The college football season kicks into full gear for Ole Miss this Saturday as the Rebels take on South Alabama at home. While fans can expect to see returning contributors like Shea Patterson, AJ Brown and DeMarquis Gates on the field, the faces Ole Miss fans grew to love over the past few years have moved on to bigger and better things.
The star of last year’s Rebels, the indelible Chad Kelly, is still having issues stemming from a torn ACL suffered in last year’s 37-27 win against Georgia Southern and an offseason wrist surgery. After being drafted with the last pick of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, Kelly is looking at the NFL’s version of a redshirt season. Spending a year on injured reserve should give Kelly a year to learn the Broncos’ system and allow him to come back next year ready to compete for the starting job.
At the opposite end of the NFL draft was former Rebel tight end Evan Engram, who found himself a new home in New York after the Giants drafted him with the 19th overall pick. Engram has locked down a starting position, and the Giants plan on using his 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound frame as a change-up to the smaller, quick threats Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard provide. Engram made catching 20- and 30-yard seam routes look easy in the SEC, and the Giants hope he can bring the same skillset to the NFL.
Damore’ea Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo, two more offensive standouts Ole Miss fans should recognize from their consistent trips into the end zone in 2016, are looking at favorable chances at roster spots. Stringfellow seemingly wrote his name into the Miami Dolphins wide receiver depth chart with a 99-yard touchdown catch against the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason, where he showed excellent speed and burst despite his 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound frame. Adeboyejo is battling with Chris Matthews for the last receiver spot on the Baltimore Ravens depth chart, and although he hasn’t put up gaudy preseason numbers, he looks to provide the more upside of the two.
On the defensive side of the ball, D.J. Jones, a former Rebel defensive tackle, has easily been the most impressive from last year’s unit. He was drafted in the sixth round by the San Francisco 49ers to provide depth at the nose tackle position, but he has provided flashes of brilliance in training camp. One of his ridiculous spin moves in training camp was featured on a popular 49ers blog, and his domination against backup linemen has been well-noted. Jones could find himself playing meaningful minutes throughout the season and might even play an important part in the 49ers’ larger rebuilding effort as his career continues.
Derrick Jones, a starter at defensive back for the Rebels last year, was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Jets. He was forecasted to be on the practice squad for the upcoming season; however, the Jets recently traded backup corner Dexter McDougle to the Eagles. The trade was a vote of confidence to the depth of the Jets secondary and the guys looking to come in in case of injuries. Derrick Jones is part of that group, and he now looks like a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Ultimately, the Ole Miss football season is upon us, and many familiar faces will not be on the field. Now playing Sundays, these former Rebel standouts have a significant shot to make a splash in the pros.