OXFORD, Miss. — With the departure of Ole Miss wide receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge, one of the questions circulating around Oxford is who will step up this fall to fill their shoes?
It won’t be easy for anyone to come in and instantly replace the “Big Three,” who are all now NFL receivers. Brown set multiple school records over the course of his career: most 100-yard receiving games (12), career leader in receiving yards (2,984), single-season leader in receiving yards (1,320), and catches (85).
Metcalf, though his career was shorter due to injury, also had eye-popping numbers while he was on the field, including averaging 21.9 yards per catch during his senior season. Lodge, too, put up lofty numbers in his own right, averaging 14.7 yards per catch over the course of his career.
“As a coach, you hate to see the talent that leaves you in a D.K., and A.J. and Lodge and Alex Weber and Floyd (Allen),” Rebels’ wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler said.
“That left a big void in our room. But, that’s why everybody calls us coach. It’s fun because you get to start all the way over and you get to build the room.“
WR Coach Jacob Peeler on the departure of the “Big Three”
While it will most likely take a receiver-by-committee approach, using multiple guys in the wide receiver room working together to try and replace the production lost by Brown, Metcalf, and Lodge, there are several on the roster who will have a chance to make a name for themselves this fall.
Elijah Moore showed a great deal of both flash and consistency in the slot throughout spring camp, and he has the explosiveness and shiftiness to be very impactful this fall.
The 5-foot-9, 182-pound slot receiver had a breakout game last fall against South Carolina, eclipsing the Ole Miss freshman, single-game record for receptions as he finished with 11 catches for 129 yards.
Though Moore has some big shoes to fill at slot receiver, the coaching staff trusts he will be a key player for this team moving forward.
Braylon Sanders, the most experienced player at wide receiver on the Rebels’ roster, was limited this spring due to injury. At 6-feet, 189 pounds, Sanders will play on the outside this fall and if healthy will most likely claim one of the starting roles on the outside.
Dontario Drummond, a junior college product out of East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), will join Braylon Sanders as being the only upperclassmen in the wide receiver room this fall. At 6-feet-1, 204 pounds, Drummond will be called upon a lot after finishing spring practices as one of the most experienced players currently on the roster.
Coach Peeler says Drummond’s ball skills stood out to him this spring. “He brings experience, a junior college kid that’s won two national championships and an All-American at that level,” Peeler said earlier this spring.
“He’s a guy that has done really well. He’s taken to the offense and has improved drastically from Day 1 to Day 13 (of spring practices),” Peeler added.
The Rebels signed Tylan Knight out of Pearl (Miss.) in 2018, and many thought the 5-foot-6, 173-pound athlete would play at defensive back during his time at Ole Miss, but he was moved to running back during his freshman season to help with depth at that position.
However, because of a lack of depth in the slot, Knight will be asked to play at both running back and slot receiver this fall.
Coach Peeler was pleased with Knight’s performance at slot during spring camp. “Tylan is an offensive player,” Peeler explained. “But I’m not going to put a label on him. I think he has an opportunity to get the ball in his hands as a running back, but also as a receiver,” he noted.
“We threw him out there at slot and we felt like he took to it really well. He’s a guy that competes his tail off every single day. He’s the 6A Player of the Year for a reason. He’s always had a chip on his shoulder, and he plays that way. Really excited about him.”
Coach Jacob Peeler on Tylan Knight
It will be interesting to watch where offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez will line up the versatile Knight in the different situations the Rebels will find themselves this fall.
Miles Battle and Demarcus Gregory
Receivers Miles Battle and Demarcus Gregory each redshirted last season. Gregory, who suffered an ACL injury in high school, underwent surgery last August during the Rebels’ fall camp. However, Gregory is now healthy and should be able to compete in fall camp for rotational minutes this season. At 6-feet-1, 216 pounds, he reminds us a lot of former Rebel Damore’ea Stringfellow who played at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Like Stringfellow, Gregory has a big upper body that will prove hard to take to the ground.
At 6-feet-4, 199 pounds, Miles Battle is currently the tallest receiver on the Ole Miss roster. Battle, who has put on over 20 pounds from last season, saw limited action last fall in order to preserve his redshirt, a fact that Coach Peeler addressed after spring camp.
