MONTGOMERY, Ala. – On Saturday, at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, Team Mississippi will be without several of the state’s top prospects who pulled out of the game at the last minute. Players like four-stars defensive tackles Quay Evans and Nick James would go a long way in helping neutralize the likes of Alabama’s TJ Yeldon and Jameis Winston as would the presence of four-star Jeremy Liggins, Arkansas commit D’Arthur Cowan or Mississippi State commit Xavier Grindle.
Channing Ward was the top prospect all week for Mississippi.
Despite the absence of all of those difference makers, Team Mississippi still has plenty remaining in the wings including the No. 1 player in the state. 247Sports was on hand all week at practice and has the breakdown of the top performers and names to watch in the future.
Best player: Channing Ward, SDE
Anthony Alford is the top rated prospect in the state of Mississippi and for good reason. He led a Petal program that had never won a playoff game all the way to the 6A state final where it fell just short of a championship. Alford has looked good this week but won’t have the chance to really shine until the action is full speed on Saturday and he can use his athleticism. In the practice sessions, Channing Ward has been the player to separate himself.
Ward has arguably the most impressive physical makeup of any player on either team with a sturdy frame that looks capable of adding good weight while still maintaining his unique athleticism. Ward will be a challenge for the Alabama offensive linemen because of his burst, power and explosiveness off of the edge. He has one of those rare bodies that could project as a linebacker, edge rusher or even grow into a defensive tackle long term.
Recruitment: Ward recently visited Auburn and it looks like the Tigers are in a good position with his recruitment (it’s not a bad sign that he’s been wearing an Auburn hand-towel all week). However the in-state program of Mississippi State remains a major factor and LSU is also lurking.
Also receiving votes: A.J. Jefferson, SDE
Any offensive lineman on the Alabama squad hoping to get a break when Ward switches sides is in for a rude awakening when A.J. Jefferson puts his hand down. Jefferson is almost a clone of Ward with very similar size, build and athleticism. Jefferson has a nasty streak to his play and provides a serious punch when a offensive linemen attempt to engage. On Saturday, Jefferson is one of the safe picks to make some big plays either behind the line of scrimmage or in pursuit.
Recruitment: Jefferson is considering Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette and will visit all five. Whoever lands him is getting one of the real steals in the southeast.
Todd Mays has outplayed his offer list all year. This week has been no different.
Most under-recruited: Todd Mays, ATH – Olive Branch
Mays showed up late to practice this week but it’s hard to blame him. He was coming off a weekend in which he led his Olive Branch team to a 6A State Championship and an undefeated season. Mays played no small roll in that success either. While playing quarterback, Mays piled up over 4,500 yards of total offense and 46 touchdowns combined passing and rushing.
With those kinds of numbers and that kind of on-field success, it would seem that he would have all kinds of recruiting interest. But that’s not the case. Mays is considering offers from Arkansas State, Memphis and Southern Miss. While his height (5-11) may limit him at quarterback, Mays has more than enough size to be an impact running back, slot receiver or defensive back.
This week in Montgomery, Mays has lined up at quarterback and receiver and has looked good in both roles. A gamer with great athleticism, Mays has some similarities to current LSU running back Spencer Ware who was also a high school quarterback. As Signing Day approaches, look for Mays’ interest to pick up significantly.
More recruiting: With Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze taking the Ole Miss job and Southern Miss’ Larry Fedora heading to North Carolina, UNC and Ole Miss may soon become new options for Mays.
Stock rising: Cedric Jiles, CB
Clinton, Miss. cornerback Cedric Jiles is enjoying his time in Montgomery. It’s easy to see. But he’s probably happy anytime he’s on the football field. Jiles is the type of playmaking athlete that is always active, always making plays and always around the football. Though Jiles has limited size, he plays big and he always seems anxious to make another play.
Recruiting: Jiles is committed to Mississippi State
Temario Strong has been very active off the edge despite his size.
Toughest projection: Temario Strong, DE/OLB
Temario Strong is a good football player. When he comes off of the edge, he is tough to block and he makes a lot of plays. But he does not have the size of a prototypical edge rusher. He looks more like a small linebacker.
That size issue hasn’t stopped him at the high school level as he has played off the edge for his powerful South Panola program throughout his career, but that may catch up to him at the next level. Or it may not. That is the question with Strong. Can he play on the line of scrimmage at his size? Can he move back to the second level and play in space? One thing is certain regarding the Ole Miss commit. Strong will play hard and he will be active.
Biggest leg: Devon Bell, K
Team Mississippi looks to have a good weapon in the kicking game in the form of Mississippi State commit Devon Bell. The punter has a booming leg that will not only change field position in the punt game but if the weather is reasonable, he likely won’t give Alabama many opportunities in the return game. Bell is a great kickoff man and looks like he could contribute in that facet early in his career.
Biggest sleeper: Wil Freeman, DE, Northwest Rankin
Will Freeman doesn’t have the recruiting profile of many of the prospects in Montgomery. He currently holds one offer from Louisiana-Lafayette. But at 6-6, 240 pounds, the kid can run and he is very active. It’s not always pretty. He has a reckless style to his play and you can’t teach his length. He looks capable of adding plenty of good weight and could turn into a real catch.
With the right development, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Freeman could be an impact player in any conference in the country.