In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 10
2012 NFL Draft picks: One – OT Bobby Massie (Fourth Round, No. 112 overall).
There simply is no other way to put it. The University of Mississippi Rebels were terrible last season.
The team finished the season 2-10 and 0-8 against SEC opponents. Powerhouses Alabama and LSU beat Ole Miss by a combined score of 104-10. The Rebels' two wins came against Southern Illinois and Fresno State. They were beaten at home by BYU in the season opener and were crushed at home 27-7 by Louisiana Tech. It was not a surprise that head coach Houston Nutt would be fired, only that the athletic department elected to announce this fact with over a month in the season left to go. Considering that the team managed only 13 combined points in double-digit laughers to Tech, LSU and rival Mississippi State, clearly the announcement did not provide the spark the administration had hoped.
While new head coach Hugh Freeze's only experience as a head coach came at NAIA program Lamuth and in one season of Sun Belt Conference play at Arkansas State, there is quiet optimism that he'll be able to turn around the program. He did precisely that at Arkansas State, leading the Red Wolves to a six game improvement (4-8 in 2010) last season to a school record ten wins and a berth in the GoDaddy.com bowl, the school's first post-season action since 2005.
A Mississippi native with plenty of connections throughout the south due to his past as a successful high school coach, Freeze should be able to improve the Rebels' talent level if given a few years to recruit. He'll need the help, however, as Ole Miss may struggle this year to improve the number of players drafted into the NFL they've had each of the past two years… one.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
- CB Charles Sawyer (5-11, 175)*
Sawyer (pictured above) proved to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal 2011 season for the Rebels. Flipping back and forth between cornerback and free safety as injuries robbed Mississippi of its depth, Sawyer registered 70 tackles and finished third in the SEC with 13 passes defended, including four interceptions. He'd flashed the ability to be a potential shutdown cornerback a year earlier. After redshirting in 2009, Sawyer quickly developed into one of the Rebels' more reliable defenders, posting 49 tackles and four passes defensed (two interceptions) despite only starting four of 12 games. Surrounded by a relative lack of talent, Sawyer's big plays in pass defense and surprising toughness as an open field tackler (especially in run support) made him a fan favorite and Freeze quickly gravitated towards Sawyer as one of the faces of his program, bringing him to represent the university to the SEC Media junction in Birmingham, Alabama. Freeze also asked Sawyer to make another position change, moving him to the rover position in his 4-2-5 alignment. Despite his lack of size, Sawyer has the anticipation, ball skills and toughness necessary to thrive in this role. Unfortunately, there will be a delay in Sawyer's transition. As if Freeze needed any bad news prior to the season, Sawyer suffered a partially torn quad August 5. The injury is expected to keep Sawyer sidelined for at least another few weeks and could put the beginning (or more) of his 2012 season in jeopardy.
2. LB Mike Marry (6-2, 248)*
If Sawyer was Ole Miss' brightest star a year ago, Marry was a close second. Despite only starting nine of the team's 12 games a season ago, Marry paced the Rebels with 81 total tackles, chipping in six tackles for loss and two sacks along the way from the middle linebacker position. Marry originally signed with Ole Miss in 2009 but academics forced him to greyshirt and thus his first season of action on the field came in 2010. He saw action in ten games (one start) and finished with 22 tackles, including three for loss and a sack before breaking through a season ago. Marry possesses prototype size for inside linebacker, demonstrating the toughness to take on and fight through blocks as well as proving himself to be a strong, wrap-up tackler. He is best in a straight-line, however, showing only average agility and foot-speed, overall, struggling to beat speedy SEC ball-carriers to the edge. He also struggled with pass coverage duties a season ago, though he made improving in this area a priority over the off-season. Marry will continue at the middle linebacker position in Freeze's 4-2-5 scheme. The alignment may cap the number of tackles Marry will have in 2012 as the action isn't funneled to the middle linebacker quite as much as it is in a normal 4-3 alignment. However, it could result in more plays behind the line of scrimmage, which could put the Rebels' talented linebacker in position to make more impactful plays.
