it help him land an extension? Absolutely, even if Rich Rodriguez and Mike McIntyre are one-and-done.
So that brings us back to Ealy.
There’s a reason that Ole Miss fans are so excited about this kid, and why Alabama and Clemson made last-minute pitches to try and lure him. As the Rebels shift into this new, more run-reliant identity under Rodriguez, Ealy is the perfect piece to build around. That’s not a knock on the super underrated Scottie Phillips, who figures to be the first-string back regardless of Ealy’s decision.
But 2019 is Phillips’ last year of eligibility, and while Corral looks promising, he’s not a guarantee to put up the numbers that Ta’amu and Shea Patterson did. There are playmakers needed in Oxford. As a 3-down back who can make the home-run play, Ealy can be that dude … if he chooses football.
That’s anyone’s guess right now. Back when Ealy committed to Ole Miss on National Signing Day and he was interviewed on ESPN, he said that “I love both sports but baseball has my heart” and that his decision was going to come down to what happened in the MLB Draft.
In that same interview, Ealy also said that people were telling him he was going to be a top-20 pick. That can still happen, but for what it’s worth, MLB.com had him listed as the No. 66 prospect and ESPN’s draft expert Keith Law doesn’t have Ealy among his top-100 prospects. That could’ve stemmed from a senior season at Jackson Prep that produced 6 home runs and 22 stolen bases, but wasn’t the MLB-ready year that some scouts might’ve expected to see.
“His stock has dropped a little,” said one National League scout who has followed Ealy’s career closely told Bleacher Report. “He’s a tremendous athlete, but my assessment is football comes easier to him than baseball. In the first game this year, he struck out to start an inning and then when his team batted around, he struck out again. That stuck with me.”
Obviously the higher Ealy is picked in the MLB Draft, the more money is on the table and the tougher it would be for him to pass up.
A guy some compared Ealy to is Kyler Murray. Of course they play different positions on the football field and Murray’s decision was at a different stage in his career. But it’s the baseball skill set — both can play any outfield position, hit for power and run extremely well — that links the 2-sport athletes together.
Maybe there will be some post-Murray fear with Ealy that’ll cause some MLB front offices to pass on him. Granted, even if he’s not picked until the third or fourth round, there’s still the possibility of a large signing bonus being offered given what Ealy’s alternative option is at Ole Miss.
And to his credit, neither is a consolation prize. As ESPN’s Tom Luginbill said of Ealy, all of us wish we could have the options that he has right now. There’s even the option in which a team could allow Ealy to play football in the fall and play minor league baseball in the summer, though who knows if any team would agree to that given the likelihood of him being used as a 3-down back.
If Ealy is out there for Ole Miss in fall camp, Luke will feel like he earned a huge victory before the season even started. And if Ealy does choose baseball, then Luke’s “prove it” season will have an uphill slope.
One last not-so-bold prediction? We’ll be talking about the impact of Ealy’s decision for years to come.