Ole Miss Defensive Back Breakdown

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05 September 2016: Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph (15) tries to avoid Mississippi Rebels defensive back Zedrick Woods (36) after catching a pass in the 4th quarter of the NCAA football game between the Mississippi Rebels and the Florida State Seminoles at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

In 2016, Ole Miss had one of the worst defensive units in the SEC. While the front seven (linebacker, in particular) struggled with the run game, the secondary fared better defending the pass. Ole Miss ranked 45th in the FBS and 6th in the SEC in pass yards allowed per game. While these rankings aren’t elite by any stretch, there is still a lot to build on. The only starter the Rebels lose is corner, Tony Bridges. The only key contributions that are lost from 2016 are Tony Conner and Carlos Davis. Ole Miss has recruited at a high enough level to fill these spots in the secondary and improve on what they were in 2016. Here is our 2017 Ole Miss defensive back breakdown.

Leading the Pack

Corner

At one corner spot, Myles Hartsfield is listed as the starter. Hartsfield earned Freshman All-SEC honors playing safety in 2016. He was fifth on the team with 43 tackles on the year. He makes the switch to corner and is expected to ramp up production in 2017.

At the other corner spot, Jaylon Jones and Ken Webster are listed as co-starters. Webster missed all of 2016 after injuring his knee in the first game of the season. He started every game in his sophomore year in 2015 and will contribute at corner and safety in 2017. Jones was a very productive player during his freshman campaign in 2016. He was a Freshman All-American and recorded 26 tackles. Webster and Jones would both provide a solid option at this position.

Strong Safety

Zedrick Woods, a junior, will start at strong safety. Woods is one of the more experienced players in the Ole Miss secondary. He played in every game during his freshman season in 2015 and stepped into a starting role in 2016. Last season, he lead the team with three interceptions and was second on the team with 63 tackles. He has very good speed and is a punishing hitter. In 2017, he moves from free safety over to strong safety and has entrenched himself as the starter at this position.

Free Safety

At free safety, CJ Moore and CJ Hampton are listed as co-starters. Hampton was a consensus four-star recruit and was ranked as the 59th best prospect overall by 247Sports in 2014. He has not lived up to his potential during his first three seasons however. Hampton has dealt with injuries and has only racked up 53 tackles during his Ole Miss career. He needs to step up in 2017. Moore has been a special teams contributor for the most part during his first two years. He will be expected to contribute more on defense entering his third season and coaches have been impressed with his improvement.

Nickelback

While Wesley McGriff is transitioning the Rebels from a 4-2-5 scheme to a more traditional 4-3, he will still be dealing with the personnel that was recruited to play in Dave Wommack’s scheme. Therefore, a nickel back will still be seen on the field plenty this season. Senior, AJ Moore, will be the player the Rebels look to at this position. Moore is the perfect size to play this hybrid safety/linebacker position and is listed at 5-11, 202. He contributed heavily on special teams his first two seasons and stepped up his production in 2016,compiling 42 tackles. He’s an experienced player who will be counted on more as a leader than in the past.

Key Depth

Ole Miss has yet another player who earned Freshman All-SEC honors in redshirt sophomore corner, Jalen Julius. He started eight games last season after redshirting in 2015. Julius totaled 21 tackles and two passes defended last season. He will get a ton of playing time in the corner rotation this season.

Deontay Anderson adds another name to the list of rising sophomores in the Rebel defensive backfield. Anderson was a four-star recruit and was rated as ESPN’s best safety in the class of 2016. He was one of the highlights of Ole Miss’s Top 10 2016 recruiting class. The freshman received more and more playing time as the season went on and registered the game-sealing interception in Ole Miss’s upset win against Texas A&M. He totaled 32 tackles and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. Anderson will be a key contributor in 2017.

Breon Dixon is an incoming freshman who participated in spring ball and carved a role out for himself at nickelback after being recruited as a linebacker. He was the highlight of Ole Miss’s 2017 recruiting class and will have to contribute heavily this fall.

Another player at nickelback that will contribute is Cam Ordway. The junior has mainly been a special teams player but will be a key contributor, especially early in the season as Dixon becomes acclimated to SEC Football.

Montrell Custis¬†was a four-star recruit in Ole Miss’s 2015 recruiting class. He redshirted that season then saw the field at corner last year. He totaled nine tackles and two pass break ups.

Incoming Recruits

Ole Miss signed five defensive backs in their 2017 recruiting class. DD Bowie is the highest rated of these recruits and was rated as the 64th best prospect in the country by ESPN. He provides a long (6-0, 180) and athletic option at corner and will factor into the rotation early and often.

CJ Miller was rated as a four-star prospect and will play safety for Ole Miss. Miller is talented and safety could be a thin position for the Rebels, especially when Webster slides over to corner. Miller could see playing time early in the season.

Ole Miss added a JUCO transfer to its roster in corner, Javien Hamilton. The transfer from Jones County Junior College was rated as the 24th overall JUCO prospect by ESPN. Hamilton is listed as Hartsfield’s back up at corner and could possibly contribute at kick return.

AJ Harris was a three-star prospect for the Rebels and will play safety. Harris has decent size but could possibly redshirt in 2017.

Ole Miss also signed a four-star athlete out of Clinton, Mississippi named Kam White. Former Ole Miss head coach, Hugh Freeze, expressed his desire to play White at safety but the 6-2, 201 freshman was moved to receiver after the start of fall camp.

Overall Review

The defensive backfield for Ole Miss is probably the deepest position group for the Rebels along with the offensive line. The Rebels have a group of experienced and proven players in Webster, Woods, and the Moore twins. Ole Miss had four freshmen who played last season and earned Freshman All-SEC honors (Jones, Julius, Anderson, and Hartsfield). The Rebels have a very good amount of talent and depth but this is met with higher expectations. McGriff has also moved players around and isn’t afraid to switch a player’s position in order to get the best lineup available. If players can stay healthy, Ole Miss will have one of the better secondaries in the SEC.

Main Photo

05 September 2016: Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph (15) tries to avoid Mississippi Rebels defensive back Zedrick Woods (36) after catching a pass in the 4th quarter of the NCAA football game between the Mississippi Rebels and the Florida State Seminoles at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

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