Kelly first, but Ole Miss could have more Heisman hopefuls in near future
Chad Kelly is not only the best returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, but according to Bovada, he also has the best Heisman odds of any signal callers in the league. Nationally, his 16/1 odds put him tied for fourth among quarterbacks with UCLA’s Josh Rosen, behind Deshaun Watson of Clemson, J.T. Barrett of Ohio State and Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. Additionally, he trails two tail backs from the SEC in LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb.
Given that the Rebels’ 2016 strength of schedule is ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation by some, each of the three quarterbacks ahead of Kelly, as well as Rosen, may have an easier path to striking the pose. However, Kelly is the first candidate from Ole Miss with a real opportunity to win the prestigious award since current New York Giant quarterback Eli Manning finished third in voting, behind Oklahoma’s Jason White(winner) and current Arizona Cardinal and former Pittsburgh Panther Larry Fitzgerald, in 2003.
Rebel fans have reason to be optimistic regarding Kelly’s chances of being invited to New York. Some analysts predict him to be the quarterback of the SEC West representative in the SEC championship game in Atlanta this December. That, alone, will help the Ole Miss quarterback present a case to be in the top three, as will the numbers he is poised to put up within the dynamic Ole Miss offense. Simply repeating his over 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdown tosses from 2015 would put Kelly in the conversation. It is conceivable, however, that he could cut down on his 13 interceptions from last season and make other improvements that lead him to an even more productive campaign in 2016.
More Heisman hopefuls in Oxford
Keeping in mind that Kelly is entering his final season in Oxford, it is natural to think ahead to the next possible Heisman candidate in freshman quarterback Shea Patterson. Coming out of IMG academy, he was ranked the top pro-style quarterback prospect in the class off 2016, and the fourth-best player nationally, according to the 247sports composite rankings. Touted as a polished passer even at the high school level, Patterson has transitioned well to the college level. He put in an impressive spring and showed off his lightning quick release.
Fall practices will be another opportunity for Patterson to show his skills, but more importantly, sharpen them. It gives us as fans and interested followers a chance to get another glimpse at his bright future, but for him it serves as more reps and steps to real, game snaps.
While this season will serve as a learning session for Patterson on the offense, speed of the college game, etc., it will also challenge him to be prepared and ready to go, as he is in line to be the backup to Kelly.
It was clear in January, when Patterson dominated the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and was named MVP, that he was talented enough to be a big-time playmaker at the college level. Not only did he show his leadership as he was able to help the Rebel coaching staff put together the best class in program history, but he often showed an “it” factor that top-notch quarterbacks possess. Since that game, he has been called the “next great college QB NFL teams will be moving up in the draft for,” by ex-NFL scout Gil Brandt. Whether Patterson’s Heisman chance comes in 2017 or 2018 is yet to be seen.
Looking even further down the road, and even deeper into the hypothetical realm, there is a case to be made for Hugh Freeze’s program to have another Heisman hopeful by 2018, as well. Cam Akers is not yet committed to Ole Miss, but it is widely believed that the Rebels lead. It is hard to see the Clinton, Miss., native going too far away from home, and Mississippi State already holds a commitment from 4-star and fellow Mississippi native Kylin Hill of Columbus. Akers has blue blood suitors from all across the country, such as Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU and others, after him, but if the NCAA doesn’t penalize the Ole Miss program with a bowl ban, it appears Akers will be a Reb.
Though a quarterback for the Clinton High Arrows, Akers is ranked by recruiting services as running back. In fact, not only is he the top prospect in his home state, but he is also ranked as the 12th-best player in the country, second-best running back and the owner of five-stars according to the 247composite rankings.
After running a 4.41 (he is a regular 4.4-range 40-yard dash runner) at the Nike Opening in Oregon on Friday, Barton Simmons made him a five-star prospect on 247sports. Akers also threw the power ball 41 feet, jumped 38.6 inches in the vertical jump and ran a 4.18-second short shuttle. Those numbers earned him third place among competitors for Nike Sparq ratings, behind fellow five-star Ole Miss target Jeffrey Okudah of Grand Prairie, Texas.
Say Ole Miss does indeed ink Akers on February 1st of 2017, that would likely mean he makes an impact as a freshman next fall. While Shea Patterson could be in the middle of throwing himself into the Heisman ring, Akers will be raising his level to do the same in 2018. The 2018 campaign will be Patterson’s third, and possibly last, with the program. It should be his best chance at the award, unless Akers is able to make his own case.
As a sophomore there is reason to believe that Akers will be a point in his career where he is coming into his own. We have seen what a quarterback can do in the Freeze system (see Kelly), so that makes it easier to see quarterback with Patterson’s talent making a run at the award. However, a running back of Akers’ ability has yet to be unleased within Freeze’s system. With all the space and opportunity for backs in the offense, though, it is also easy to envision Akers being dominant as a Rebel.
Rebels’ Rise set to continue
Ole Miss football has reached tremendous heights in recent years and should continue to rise. If the program is able to consistently produce Heisman candidates over the next few seasons, it will get stronger and become even more nationally relevant. The roster could be home to future Heisman candidates through the 2019 season. Yet another reason for excitement if you are a member of Rebel nation!
(Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)
John Luke covers all sports for The Rebel Walk and also writes about high school football for the Southern Elite Sports network, most frequently for SES Mississippi. John Luke is from Tupelo and is the Host of The Buzz on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-3 p.m. on 95.1 FM in Tupelo. He is also a frequent co-host of Mississippi Sports Today with Craig Horton on ESPN 96.3 FM, The Ticket, from 7-9 a.m. in Tupelo.