There is indeed a great deal of talent at wide receiver, but the Rebels weren’t talent poor last year, and the group was very different when Laquon Treadwell wasn’t a part.
NFL projections are mixed on Treadwell right now. Some say he could be the first receiver selected in 2016 after this, his 2015 junior season. Some are holding back with analysis waiting to see if Treadwell returns from a broken fibula and dislocated ankle the same or better than he was before.
Clearly Treadwell’s rehab has gone well, and he shared little victories with fans all along the way through social media.
If Treadwell turns out to be the pre-injury version this group could be outstanding.
He’s a big target at 6-foot-3, and he catches the ball away from his body. He’s a very physical receiver, who is going to win in single coverage.
That’s if he’s healthy, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be 100 percent.
Obviously when teams commit abundant resources to Treadwell things open up for others. This is what may Vince Sanders so good last year. Sanders was no slouch to begin with, and he took advantage of the attention Treadwell received.
Sanders is gone, and his experience will be missed.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze spent much of spring with a lukewarm response about his receivers, a group that was missing Treadwell as he was held out of all contact.
Cody Core and Markell Pack, who represent the experienced receivers, also missed much of spring with injury.
The left a lot of reps for Quincy Adeboyejo, Derrick Jones, Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow and others.
Freeze generally had high praise for Jones, more of that coming at the end of spring than the beginning.
I wrote about Jones around the middle of drills. I really like him as a wild card for this group. He’s tall (6-2) and athletic, and those are nice traits, but he’s aggressive, and that’s probably the best trait. That helps you make the most of tall and athletic. To take full advantage of your size you have to take the ball away from defenders. You have to be tougher than they are.
Jones has a chance to become a very good receiver.
Freeze challenged Stringfellow to show more consistency. He sat out last year under transfer rules, and there have been high expectations for a guy who played in 12 games and started three as a true freshman in 2013.
The guess here is Freeze has those same expectations and is using a tough love approach to challenge Stringfellow – both privately and publicly – to be more productive.
“He’s got to pick it up and I’ve been straight with him on that. He shows glimpses, but he’s had way too many inconsistencies in spring practice. I’ve challenged him in off-season got to get after it,” Freeze said.
A strong response from Stringfellow certainly would enhance the position, but it won’t make or break it.
Core proved dependable last year with 41 catches and six touchdowns.
There are a couple of Rivals four-star guys coming in DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson. Rivals rates Lodge the No. 7 receiver in the 2015 class, Jefferson the No. 13.
They’re clearly talented, and Jefferson, more than most freshmen, could have a chance to pick things up early because his dad is an NFL wide receivers coach.
However, I’ve shared my freshman theory before. No matter what you’ve achieved at a previous level there’s a period of acclimation.
There will be more than capable targets at wide receiver, and the Rebels are going to through to tight end Evan Engram a lot too.
He had a case of the drops in the spring game, but don’t expect that to last.
Behind Engram, Sammie Epps has interesting possibilities at 6-6, but he’s still learning the position.
Treadwell has lost a little weight during his rehab, but the most recent measurements have both he and Stringfellow at 229 pounds. Treadwell is 6-2 – He didn’t shrink during rehab – and Stringfellow is 6-3.
Those are nice-sized targets, something that will come in handy with inexperience at quarterback.
If those two guys answer their off-season questions – Treadwell with his health, Stringfellow with his consistency – this could be a very, very good group.