These are the top 10 Ole Miss football players you need to know for 2016. Get acquainted with the Rebels’ key stars to watch out for.
1. QB Chad Kelly, Sr.
An interesting all-around talent, the nephew of legendary Buffalo Bill Jim Kelly started out his career at Clemson, ticked off Dabo Swinney, went the JUCO route, and ended up doing a phenomenal job at Ole Miss in his first year throwing for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns with 13 picks, and running for 500 yards and ten scores.
The 6-2, 215-pounder might have been the fourth or fifth quarterback taken in this NFL Draft had he come out early, but now it’s his job to try carrying the Rebels through a potential transition period while boosting up his pro stock.
He might not have the tall, prototype look, but he’s got the arm, he’s got the mobility, and he’s got the big game attitude – you don’t go into Tuscaloosa and throw for 341 yards and three touchdowns with a win without having a major chip on your shoulder. There were a few problems with picks in the middle of the season, but he put together a consistent enough year to make him one of the SEC’s signature stars.
2. DE Marquis Haynes, Jr.
While he didn’t fly under the radar with all the star power around Ole Miss last year, he didn’t quite get enough credit for an all-star season turning into one of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers. He’s not all that huge at 6-3 and 220 pounds, but he gets off the ball in a hurry and he can get into the backfield on the fly coming up with 43 tackles with ten sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. While he wasn’t an elite recruit like some of the other recent Rebel stars after originally thinking about North Carolina, he has turned into a disruptive force. But he might have to do even more now that he’ll get keyed on.
3. TE Evan Engram, Sr.
One of the superstar gets out of the 2013 recruiting class, Engram hasn’t blown up, but he’s like a big wide receiver with downfield ability and great hands. He’s not all that huge at 6-3 and 227 pounds, and he’s not a blaster of a blocker, but if the coaching staff wants to start using him more, he’ll produce at an All-America level after coming up with 38 catches for 464 yards and two touchdowns last season. With 97 career catches for 1,394 yards and seven scores, he’s been very good – he’s going to finish his time as the greatest receiving tight end in Ole Miss history – but he’s got the talent to explode.
4. S Tony Conner, Sr.
It was one of the big hits to the 2015 Ole Miss season when Conner couldn’t get healthy after suffering a knee injury. It wasn’t a typical torn ACL type of knee problem, but it was a lingering issue that limited him to parts of five games making 17 tackles with four tackles for loss. An all-star talent over the first part of his career, the 6-0, 215-pound veteran has the look and the talent of a star safety, with great hitting skills being used like another linebacker at times. He’s being brought back slowly, but if he’s back to 100%, the secondary could grow into a positive.
5. LB DeMarquis Gates, Jr.
The team’s leading tackler last season, he came up with 76 stops with two sacks, but is he built to be more of a playmaker against the run? He spent last season on the outside as a 6-2, 217-pound safety-sized battler who can fly around to the ball making 14 tackles against LSU and nine against Mississippi State. Still coming into his own a few years past a torn ACL, he’s a speedster, but he can also provide a nice pop.
6. CB Kendarius Webster, Jr.
A key backup two years ago, the 5-11, 180-pounder turned into a factor at one corner spot on the other side of Tony Bridges. A sound, good tackler in the open field, he made 41 stops while picking off a pass and breaking up 11 passes. He’s got just good enough toughness to press well and bang with the bigger receivers, but his game is about closing speed.
7. WR Quincy Adeboyejo, Sr.
Can Adeboyejo be the next Laquon Treadwell? No, but he’s a No. 1-caliber target who averaged close to 16 yards per catch making 38 grabs for 604 yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-3 and 195 pounds he’s got a good, long frame and a good ability to track the ball down deep, but can he be a do-it-all receiver? He might not need to, but he’s got the talent to be Chad Kelly’s main man for the passing game at times.
8. CB Tony Bridges, Sr.
Is he going to work at corner or safety? He can play either spot, but he’s a tough corner. The 6-0, 183-pound former JUCO transfer was a great get for the program last year, coming through with 36 tackles with three interceptions and nine broken up passes. Fast and with tremendous athleticism, he’s dangerous whenever he has the ball in his hands. Being a steady cover-corner will be enough, but he could be used in a variety of ways.
9. QB Shea Patterson, Fr.
Next year. Patterson might be deep in the hunt for the starting job right out of high school if Chad Kelly left early for the NFL, but the super-recruit should get a year to get his feet wet before being seen as the main man for the next few years. At 6-2 and 195 pounds he needs to get bigger and stronger, but he’s an elite passer who can make things happen on the move. He doesn’t have a big-time arm, but he’s a baller who’ll get every chance to rise up into a star after Kelly is done.
10. OT Greg Little, Fr.
One of the nation’s top recruits – and arguably the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect – he’s got 6-5, 318-pound size with elite athleticism and next-level ability. He might not be quite the recruit Laremy Tunsil was, but he’s bigger and has the same upside to be a top-15 overall draft pick with the tools to be special as long as he can get a bit nastier against the run.