The Rebels may have lost a bunch of great players to the last NFL draft, but they remain packed full of talent on both sides of the ball again in 2016. If they can avoid any unexpected slip-ups like the one against Memphis the previous year, then they can challenge again for conference and potentially national success.
THE TOP 5
Marquis Haynes, Jr, EDGE/LB, #27 – 6ft 2, 220 lbs
For all the offensive firepower the Rebels possess, their top prospect arguably is their outstanding junior pass rusher. Haynes made an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2014 with 31 tackles, 9 tackles for loss (TFLs), 7.5 sacks and 7 QB hurries (plus 2 pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles). He improved his all round game as a sophomore last season, in particular in his run defense, while continuing to be deadly in the backfield, finishing his second season with 43 tackles, 16.5 TFLs, 10 sacks and 8 hurries, as well as again adding a pair of pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles. Haynes is lightning quick off the snap, turns the corner brilliantly and finishes when in position. His motor and his effort in pursuit leads to making extra plays others don’t. Playing with his hands in the dirt as a true defensive end for the most part right now, there’s no doubt that he is undersized for that role in the NFL, despite his great success in college. He’ll be looked at as either a stand up edge rusher or possibly to convert to an off ball linebacker when he transitions to the pro game. That slight uncertainty of where he’ll best fit ought to only be of minor concern though, as the former high school track star is such a fantastic athlete and a natural at getting to the quarterback that he’s going to adapt. Fortunately, he has been getting opportunities within the Ole Miss scheme to line up from a two-point stance and to drop back into space, where again he looks a natural. His fast fluid movement around the field will easily see him cover to either sideline. There might be a bit of a projection with Haynes for the next level and a certain element of risk-reward involved as a result, but he’s an impact playmaker with the athletic traits to very likely find a way to continue his superb production as an NFL player as well.
Chad Kelly, Sr, QB, #10 – 6ft 2, 215 lbs
Statistically, Kelly had the third best season in SEC history last year, behind only the two years that A&M’s Manziel lit up the college game with. It was an incredible season that had its ups and downs as Kelly’s gunslinger style had repercussions at times, but considering it was his first full season as a starter at this level, his performance overall was outstanding. His story is pretty well known by now, arriving at Clemson with plenty buzz and the pressure of his bloodlines as Jim Kelly’s nephew. A series of off-field issues contributed to a tumultuous tenure with the Tigers and very little on field action before his transfer to a junior college, with more trouble but this time plenty success between the lines that led to his second chance at the FBS level with Ole Miss. In fairness he has been a model citizen since joining the Rebels and looks to have turned his career prospects around. He got off to a blistering start to his 2015 season, as the team put up consecutive 70+ point wins then a huge win over Alabama; the only loss of the year for the eventual national champs. The inconsistency really hit after that high point though, throwing 11 interceptions over the next 6 games (along with 11 TDs thrown too), before finishing strong with another 11 touchdowns thrown to just the 1 pick in that run. Overall, Kelly finished with 31 TDs & 13 interceptions while throwing for 4,042 yards at a 65.1% completion rate. A real running threat too, he added 10 touchdowns on the ground for good measure. It would have been easy for Kelly to have headed to the NFL right then, with reports also of having financial and family reasons weighing in favour of leaving, but eventually chose to return for his senior year; fantastic news for the Rebels. Kelly is a little smaller than ideal, likely closer to 6ft 1 than to 6ft 2, and his release point on his throws doesn’t really compensate in any way. That’s resulted in quite a number of his passes getting batted down at the line. He does unquestionably have elite level arm strength, a true NFL calibre arm that can make any throw in the playbook and fit the ball into any window. He knows this though, and that contributed to some of the picks, as over-confidence of his ability led to poor decision making at times. Improvement in that area in year two will certainly be looked for, that he’s learning to be smarter. Less erratic, more consistent is the message to be taken on board. While a little shorter than the prototype measurables, his athleticism and speed, toughness, and ability to create when the play breaks down, often with his legs are all exciting tools he possesses. Kelly enters 2016 as one of the top NFL prospects at the quarterback position.