3. WR/RB Randall Mackey (5-11, 195)
Mackey signed with Ole Miss as an impressive dual-threat quarterback who was rated by some recruiting experts as the top junior college prospect in the country in 2010. He'd earned JC All-American honors as a sophomore, leading the country with 3,122 passing yards and finished second with 32 passing touchdowns. Mackey also rushed for 579 yards and another five scores. After redshirting in 2010 when the team signed Oregon-transfer Jeremiah Masoli, Mackey entered 2011 expected to win the starting quarterback job but was suspended for the season opener. With Ole Miss struggling to find an offensive identity, Mackey was re-inserted back into the starting lineup against Fresno State and started the next five games for the Rebels before getting suspended again prior to the matchup with LSU. For the year Mackey completed 49.7% of his passes for 1,112 yards and seven touchdowns against five interceptions. One of Freeze's earliest decisions was moving Mackey to wide receiver. Mackey struggled running routes and has since been moved to running back where his speed (reportedly has run in the 4.4s) and elusiveness is expected to help him become an immediate and versatile playmaker for the Rebels. Scouts will want to know the details of the two suspensions and, of course, will need to see how well Mackey handles the new position(s). Mackey has NFL-caliber athleticism and therefore will surely be watched closely by scouts this fall.
4. P Tyler Campbell (6-2, 227)
Most fans would say that it is never a good sign when a punter ranks as one of a team's top five NFL prospects but in the case of Campbell, it is simply a testament to the fact that he is highly regarded in the scouting community. Campbell proved to be an immediate standout after signing with the Rebels, emerging not only as the starter as a true freshman but ranking second in the SEC and 12th in the NCAA with a sparkling 43.95 yards per attempt in 2009. He was significantly better a year later, leading all NCAA punters with a 46.37 yard average. His numbers slipped a bit this past season (43.6) but in reviewing his tape it is clear that some of this drop-off was due to his doing a better job of deadening punts inside the 20 (placed a career-high 28 here after just 13 in 2010) and the Rebels simply playing poorly in coverage. Campbell has the size scouts prefer and is a legitimate athlete who is willing to take on and make open field tackles when necessary. It is always difficult to gauge where specialists may wind up in the NFL draft but should Campbell enjoy another strong campaign in 2012 and work out well when given opportunities in prominent all-star games or at the Combine, he'll certainly rank among the favorites to be the first punter selected in the 2013 draft.
5. RB/WR Jeff Scott (5-07, 175)*
Houston Nutt recognized the versatility and explosiveness that the diminutive Dexter McCluster brought to the table and likely saw similar potential with Scott. While the Rebels' lack of success on the field certainly means that several of Nutt's ideas were flawed, Ole Miss can't help but be pleased with what Scott has given them, thus far. Earning time at kick returner, running back and even receiver, on occasion, Scott emerged onto the SEC scene as a true freshman, averaging a gaudy 27.7 yards per kickoff return, running for 429 yards and three touchdowns and catching five passes for another 25 yards. The team promised to feature him more often in his second season and they did so. While his average per rushing attempt dropped from 6.5 yards per carry to a more pedestrian 4.6, Scott became one of the focal points of the offense, sharing the load with Brandon Bolden (now attempting to make the New England Patriots' roster) and rushing for 529 yards and six touchdowns. He saw more action as a receiver (15 catches for 99 yards) and became the Rebels' featured returner for punts as well as kickoffs, taking a punt 67 yards for a touchdown against Southern Illinois. The punt return for a score was Scott's third touchdown of the day against the Salukis and the first time an Ole Miss player had scored both a rushing and punt return touchdown since former Ole Miss (and New Orleans Saints) star Deuce McAllister accomplished the feat in 2000. At Scott's size, there will, of course, be concerns about how well he'll be able to handle the jump to the NFL. Teams are increasingly warming to the idea of fielding a smallish third down back with receiving ability as a third down option, however.
K Bryson Rose (5-11, 197)
QB Bo Wallace (6-5, 210)*
TE Jamal Mosley (6-4, 260)
CB Wesley Pendleton (5-11, 180)
DE Gerald Rivers (6-5, 245)
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire