Assuming Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil declare for the draft, a top-five list of players who will be most missed when next season rolls around. I welcome your additions, deletions below:
- Laremy Tunsil – I spoke to the quarterback club the week of the Memphis game after it had been announced that Tunsil would be available for the Texas A&M game the following week. The gist of the message was that if serving a seven-game suspension had any impact on his draft status at all Tunsil had a great opportunity to prove his worth again by leading Ole Miss to wins in its last five games. Walking off the field at Memphis I doubted that would happen. Tunsil’s impact speaks for itself. There were other factors in the Rebels’ improvement down the stretch, factors like the play of quarterback Chad Kelly, but just look at what this team did without Tunsil and what it did with him. Without him it geared up for a great road win over an Alabama team that was unsettled at quarterback and showed it. The next week the Rebels were just OK against Vanderbilt and were waxed at Florida after that. With Tunsil the Rebels vastly improved the run game and went 4-1 in the final five regular season games missing Atlanta by one fluke play. Those were not just five SEC games they were five SEC West games. Then they throttled a 10-win Big 12 team in New Orleans.
- Laquon Treadwell – Ole Miss was deep and productive at wide receiver, but clearly no one impacted the position more. I think of Treadwell as a once-in-a-generation type of athlete. Grandfathers will one day boast about having seen him play live. Hugh Freeze has signed solid receivers since Treadwell and will continue still, but I’m not sure we’ll see another one as good soon. I hate to put Treadwell No. 2 on this list, but somebody has to finish second.
- Mike Hilton – The guy had played every position in the secondary before this season but hadn’t played them all in the same season as he did this year. When Tony Conner went down at nickel back the first option was A.J. Moore. When that didn’t go as well as hoped Hilton stepped in. When the Rebels needed help at corner he stepped in there too. He plays bigger than his size and always has. Leonard Fournette can attest to that. His versatility, coachability and spirit will be missed.
- Robert Nkemdiche – There is no denying Nkemdiche’s ability. The occasional video clip of him mauling a defender in front of him is always impressive. His draft projections – somewhat questionable now since the Atlanta incident – clearly state his value in the eyes of the NFL. However, a college career should be judged on production and not future potential. Nkemdiche had seven tackles for loss and three sacks this year. He constantly drew double teams and opponents had to scheme for him always. He had seven sacks in three years at Ole Miss. Texas A&M end Myles Garrett had 11 1-2 sacks this year. Teams were probably scheming for him too. Nkemdiche is an incredible talent who will be missed. Oklahoma State doesn’t have a dynamic offensive line, but Breeland Speaks and DJ Jones gave an impressive glimpse of what the future could be.
- Trae Elston – A solid player who worked hard to improve his pass coverage skills this year and made a successful move from Rover to free safety and back to Rover when needed. Always a good tackler, Elston had a career-high four interceptions this season, and his passes defended tripled from a previous high of six.