By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – It was in November a year ago that Donte Moncrief, with the help of gifted local musicians, really burst onto the scene.
His potential wasn’t a secret.
The strength, the hands, the things that make a wide receiver great were there. The production, though, was spotty.
The top Ole Miss wide receiver had not had his best games in SEC play. That would change as Moncrief finished with five touchdown catches and 334 yards in games against LSU and Mississippi State.
Now, with an NFL draft decision looming, Moncrief, a 6-foot-3, 226-pound junior, could be setting up for a big finish again.
He had seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas on the heels of a five-catch, 107-yard night against LSU in his previous SEC game.
The emerging depth at wide receiver has cut into Moncrief’s numbers, a fact that is sometimes lost on Ole Miss fans.
It’s a freshman, Laquon Treadwell, who leads the team in receptions with 49. In addition to Moncrief, three other players have multiple touchdown catches.
“People tell me, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get Donte the ball, we’ve got to get Donte the ball,’” quarterback Bo Wallace says. “I’m not looking at who I’m throwing to. We have great receivers everywhere. I’m making my read, I don’t care who it is. It’s just been Donte’s time, just like last year. He’s taking advantage of it.”
Offensive line coach Matt Luke says the emergence of the run game has created some single-coverage opportunities for Moncrief.
Clearly, the staff wants to see Moncrief with the ball more. That’s one reason he’s lined up inside to take some throws that went freshman tight end Evan Engram earlier this year. Engram was injured against LSU and is done for the year.
Moncrief downplayed the idea of the tight end routes adding diversity to his NFL resume.
“It’s just doing whatever it takes to get your team where it needs to be, having dedication and giving it all you’ve got every play, no matter where you’re at,” he said.
Moncrief had 41 catches and leads the team in receiving yards 647 and touchdown catches with five.
NFL scouts don’t care about his season stats.
“I’m a big fan of Donte Moncrief,” says New Orleans-based draft analyst Mike Detillier. “He reminds me a lot of N.Y. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks when he came out of North Carolina, a big body end with excellent eye-hand coordination. He’s physical, runs with the ball well after the catch and can make the tough catch look routine. He also has tremendous leaping and timing skills.”
Detillier projects Moncrief as a solid second-round pick if he comes out this season. Off-season workouts could “nudge him into the latter part of Round 1,” Detillier said.
CBS.com currently has Moncrief ranked as the No. 4 receiver in the junior class behind Marquise Lee of Southern Cal, Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Paul Richardson of Colorado.
Moncrief threw out the possibility of leaving early back at SEC Media Days in July.
He says he’s given no more thought to it and will sit down with Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and his parents to discuss his options after the season. He seems to hold Freeze’s opinion in high regard.
“It’s whatever coach Freeze thinks is best, I could come back or leave,” Moncrief said. “Whatever he says I’m going to go with it.”
Among the Rebels’ top four receivers, only Ja-Mes Logan is a senior.
Moncrief doesn’t list Wallace as a mentor in the NFL discussion, but the Rebels’ quarterback sounded off on the topic.
“He’s going to go make a lot of money one day. I hope we have him back. I think next year could be really special, and I want him to be a part of it.”