Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral eliminated any lingering doubt about his football future on Friday night. The star junior published a farewell note ahead of the No. 12 Rebels' final home game of the season against Vanderbilt. In the message, Corral wrote that the "the love on this team was and is unmatched" while making it clear he intends for this season to be his last as a college player as he declares for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Despite being in his fourth season at Ole Miss, Corral could technically play up to two more seasons of college football since he took a redshirt as a freshman in 2018 and last year did not count against his eligibility. But as the No. 10 overall player and No. 1 quarterback in CBS Sports' 2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, he has little room to improve his professional stock.
Corral has thrown for 17 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions through 10 games, and he's completed 66.6% of his passes for an Ole Miss team that can improve to 9-2 with a win over the Commodores. He's also accumulated 523 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground, despite playing through an injury for much of the season's second half.
Second-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin helped transform Corral from a shaky redshirt freshman in 2019 into one of the SEC's top quarterbacks in 2020. This season, Corral took another huge step forward by cutting out the interception issues that plagued him at times in 2020. Kiffin responded to Corral's farewell letter by saying "forever and always like my own!!"
NFL future: QB1?
Corral has the potential to be the program's first top-10 draft pick since Eli Manning went No. 1 overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. In the most recent mock drafts updated by three different CBS Sports experts, Corral was the first QB selected at No. 9 overall to Washington all three times. It would be a sensible choice for Washington considering current starter Taylor Heinicke is only under contract through the 2022 season.
"Count Washington among the teams searching for a long-term answer at quarterback next spring. Corral expects to be among the first taken in the 2022 NFL Draft," NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards wrote.
Ole Miss' QB future
It's no secret the Rebels are among the many schools in hot pursuit of five-star class of 2023 quarterback Arch Manning, the grandson of program legend Archie Manning and Eli's nephew.
But there's certainly no guarantee the younger Manning will pick the Rebels, and even if he does, they will still need a quarterback for the 2022 season. Kiffin has a few options, including current backups Luke Altmyer and Kinkead Dent. Altmyer is a former four-star prospect from the class of 2021, and Dent is a former three-star prospect from Flowood, Mississippi, from the class of 2019.
But the two have thrown a combined 13 career passes. If Kiffin wanted to go with a more experienced option, he could try to shoehorn John Rhys Plumlee into the position. Plumlee has transitioned to slot receiver this season after beginning his college career at quarterback and completing 79-of-150 passes in 2019 under the previous coaching staff.
Plumlee is more of a dual-threat quarterback known less for his arm strength and more for his running, and he could be better utilized at receiver. The Rebels currently do not have any quarterbacks committed from the Class of 2022, but could be an attractive transfer destination for quarterbacks who have taken note of Corral's development in Kiffin's system.
The Ole Miss athletic department has waged a Heisman campaign for Corral, and though it seems like a long shot, the season has doubtlessly etched Corral into program lore. He is one of just two players in the country to have thrown for at least 15 touchdowns while also running for 10 or more this season. Entering the Vanderbilt game, Corral also ranks in the top 20 nationally for passing yards per game, total offense per game, yards per attempt and passing efficiency.
Considering the key role he played in helping Ole Miss emerge from consecutive losing seasons in 2018 and 2019, Corral's legacy at Ole Miss is secure. He guided the team to a .500 record in an SEC-only regular season last year and is leading the team through a memorable season in 2021.
The former four-star prospect from southern California was the perfect first quarterback for Kiffin at Ole Miss, and the tandem helped resurrect the program to a place of national relevance sooner than most anticipated.