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National Signing Day may have seemed a bit surreal to Ole Miss fans, as their school spent the morning seeing one top prospect after another picking a Rebel-branded hat and sending in a letter of intent to play for Hugh Freeze and his coaching staff. The morning got started with a bang as top overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche spurned offers from Alabama, LSU Florida, and Auburn for Ole Miss, as SB Nation has been predicting for months now (read Steven Godfrey's extensive insider's account of Ole Miss landing Nkemdiche). The strong defensive end will play early and is the centerpiece of an impressive class.
The celebration continued in Oxford as consensus five-star prospects Laremy Tunsil and Tony Conner also signed with Ole Miss. Tunsil is ranks as the top overall offensive tackle, while Conner is a top-five safety. Both hail from SEC territory, and are part of a class that is compiled of entirely of players from the South, save for one.
That one was a big get. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell out of Crete, IL is rated as the best at his position in the country. The 6'3 deep threat with 4.4 speed chose the Rebels over offers from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
All that talent has Ole Miss in the top 10 of the rankings of every recruiting service. That is quite a change from year's past. Last year, the Rebels finished No. 41 in the composite rankings from 247 Sports, and were No. 21 in 2011. The group at the top will get immediately playing time and should compete against current starters on the roster.
That roster finished with just three wins in SEC play, but was close against some of the top teams. Ole Miss lost by just one score to Texas A&M and LSU. The problem for the Rebels is that those schools loaded up on National Signing Day as well.
Nkemdiche should be able to help a defensive line that finished with 24 1/2 sacks in 13 games last year. The high man on the team was sophomore C.J. Johnson, who tallied 6 1/2. Nkemdiche's brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, grabbed three sacks from his linebacker spot, so the two should form an excellent threat for opposing quarterbacks.
Overall, the Rebels nabbed four consensus five-star and seven four-star prospects. Skill players on offense seemed to be a focus, as Ole Miss added seven wide receivers, four running backs, two quarterbacks, and two tight ends. That's a total of 15 of the overall 28 signees that don't play on the offensive line or defense.
Ole Miss should be set for a while in those skills positions, especially at running back. Three of the four new Rebel runners are rated as consensus four-star athletes, and they range from 5'10, 185-pound Mark Dodson to the 6'1, 212-pound Jordan Wilkins. Kailo Moore and Wilkins both have breakaway speed, checking in with 40-times in the 4.4 range.
Of course, the biggest overall unit upgrade will come along the defensive line. Nkemdiche will pair up with four-star defensive tackle Lavon Hooks to take on big SEC offensive lines. Hooks was the top junior college prospect of 2013, and the 6'4, 295 tackle has plenty of size and strength.
With this premier recruiting class in tow, it is now on Freeze to turn the talent in the wins to keep the momentum going in Oxford. This class likely feels amazing for Rebel fans at the moment, but it is par for the course for top-tier SEC programs. Alabama, LSU, and Florida always pull in top-10 recruiting classes. One may be enough for Ole Miss to compete at a high level in the short term, but it remains to be seen if this is something that the Rebels can keep going for more than one season.
Bud Elliott’s grade
A+. Hugh Freeze signed the No.1 high school player, the No. 1 JUCO player, the No. 1 offensive tackle, the No. 1 receiver, the No. 5 safety, the No. 8 offensive tackle and the No. 1 JUCO athlete. The class is top-heavy, but I am awarding it an A+ because of what it means for the program, and the truly elite level of the top. This class could change the future of Ole Miss for long after it graduates.
Top three players
In a business based on speculation and subject to a wide variety of opinion, there is remarkable consensus on Nkemdiche. He is ranked as the nation's top player by Rivals, Scout, 24/7, and ESPN. He has a reported 4.7 40-yard dash time and is lauded for his quickness and agility. If there is a knock on Nkemdiche, it is on his technique. The raw talent is there to be harnessed, though.
Tunsil, who hails from Lake City, Florida, was ranked as the top offensive tackle prospect nationally by Rivals, Scout, 24/7, and ESPN. All four services rate him as a five-star player and within the country's top 15 overall prospects. He was a USA Today All-American, played in the U.S. Army All-American Game, and was the consensus Florida 6A Player of the Year.
He has great athleticism and pure skills that could make him an incredibly tough defender in the SEC. He figures to be one of those players who can come in and immediately contend to hit the two-deep chart.
Top three rival classes
As great as Ole Miss' class is in 2013, they're still chasing several of their rivals. The SEC West is full of teams in the top 10 in the recruiting rankings, but Ole Miss kept pace with Alabama and LSU this year, and is well ahead of in-state rival Mississippi State.
Biggest National Signing Day drama
Ole Miss had plenty of drama, and almost everything went their way. The signing of top overall player Robert Nkemdiche and five-star Laremy Tunsil came with the traditional hat selection and announcement.
Notes from SB Nation blogs
Parody recruiting analyst Clancey from Red Cup Rebellion:
Good news - Ole Miss signed Nkemdiche. Thats pretty hug. Bad news - about midnight last nite, I took some trucker pills to offset the Unisome still in my systim. Decided to drive to Grayson so I could surprise you Crootniks. Been driving ever sense. Just checked my watch and relized RN signed a hour and an half ago. Stopped at this Starbucks to update the post and to check on RN's status. Aparently I'm in Cincinati. Think I may of took a wrong term somewheres. That's neither here or hair. Some thoughts on a few of the guys who of signed so far are below.
Robert Nkemdiche: Program changier. Biggest signing in the histroy of organized football.
The official class release
A flurry of excitement surrounded Ole Miss' Indoor Practice Facility on Wednesday morning as National Letters of Intent from several of the nation's top high school prospects flooded in.
Ole Miss became the talk of college football for what Hugh Freeze and his staff were able to accomplish on National Signing Day, luring in a consensus top-10 signing class in just their second year at the helm.
The major recruiting services class rankings currently list Ole Miss at No. 2 (247Sports), No. 5 (ESPN), No. 6 (MaxPreps), No. 7 (Rivals) and No. 9 (Scout).
Eleven high school All-Americans, including the nation's top overall prospect in Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga.), chose to sign on with Freeze and the Rebels in a historic day for the football program.
"I think today has the possibility of being a program changer," Freeze said. "Obviously, it's all on paper right now. We'll start having to manage expectations now. We'll still be in the second year of our journey together, but I do think we took a huge step forward today on that journey toward being where we all want to be, and that's competing for an SEC West championship. We're thrilled with today."
The Rebels didn't just have the college football world abuzz. At one point Wednesday morning, Ole Miss was trending worldwide on Twitter, and it was reported that the Rebels were even the hot topic in the Miami Heat locker room. LeBron James had this to say on his Twitter account: "Ole Miss ain't messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy."
In addition to Nkemdiche, who is the nation's No. 1 defensive end, Ole Miss reeled in the country's No. 1 offensive tackle in Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla.), the No. 1 wide receiver in Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.) and the No. 2 safety in Tony Conner (Batesville, Miss.). That quartet highlights a class that includes 16 players rated 4 stars or better by the various recruiting services.
"Our staff - I think we have some of the rising stars in this profession in the way they went about recruiting and building relationships over the course of a year and executing our 12-month plan," Freeze said. "I thought they were pretty flawless in that in most regards. Also, our players - I can't give them enough credit. They sold our program."
The Rebels pulled in prospects from eight states, including Mississippi (eight), Georgia (six), Tennessee (four), Alabama (three), Texas (three), Florida (two), Illinois (one) and Louisiana (one).
By position, the Rebels welcome to the program a balanced class of four offensive linemen, four running backs, three defensive backs, three defensive linemen, three wide receivers, three tight ends, three athletes, two quarterbacks, two linebackers and a kicker.
Nkemdiche will join his older brother, sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, on the Rebel roster. Denzel earned All-SEC honors as a redshirt-freshman in 2012 while leading Ole Miss to a turnaround 7-6 season and a victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Rebels were just 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011 before Freeze's arrival.
Tunsil is regarded as the third-best overall prospect in the country by 247Sports.com, Treadwell is rated the nation's fifth-best player by Rivals.com, and Conner is ranked 24th by MaxPreps and ESPN.com. Other signees among the nation's top 150 include OL Austin Golson (Prattville, Ala.), RB Kailo Moore (Rosedale, Miss.) and RB Mark Dodson (Memphis, Tenn.).
The Ole Miss class is littered with All-Americans. In addition to all of the previously mentioned players, Ole Miss welcomes SuperPrep All-Americans QB Ryan Buchanan (Jackson, Miss.) and RB Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.), Semper Fidelis All-Americans TE A.J. Jackson (Hampton, Ga.) and CB David Kamara (Loganville, Ga.) and MaxPreps All-American K Andy Pappanastos (Montgomery, Ala.).
Freeze was eager to point out the depth of the class, not just the headliners.
"One of the strengths of our class is those 4-star and high 3-stars that we've got," Freeze said.
One such player he singled out was 3-star WR Derrick Jones (Eupora, Miss.).
"Derrick Jones may be one of the hidden gems of this class," Freeze said. "The guy's a phenomenal athlete. I've seen him play basketball. He plays above the rim. I think he can play a lot of places for us from safety to receiver."
Freeze also mentioned others like TE Evan Engram (Powder Springs, Ga.) and in-state offensive linemen Davion Johnson (Byhalia) and Daronte Bouldin (Canton) that could surprise people despite not being the most highly ranked prospects in the class.
The Rebels received 22 high school signatures on Wednesday to go with three junior college players and three high schoolers that had already signed. One of those junior college recruits, DT Lavon Hooks (Atlanta, Ga.), is rated by 247Sports.com as the top overall JUCO prospect in the country. Ole Miss also welcomed back ATH Nick Brassell (Batesville, Miss.), who was a starter on both sides of the ball as a freshman before attending East Mississippi Community College this past fall.
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