“That redshirt rule was huge for him getting to play in four games, getting some SEC game experience, and I thought that really helped him grow,” Peeler said.
“He is a weight room guy. He likes to work in there just as much as he does on the field. He hasn’t lost his speed, and I actually think he’s gotten a little faster which is good.”
Coach Peeler on Miles Battle
Battle had a great spring and will have a chance to start on the outside along with Drummond and Sanders–but regardless of whether or not he starts, there is no question Battle will be a part of the rotation on the outside.
Incoming 2019 wide receivers: Jadon Jackson, Dennis Jackson, Jordon Jernigan and Jonathan Mingo
Ole Miss signed four wide receivers in the class of 2019: Jadon Jackson, Dannis Jackson, Jonathan Mingo, and Jordan Jernigan.
Jadon Jackson, rated a 4-star prospect by ESPN, was the No. 2 wide receiver in the state of Arkansas (247Sports Composite), and was named Arkansas Class 7A Player of the Year in 2017. The two-time All-State selection early enrolled in January and went through spring practices with the Rebels, so he will have a little bit of an advantage over the rest of the freshmen signees, having already adjusted to college life and earning some valuable reps during the spring.
“Jadon is a 100-meter state champion in Arkansas and reminds me of DaMarkus Lodge,” Coach Peeler said. “He has really good ball skills and the ability to take a simple completion and turn it into a long play.”
Dannis Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 182-pound 2019 Under Armour All-American, is a unanimous 4-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The Sumrall, Miss. native tallied over 1,000 yards receiving each season playing receiver.
“Dannis has a unique ability to take the top off the defense, make the defender miss and has tremendous change of direction,” Coach Peeler said. “He excelled in football, basketball and baseball, and we are really excited to see him develop and grow.”
Jordan Jernigan, a Class 6A All-State First Team selection, played in the 2018 Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Tupelo native finished his high school career with 1,416 receiving yards and 14 TDs.
“Jordan will do really well in our offensive system, and it will allow him to utilize his great speed and ability to outrun defenders,” Coach Peeler said. “I think his best football is ahead of him.”
Jonathan Mingo, selected to the 2019 Under Armour All-American Game, is a consensus four-star prospect according to Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports Composite Rankings. Mingo, who already has the body of an SEC wide receiver at 6’2” 205 pounds, finished his senior season at Brandon (Miss.) High School with with 77 catches for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Jonathan creates physical mismatches. He reminds you a lot of A.J. Brown in terms of his size. He played in a really good high school system that allowed him to utilize his skill set.”
It’ll be interesting to see how fast these freshmen can pick up the offense, but the good news is they can still see the field this fall and maintain their redshirt status if they don’t play in more than four games. The coaching staff will be smart about which games to play them in so they can gain experience while still keeping the option open to redshirt if needed.
“We’re always going to play the best players. I’m excited to see what those guys bring. I think obviously they’re going to get thrown in the fire. No differently than the freshmen did last year and see if they can help us. If they can, then they’re going to play. I’ve always lived by the philosophy the best players were going to play regardless of what year (in college).”
Coach Peeler on how quickly he will use the incoming freshmen WRs
So back we go to the primary question at hand. Who will replace the “Big Three” at wide receiver? There are players on the roster who absolutely have the potential to quickly make a name for themselves, but it will not be easy for three to stand out at the combined level of productivity of Brown, Metcalf, and Lodge.
Elijah Moore will be used heavily and often, so he’s the best bet to come anywhere close to replacing the numbers lost by Brown. While there is no doubt it will be challenging to match the yards per catch numbers that Metcalf had on the outside or the consistent receptions of Lodge, this group of wide receivers is more than capable of producing in their own right.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that love football, and I think that is really important–guys that just eat and live and breathe football,” Peeler said.
“I think at the end of the day when you get guys that love it, and it’s not the recruiting and the hype and all of that, I think you have a chance to have a special group. We’re going to be young, but hey, nobody feels sorry for me and nobody feels sorry for anybody. We want to win now, including myself, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Coach Peeler on his wide receivers