PARRISH ALFORD: Ole Miss recruiters feel a sense of loss

If, as an observer of Ole Miss football, you need Joe McKnight in the Rebels' recruiting class to have a good feeling about it, that's unfortunate.

McKnight, the New Orleans running back who listed Ole Miss in his top three before signing Wednesday with USC, is the recruit that puts a class over the top. When he has a world of options before him, you can't count on him to make or break the class.

If you thought Okolona running back Robert Elliott was a slam dunk to sign, well, he wasn't.

Elliott was a prospect who seemed to really enjoy the recruiting process. He had good things to say about everyone who recruited him, including Ole Miss. At various times he had stronger comments favoring Ole Miss, but he always left himself an out, and on signing day he took that out.

Elliott's loss clearly perturbed Orgeron. The Ole Miss coach recruits with emotion and wears it on his sleeve on signing day. Wednesday he talked about not wanting recruits who didn't sign with Ole Miss after the staff invested a year and a half in the recruiting of such a prospect. Last year he was moved to tears when talking about winning a hard-fought battle for defensive end Marcus Tillman.

If you watch recruiting stars, Elliott was rated a four-star player by Scout.com. The Rebels picked up another such player with the late addition of Memphis wide receiver Roderick Davis. Orgeron calls him the best player in Memphis.

Wide receiver is a position in which the Rebels needed more help anyway.

McKnight would have played a big role, make no mistake about that. The guess here is Elliott, at running back, will break in quicker at State than he would have at Ole Miss.

Coaches don't generally like to talk about the players they did not sign. For different reasons McKnight and Elliott were cases worthy of review.

The discussion, however, tended to overshadow a class that did a pretty good job of meeting needs.

Last year's linebacker position was pretty good but has been ravaged with departures. The loss of Patrick Willis was expected, the loss of Rory Johnson was not. The anticipated move of Jamarca Sanford back to strong safety presents the very real possibility that three starting linebackers this fall will not have been in the program in 2006.

That's why guys like Tony Fein and Chris Strong are expected to make early contributions.

Up front, the Jerrell Powe saga is ongoing, and Power Springs, Ga., tackle Ted Laurent will be one to keep an eye on along Qualification Road. They will be significant players if they make it.

If they don't, tackles Justin Sanders and Lawon Scott could get in the mix at a position greatly lacking in depth.

Offensively, there was an obvious push made at receiver, and Davis and junior college transfer A.J. Jackson – a 6-foot-5, 210-pound target who played with Ole Miss quarterback Brent Schaeffer in 2005 – are good pick-ups.

There has been a sense of loss about this class for the players that didn't come.

The ones who did are quality and came at such positions that they may help improve the sense of loss that has occurred 16 times in the last two years.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal.