Just over one year ago, Ole Miss was playing in the Sugar Bowl and followed that up with a 2016 recruiting class which ended up ranked fifth in the country by 247 Sports. A few days before that class signed, news broke of the NCAA investigation into the football program which is still ongoing.
That investigation, still not close to a conclusion, has lingered like a black clould over the program for more than a year and has had a negative impact to the tune of the Rebels ending up with the 30th ranked class in the country as National Signing Day draws to a close. That, however, is a marked improvement from the number 52 ranking they brought into signing day.
At this point, however, it is a small miracle that the class ended up ranked that high. Three of the higher ranked players in the signing class committed on signing day including 4 star receiver/defensive back D.D. Bowie whose signing culminated a period of speculation that he would flip to Mississippi State.
Given the self imposed penalties which Ole Miss had applied, the Rebels could sign a maximum of 22 initial scholarships this year and appear to have filled that allotment (depending on if any of the early enrollees can be back-counted to the 2016 signing class).
After struggling to find warm bodies to play linebacker this year, the new defensive staff led by Wesley McGriff signed five players listed by 247 as linebackers. The group is headlined by four star early enrollee Breon Dixon from Loganville, Ga. and Mohamed Sanogo from Plano, Tex. gave the class a late bump as a signing day commitment.
Another position of need was defensive end and, with a few junior college transfers, there should be some players looking to contribute immediately with the departures of Fadol Brown and John Youngblood. Markel Winters (Jones County C.C.) and Brenden Williams (Northeast Miss. C.C.) both enrolled for the spring semester and should be early contributors while, another signing day commitment, Chester Graves, gives the Rebels the top ranked player in Missouri.
The NCAA investigation left an indelible mark on this class as without it, Ole Miss had significantly better chances at five star running back Cam Akers (Florida State) and five star offensive lineman Walker Little (Stanford). Akers is arguably the best player to come out of Mississippi since Marcus Dupree (look him up if you don’t know him, kids... better yet, get a copy of The Courting of Marcus Dupree) and had been being recruiting by Freeze and co. since eighth grade. Little has a brother and sister who attend Ole Miss that gave the Rebels a leg up in the recruiting process, but with both players the spectre of NCAA sanctions was too much to overcome.
Rebuilding the Staff
After the 2016 season, Hugh Freeze faces the biggest offseason of his career. While the departure of defensive coordinator Dave Wommack via retirement was not unexpected, offensive coordinator Dan Werner leaving was a surprise. New defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff brings an aggressiveness in recruiting which Wommack lacked and the defensive staff has been loaded up with skilled recruiters including former LSU linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto and defensive line coach Tray Scott while former Cal ace recruiter Jacob Peeler was added as wide receivers coach. The addition of those four should add a youthful approach to recruiting going forward for a coaching staff that was growing stale in its recruiting approach, but was largely too late to make a significant impact on the 2017 class.
Ryder Anderson | DE | 6-6 | 231 | Katy, Texas | Katy (early enrollee)
Zikerrion Baker | LB | 6-1 | 212 | Mooringsport, La. | Minden
D.D. Bowie | DB | 6-1 | 187 | Morton, Miss. | Morton
Ben Brown | OL | 6-5 | 300 | Vicksburg, Miss. | St. Aloysius
Josh Clarke | LB | 6-2 | 217 | Jefferson, La. | Riverdale
Sincere David | DT | 6-3 | 300 | Jacksonville, Fla. | Sandalwood
Breon Dixon | LB | 6-0 | 218 | Loganville, Ga. | Grayson (early enrollee)
Alex Faniel | QB | 6-6 | 238 | Glen Allen, Va. | Glen Allen
Chester Graves | LB | 6-3 | 226 | Kansas City, Mo. | Park Hill
Tony Gray | OL | 6-5 | 300 | Loganville, Ga. | Grayson
Javien Hamilton | DB | 5-10 | 170 | Bay Springs, Miss. | Bay Springs/Jones County JC (early enrollee)
A.J. Harris | DB | 5-11 | 191 | Madison, Ala. | Bob Jones
C.J. Miller | DB | 6-1 | 188 | Powder Springs, Ga. | McEachern
JaVonta Payton | WR | 6-1 | 170 | Nashville, Tenn. | Hillsboro
Tae-kion Reed | DL | 6-4 | 298 | Columbus, Miss. | New Hope
Braylon Sanders | WR | 6-0 | 172 | Hogansville, Ga. | Callaway
Mohamed Sanogo | LB | 6-1 | 235 | Plano, Texas | Plano West
Jordan Ta'amu | QB | 6-2 | 200 | Pearl City, Hawaii | Pearl City/New Mexico Military (early enrollee)
Kam'ron White | DB | 6-2 | 201 | Clinton, Miss. | Clinton
Brenden Williams | LB | 6-3 | 224 | Fairfield, Ala. | Restoration Academy/Northeast Mississippi CC (early enrollee)
Markel Winters | DE | 6-3 | 260 | Tallahassee, Fla. | Rickards/East Carolina/Jones County JC (early enrollee)
Isaiah Woullard | RB | 5-9 | 195 | Hattiesburg, Miss. | Presbyterian Christian School