Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze thinks two key players will return for senior season
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knows he’ll lose a lot of talent from his junior class when next April’s NFL Draft rolls around, but on Wednesday, Freeze hinted that he’ll get defensive back Tony Conner and tight end Evan Engram back for their senior seasons.
“Tony and I have talked,” Freeze told reporters Wednesday, according to Ben Garrett of the Ole Miss Spirit. “I don’t think he’s even thinking in those terms. He’s thinking let me get myself well and come have a great senior year, and I think Evan’s kind of thinking the same thing, too. But again, we’ll gather all the facts.
“Unless something changes, which it could, I believe that (Conner) is thinking right now the best decision would be to come back and get himself well.”
Conner was projected as fringe first-round draft pick by many before the season began, but the Batesville, Miss., native tore his meniscus against Alabama on Sept. 19 and missed six games before returning against Arkansas this past Saturday. Conner will require more extensive surgery in the offseason to fully repair the knee, which also plays a huge role in his decision.
Engram needed to have a big year, and it hasn’t happened for the talented pass-catching tight end. Last season, Engram eclipsed 100 yards receiving in a game three times, but the most yards he’s totaled in a game this year is 41.
Returning Conner and Engram would certainly come as welcoming news for a team that is projected to have three players taken among the top 15 picks of the NFL draft. Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche are projected as top-five picks, while wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is projected by some to crack the top 10.
Freeze said he’s had conversations with everyone about their futures, and he wants to make sure to give them the best advice he can.
“(We’ve had) conversations before the season and then throughout the year, when I have individual meetings with them, we’ll talk a little bit, but my encouragement to everyone is to be sure we gather the facts,” Freeze to reporters on Wednesday. “I want what’s best for them, and I’ve proven that with (former Ole Miss wide receiver) Donte (Moncrief) and the kids we’ve had. I want them to do what’s best for them and make wise choices. We’ll gather the facts.
“Some are no-brainers. We recruited them and told them it’s the case. Others need to take the process slow and make a wise decision for yourself. We’d love to walk with them through it.”
Quarterback Chad Kelly is another player who could have a decision to make following the season. Kelly has thrown some costly interceptions at times, but he has shown all the tools necessary to compete in the NFL.
Kelly is also coming off his best game of the season against Arkansas that saw him put up 478 total yards and six touchdowns.