PARRISH ALFORD: Who will Rebels feed next fall as Moncrief leaves?

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

Ole Miss lost a very talented football player late Saturday night when wide receiver Donte Moncrief announced he would give up his final season of eligibility for early entry into the NFL draft.

The decision is another hit – not an unexpected one – to a wide receiver group that was pretty productive in 2013. Seniors Ja-Mes Logan and Jordan Holder are also gone.

The Rebels will return their leading receiver, freshman Laquon Treadwell, who caught 72 balls this season, 13 more than Moncrief.

It was still Moncrief, though, who was the preferred target downfield. With those 59 catches he outgained Treadwell by 330 yards.

Treadwell’s role will likely change in 2014, and Ole Miss will also return Vince Sanders, who’s season was limited to nine games by a broken collar bone early in August practice.

There are two wide receivers listed – one of them Purvis four-star Marckell Pack – among the Rebels’ 23 verbal commits. They’re in the mix for others as well.

Moncrief will enter the draft as a projected third-round pick who will be coveted for his potential, not necessarily his college production.

He may be no more physically ready to take the next step a year from now than he is presently, but it’s possible he could play his way into better draft standing with a different landscape in 2015.

Moncrief was not the most-heralded in that impressive group of 2011 wide receiver signees. Nick Brassell and Tobias Singleton, however, have long since left the program.

As impressive as Moncrief has been at times on the field, perhaps his biggest transformation has been his development in the conditioning program. Listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds as a freshman, the roster says he’s 6-3, 226 now.

He’s in the book

Moncrief leaves after a solid Music City Bowl with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in the Rebels’ 25-17 win over Georgia Tech. He is well-established in the school record book, his 156 catches, 2,371 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns all ranking third on the lists.

There was also inconsistency for Moncrief this season, and while the career numbers are solid there was only spotty success against the SEC.

In 16 conference games over his sophomore and junior seasons Moncrief was held without a touchdown 11 times. He made a big splash in the other five games with multiple touchdowns three times. Half of his 10 touchdown catches in 2012 came in back-to-back games against LSU and Mississippi State to close the regular season.

You hope to keep talented players in your program as long as possible, but early draft entries like Moncrief also help advance the conversation when Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is on the road recruiting.

You can bet there are a number in the 2013 freshman class who hope to follow Moncrief’s lead.

As a coach, you move on and believe you can go and sign the next Moncrief.

He might already be on the roster, whether Treadwell or someone else.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at insideolemisssports.com.