Evan Engram, Sr, TE, #17 – 6ft 3, 227 lbs
Part of the same recruiting class as Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil, Engram was expecting to be joining the trio of former Rebels in the 2016 draft. However, after receiving a “back to school” recommendation from the draft advisory board after a slightly disappointing season, he wisely chose to return. After a promising freshman season, Engram really stepped up his sophomore year with 38 receptions for 662 yards, with his 17.4 yards per catch average reflecting some of the big playmaking ability he demonstrated. Though he eventually finished last season with the same number of receptions, Engram was almost anonymous for much of the early part of the season, and his average per reception dropped to 12.2 his junior year. However, his impact was improving toward the latter stages of the season, as he built chemistry with Chad Kelly. Given that Kelly chose to return, expect Engram to have his best year yet as a senior, now that he and his QB are more on the same page going into it. Engram will get a lot of comparisons to Jordan Reed, given his receiver-like size, and indeed does a lot of his best work lining up essentially as a slot receiver. When Engram does set up in-line, he’s very rarely in there to block, instead quickly releasing into the middle of the field. Though he has reportedly been working on it, and the Rebels website claims Engram has “greatly improved his blocking skills in 2015”, I’m not sure I saw much effectiveness and it’s never going to be an area of strength in his game. But while size and blocking aren’t in keeping with most tight ends, Engram is an outstanding athlete, explosive, with the ability to make plays both short and deep down the field with great hands. He doesn’t contribute a lot of touchdowns, with just two each the last two seasons, but he’s a nightmare matchup as a move tight end that every team wants on their roster these days.
Quincy Adeboyejo, Sr, WR, #8 – 6ft 3, 195 lbs
6ft 3, with blazing speed. Now those are measurables to get excited about. Adeboyejo can be quiet for long periods, and for entire games at times but he’s a big play waiting to happen at any moment. His 2015 season started off in fantastic fashion in week 2 against Fresno State – he had just the 5 receptions, but took 3 of those all the way for touchdowns and 120 yards as he took advantage of an overmatched secondary. The following week he had that catch in the win over Alabama taking a desperation heave from Kelly all the way after a crazy catch. Adeboyejo finished his junior year with a relatively modest 38 receptions, but totalled 604 yards from those, an average of 15.9 yards per catch and for 7 scores. There may be chances to improve on his numbers and be a more regular productive receiver with him former teammates Treadwell and Core both draft selections a few months ago and now no longer heading up the depth chart. There’s still competition for targets though, including a bunch of juniors listed below. There’s no doubt that Adeboyejo is so dangerous in space with true breakaway speed, but his all-round game shows plenty promise with improved route running and working to get open in shorter areas of the field. He’s someone who might not get talked about among the top draft prospects at the position over the course of next season, but as the process goes on he could well prove to be higher up on teams’ draft boards than some realise.
Akeem Judd, rSr, RB, #21 – 5ft 11, 224 lbs
One to absolutely watch as a sleeper prospect and breakout candidate. I might be going out on a limb a little on this one, but I do think Judd could end up drafted earlier than a number of the more well-known names in this potentially deep running back class for the next draft – IF he lives up to some high expectations I have for him this upcoming year. His opportunities were limited in 2015, with only 78 rush attempts in a backup role, but took those for 425 yards at 5.45 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns, looking really impressive when he got the chance. Judd has an ideal build as a heavier back but with good athleticism built into that frame. He has the physical game hoped for in a back of his size, often delivering a hit rather than taking them. At 224 lbs he has an impressive burst of speed, including following a change of direction, showing the footwork and sharper cuts usually attributed to a smaller runner. Like his rush attempts, he didn’t get too many chances to show his abilities as a receiver out of the backfield but doesn’t look out of place in that role with sufficiently good hands. He’s set to lead the ground game this year on what should be one of the better offenses all round in the country. If he can take advantage of that ideal situation, he could be cashing in.
OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Tony Conner, Sr, S, #12 – 6ft 1, 215 lbs
The other name as part of that greatly heralded recruiting class referenced earlier, and wanted to be part of the same draft class too, but Conner missed most of 2015 with a knee injury suffered after 5 games, and so will return for 2016 where he is set to start at nickel. He’ll very likely enter the season high on many listings of the top safeties, but I don’t believe he deserves to be despite being a well-known name. Watch his film and his game is so, so flawed. He has the size and good athleticism, looking the part as he roams the field. But it doesn’t amount to much of anything, failing to deliver something of substance most of the time. Conner is too much of a spectator to the action, not getting stuck in, not physical enough, with too many missed tackles when he is obliged to engage. His situation reading is in question that sees him greatly overrun too many plays, taking himself out of position. He still puts up solid statistics as he’s around the action plenty but I question his full commitment and find his game very underwhelming when focussing on the action itself rather than what the stat sheet says. He has a great skill set to offer, but looks to have some real boom-or-bust about his potential. I’d take a chance on the upside on day 3 of the draft, but right now, I’d stay away from taking him earlier than that.
Tony Bridges, Sr, CB, #1 – 6ft 0, 185 lbs
The former 4-star junior college transfer looked the part right away in his first season at the FBS level. I’m really excited to see what he can do in his second season after stepping up with 9 pass breakups and 3 interceptions in 2015, to go with 36 tackles, 2 for loss, and making an impression on special teams that including blocking a kick in that phase of the game. Bridges has a rangy frame with long limbs, as well as being a nice athlete with the ability to track receivers in space and going deep. While a bit slight and not overly physical, he certainly doesn’t shy away from getting stuck into run support as well. Plenty to like about the potential.
D.J. Jones, Sr, DL, #93 – 6ft 0, 324 lbs
On this vaunted “Land Shark” defense, Jones was just awesome last season despite being barely mentioned for the most part. Another junior college transfer playing his first season for the Rebels, Jones excelled straight away as an absolute force in the middle of the defensive line. He’s really short, barely scraping over 6ft tall, but it doesn’t hinder him, in fact he’s superb at using his low center of gravity to his advantage and leverage against opposing linemen. Jones’ greatest asset is his exceptional strength, which shows up on film time and again, making himself tough to move. Even though his weight at that short height seems heavy, Jones moves well for his size. The under-rated defensive tackle finished his first year in the SEC with 40 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 3 QB hurries and a forced fumble.
Robert Conyers, rSr, C/OG, #75 – 6ft 5, 290 lbs
There’s plenty to gain or lose for Conyers this year. Heath-wise, his 2015 season was ended during that unexpected loss to Memphis half way through the year in which he tore his ACL, and so his recovery from that significant injury is crucial to determine his long term durability. Presuming he returns to full strength, then there’s the possible question of how he is going to perform at a new position. His 5 starts last year all came at center, but with so many starters now gone, Conyers may end up all the way outside at right tackle on his return. He has good length for the edge, and though lighter than ideal shows a strong anchor to hold his ground well. However, his overall athleticism is questionable enough to speculate that an interior position is best suited to his game. The versatility to potentially provide cover at 4 or 5 different positions on the line is a very useful ability and boost that helps his hopes of being drafted. Conyers is yet to start for an entire season, so let’s start with completing that firstly before considering anything beyond that.
Rommel Mageo, rSr, LB, #? – 6ft 1, 232 lbs
An American Samoa native with a rugby playing background, Mageo transfers in from Oregon State where he clearly liked the opportunity to spend his final season playing with more prospects to challenge on a team with more conference and national aspirations. There’s a position to be filled as a starting middle linebacker which Mageo is in a good spot to lock up. After two seasons of solid contributions, he had a bit of a breakout season in 2015 for Oregon State, leading the team with 87 tackles, along with a variety of other contributions with 2 sacks, a pass breakup, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Though he made a few plays in coverage, the limitations moving backward and playing in space are there. Mageo is much more natural moving forward with his smart and dependable play defending against the run. That said, he does have his troubles at times getting off blocks and working through traffic.
