• TheDMonline.com Staff Member?
  • Log In
Share |

Rivals.com analyst Keith Niebuhr breaks down Ole Miss recruiting

Photo Courtesy: Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal

Austin Miller: What are your overall thoughts on this year’s Ole Miss recruiting class?

Keith Niebuhr: It’s always difficult when you have a new staff come in and have that kind of turnover. They lost some crucial time from when it was known that Nutt wasn’t going to be back, to the time the new staff was put into place. This group did a good job, first and foremost, of securing the recruits they already had. That’s the key. So you’re almost starting from scratch. Then they went out and have gotten a few more guys. It’s not huge in numbers, but it’s high in quality. And now they land Channing Ward, which was huge. That’s a big prize in Mississippi, so that’s significant.

AM: How big was the commitment of Aberdeen defensive end Channing Ward to Ole Miss?

KN: It was enormous. First and foremost, the guy can play and potentially be a three-year starter in the SEC. He already has an NFL body. He’s intense, he’s aggressive, he’s explosive, so he can play. Bottom line: he’s a player. And second, it’s perception. You have a new staff coming in. Mississippi State has done very well, especially in-state. To get that big prize out there was significant. It lets people know they’re not going to be a pushover to those guys down south.

AM: Talk about the other Under Armour All-American in this year’s recruiting class, South Panola’s Issac Gross.

KN: People think he’s underrated sometimes because some services have him as a 4-star prospect. We (at Rivals.com) have him as a 3-star prospect. First, we think a high 3-star prospect can play. And second, the big question mark with him, really, is just his size. Can he play? Of course he can play. We’re in the business of projecting forward, and we think his size is something that could potentially limit him moving beyond college. When you watch him play, he’s very good. He’s explosive off the ball. He’s a menace, basically.

AM: Who are some sleepers in this year’s recruiting class?

KN: A sleeper would be a guy like Mike Hilton. He could play cornerback, he could play receiver, he could be a third-down back, he could be a Chris Rainey-type player at Ole Miss, and also, he could be a special teams warrior. And he’s a guy not many people are talking about. To me, that’s a guy to keep an eye on. And also, everyone talks about Issac Gross, but his South Panola teammate Temario Strong also has some ability.

AM: How do you evaluate a first-year coach’s recruiting class?

KN: First, can you hold on to the guys you already got? They have pretty much held on to most of the guys. With a guy like Jake Meador, I believe it was more Ole Miss’ decision. They have kept the guys they wanted to keep. They convinced Mike Hilton to not go to North Carolina. That’s a significant win. Issac Gross could go just about anywhere, and they convinced him to stick. Second, you need to go out and get other guys. That’s been a little more difficult, but that’s because they don’t necessarily have a lot of relationships built with those guys yet. The first year is always a bit of a struggle for most staffs because you’re new. You don’t have much time, and you haven’t built those long-standing relationships. Now, next year is usually when you get that bump in recruiting. That first full year, that’s what you see. That’s what you saw from Auburn, that’s what you saw from Florida and that’s what you saw from Mississippi State.

AM: What do you think of Hugh Freeze’s recruiting strategy?

KN: This is a guy that thought big at Arkansas State. He thought he could get guys like Richie Brown. Even if Richie Brown doesn’t end up at Ole Miss, he has said a lot of good things about Hugh Freeze. And they made a run at A.J. Jefferson. You’re hearing positive things. Kids kind of knew Freeze because of when he was at Arkansas State. He thought big, and he went after big-time talent. So they knew who he was, and I think that helps. He already has a lot of great relationships in Mississippi. It’s not like he’s starting from scratch. They’re just getting re-familiarized with him. Obviously, Memphis is the key to Ole Miss’ success. You got to do well at home in Mississippi, and you got to cherry pick from other areas. Memphis is ideal. There’s a lot of good talent in Tennessee next year, so that’s good for Ole Miss.