As a prelude to camp coverage Brad Locke and I were tasked with listing the 10 most “intriguing” players at our schools.
Brad’s Mississippi State list appeared on Thursday, my Ole Miss list today.
The idea here was not to list the 10 most well-known players but to list guys who may make a big impact. Maybe that’s because they’re very talented, or maybe circumstances have put them in a good position.
In an exercise like this I like to make sure I’m not overlooking anyone, so I had my son Kyle, a junior at Tupelo High School, give me his top 10 list. It appears below. Kyle and I compared notes after we compiled the lists, not before.
Feel free to add to these lists other players who have the potential to make a big impact for Ole Miss this season.
Bo Wallace, quarterback: Will his surgically repaired shoulder hold up, and can he cut down on his interceptions? If so, it could be a big season for Wallace.
Donte Moncrief, wide receiver: A junior, Moncrief has spoken about the possibility of turning pro after this season. If so, he’ll need spread his production throughout more of the season. Moncrief had 10 touchdown catches last year, half of them in the last two games. He had only one TD catch in his first six SEC games last year.
Emmanuel McCray, offensive tackle: He’s charged with protecting Wallace’s blind side, and too many times last year Wallace made decisions under duress. The Rebels ranked No. 97 in the nation last year in sacks allowed at 2.62 per game.
Robert Nkemdiche, defensive end: The nation’s No. 1 recruit will be expected to give the Rebels more pass rush off the edge.
Channing Ward, defensive end: The All-American from Aberdeen was the most heralded recruit in Freeze’s first signing class and has the physical skills to be a major contributor.
Andrew Ritter, kicker: Redshirted as a senior for this season, Ritter has not held the place-kicking job in college and replaces dependable Bryson Rose. It’s important to know you are almost guaranteed three points when you cross the 30.
Tyler Campbell, punter: Also redshirted as a senior, Campbell was the NCAA punting champ as a sophomore with a 46.4-yard average.
C.J. Johnson, defensive end: Johnson had 6.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss last year. Can he increase those numbers while coming off a broken leg?
Laremy Tunsil, offensive line: If the nation’s No. 1 OL recruit breaks into the starting lineup either he or someone else will play a different position. The only opening is at guard.
Dehendret Collins, cornerback: With Nick Brassell likely unavailable the Rebels need a big season from Collins in the quest for depth at corner.
Mark Dodson, running back: It is vital that the Rebels establish a run game, which was an obvious problem last fall. Dodson must step up and be that bigger back that can handle third/fourth and short situations.
Bo Wallace, quarterback: Obviously, Bo has to be as good if not better than he was last year in running the offense. It will be interesting to see how he performs coming off shoulder surgery.
Channing Ward, defensive end: Ward must be a force on the defensive line. He was thrown into the spot last year without the conditioning he’d needed, and played a small role. However, after Jason Jones’ departure, the D-line needs another leader to step up, and Channing Ward is that guy.
Donte Moncrief, wide receiver: The Rebels really need Moncrief to perform like he did against LSU and State year round. If he does, he will make Bo Wallace more comfortable in the pocket and become that trustworthy receiver when desperate situations arrive. Also, Moncrief at his best will draw extra attention from the safeties in coverage, and will result in some wide windows for the other receivers.
Denzel Nkemdiche, linebacker: The way Nkemdiche played last year was obviously a spark to the Rebel defense. He’s the vocal leader, and his play is vital. After garnering multiple pre-season awards in the off-season, the pressure is on for the elder Nkemdiche. If he gets in the offensive backfield of opposing teams, he could disrupt the QB’s mindset and take his focus off running the offense.
Charles Sawyer, cornerback: Ole Miss needs a defensive back that it can rely on to stick to the opposing team’s best receiver. Sawyer played both corner and safety last season, so is experienced at both. Sawyer must become the leader and the No. 1 guy in the defensive back-field.
Tyler Campbell, punter: I think it’s safe to say the Rebels missed their All-SEC punter last year. Field position is huge in college football, and if Campbell can give the Rebel D any extra help, it could be a tremendous advantage.
CJ Johnson, defensive end: CJ Johnson has to take it to the next level this year. The potential is there for a first team All-SEC year. If he can do his job and get in the backfield, the opposing QB will take his eyes off his receivers, which makes everyone else’s job on defense a lot easier.
Emmanuel McCray, offensive tackle: McCray is one of the leaders on this veteran offensive line. It is so important to give Wallace as much protection as possible, especially coming off shoulder surgery. Even more important, McCray is protecting Wallace’s blind side. More time to throw for Wallace means more yards through the air, and a healthy Wallace.
I’Tavius Mathers, running back: Ole Miss was lacking in the running back department last year. Mathers showed glimpses of potential. A breakout year for Mathers is just what the Rebels need. Ole Miss needs someone who can run between the tackles, and if Mathers can do that, it makes it so much easier to balance the offense. It looks as though the Rebels will get yardage on the ground this year by committee, and Mathers must establish himself in that committee.