Fadol Brown, Sr, EDGE, #6 – 6ft 4, 280 lbs
A transfer from Florida International, Brown sat out 2013 due to transfer rules before earning 9 starts his first year with the Rebels in 2014. Though he earned plenty playing time again in 2015 as part of the rotation, there wasn’t much progress made in his game. Brown has good size and plays tough with a very high motor, but is not a big threat in the backfield, lacking explosion in his game. In his two seasons with Ole Miss his sack total sits at an uninspiring 1.5 currently. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as his hard work does get some results with 70 tackles, 10 TFLs and 15 QBH hurries as well in 2014 and 2015 combined. He may have a low ceiling, but with NFL size and a great work ethic, don’t count him out.
Jeremy Liggins, Sr, OG, #78 – 6ft 2, 302 lbs
Former quarterback and defensive end, turned tight end and offensive lineman. He’s gotten around an array of assignments but always in a fairly minimal role for the Rebels. He did see more use in 2014 where he earned 5 starts at tight end and was used as a short yardage runner with 22 carries. The short carry nature made clear by his average of just 2.2 yards per attempt! Guard would probably be the safest position to list as an option should he look to try and take his utility man role to the NFL, but probably is a long shot.
JUNIORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Damore’ea Stringfellow, rJr, WR, #3 – 6ft 2, 220 lbs
The former Washington Huskies receiver was a very high recruit out of high school but after a solid freshman year chose to move on, and after sitting out 2014 due to transfer rules, continued his development with a good season for Ole Miss. He finished 2015 with 36 receptions for 503 yards (14.0 per catch) and 5 scores. You could tentatively suggest some similarities to his former teammate Treadwell, in that he lacks great speed, but has a big body that he knows how to use to his advantage, backed up by strong hands and a physical game all round.
Markell Pack, Jr, WR, #11 – 6ft 2, 193 lbs
Though he looks a little smaller and slighter on film than listed, there’s no doubting the impressive athletic traits. Pack makes himself difficult to cover with quick short area movements, yards after the catch potential, as well as the pace to get deeper as well. He did attempt to use that speed as a punt returner his freshman year, but didn’t do much with those chances, and didn’t continue in the role his second year but did progress on offense instead. Despite the deep receiving core, he was still able to add 31 catches for 380 yards (12.3 per catch) and 3 touchdowns.
C.J. Hampton, Jr, S, #4 – 6ft 0, 180 lbs
There’s some measurables to like with Hampton, who has long arms and the quickness to cover a good range of the field, though he is a bit slightly built. While that may contribute to some of the missed tackles that occasionally occur, he’s a solid tackler in general and has played well as a backup safety and special teamer so far in his college career. He’ll be hoping to take on a bigger role his junior year.
Kendarius Webster, Jr, CB, #15 – 5ft 11, 180 lbs
It was a breakout season in 2015 for Webster, that included an impressive 11 pass break ups in coverage, along with 1 pick too. Despite that suggesting a good coverage corner, he’s a bit too easy to generate separation from. Also a concern is that he tends to give receivers a bit of a head start that leaves him too frequently chasing from behind right from the start of the route, and not sold that he has ideal speed to recover well enough either. There was promise in his first year of regular production though, so we’ll see how he progresses in 2016.
Demarquis Gates, Jr, LB/S, #3 – 6ft 2, 217 lbs
A former 4-star recruit, Gates is another who made his breakthrough last year, as indicated by going from 13 tackles all the way up to 76 in 2015, along with 2 TFLs, 4 breakups and a couple forced fumbles. There’s a lot to like, with athleticism, closing speed and great energy as he charges around the field.
Jordan Wilkins, rJr, RB, #22 – 6ft 1, 214 lbs
In a limited backup role, Wilkins did fairly well with his opportunities, with 2015 numbers of 72 rushes for 379 yards (5.26 per attempt) and 4 scores. However, his game is very raw right now. Wilkins’ football IQ and vision haven’t really developed yet, making some poor decisions, running into traffic and failing to maximise on potential yards too often.