Ole Miss Football: 5 Rebels to Watch for Between NFL Draft, Free Agency
The NFL draft begins Thursday, April 25, and several Ole Miss Rebels have NFL hopes.
While Ole Miss produced four draft picks in the 2010 NFL draft (Dexter McCluster, John Jerry, Kendrick Lewis and Greg Hardy), a Rebels name hasn't been called in Radio City Music Hall for the past two years.
However, guys that fight to even make rosters can often end up having solid NFL careers.
Former Rebels Michael Spurlock, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden are living proof. While none of these players were drafted, each has made the very most of free-agent opportunities in the league.
If an NFL prospect isn't drafted by, say, the fifth round, it's actually advantageous to instead sign as a free agent.
Free agents have the freedom of signing contracts with NFL clubs that could most likely benefit from their services. In general, there are simply more options in the later circumstance.
While you won't likely hear any Rebel names called until very late in the draft (if at all), undoubtedly several former Rebs will soon sign free-agent deals in hopes of making rosters.
Let's take a look at five Ole Miss Rebels with good chances to make NFL rosters.
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Randall Mackey will soon be looking for a call from an NFL team.
The 5'10'', 195-pound "jack-of-all-trades" athlete is armed with potential.
Hear me now, Mackey will be a true steal for the team willing to give him a chance at the next level.
He may not have his name announced in Radio City Music Hall over the weekend, but NFL scouts are well aware of the type of athlete he was for two years in Oxford, MS. He'll get his chance.
Mackey ran the ball 79 times for 325 yards and four touchdowns last season while also catching 25 passes for 346 yards and another score. He also threw for a touchdown in 2012. On the gridiron, he's got absolutely no fear and willing to do whatever is asked of him. That's a winning combination.
It's hard to gauge exactly how he may be used at the next level, but he reminds me of another Rebel that signed as a free agent back in 2006: San Diego Charger Michael Spurlock. He's been somewhat of an NFL journeyman, but found success at nearly every stop thanks to his sheer athleticism.
Look for Mr. Mackey to make the most of his NFL opportunity, wherever that may be.
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Hailing from Yonkers, N.Y., 6'4'', 317-pound DT Gilbert Pena is one of the most likely Rebels to be signed over NFL draft weekend this year. The big man could possibly hear his name called late in the draft.
More than anything, Pena showed a tremendous amount of improvement last season. In 2012, the SEC defensive tackle recorded 34 tackles and two sacks under first-year defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. The year prior, Pena only notched 11 tackles. He possesses a great deal of NFL potential.
Could the New Yorker be picked by the home state Giants or Jets?
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CB Wesley Pendleton didn't figure to be among the more likely NFL Rebels in 2013—that was until he impressed scouts with a 4.38 40-yard dash time at pro day.
The 5'11'', 175-pound corner only recorded 32 tackles and six pass deflections in his two-year Rebel career.
Nevertheless, the NFL is all about speed, speed and more speed.
If a college player can show a quality 40 time to scouts, then his potential instantly climbs.
The trend of undrafted Rebels making NFL rosters in the secondary (most recently Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn) may continue again with Pendleton in 2013.
With his speed, he's almost guaranteed to be offered a shot with an NFL team.
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A.J. Hawkins started every game for the Rebels at right guard last season.
The 6'1'', 311-pound offensive lineman competed in a total of 39 games over his Ole Miss career.
While he may be on the smaller side from a height standpoint, players don't start the entire season against multiple NFL-caliber SEC defensive linemen by circumstance.
Last season, Rebel OT Bradley Sowell signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A few months later, he was signed from the practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts. As the 2013 season gets closer, Sowell remains an NFL lineman.
While Hawkins may have to follow a similar path, proving himself to coaches week in and week out, never underestimate the potential of a player driven to make a name for himself.
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A classy kid and vocal leader for Hugh Freeze's Rebels last season, DE Jason Jones is another player to keep an eye on when the NFL free agent frenzy kicks off next week.
At 6'3'' and 255 pounds, the 2012 Chucky Mullins Courage Award winner has the build to succeed at the next level. The only thing he needs is an NFL club to grant him an audition.
In his senior season, Jones compiled 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss.
Former Ole Miss DE Emmanuel Stephens was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons in 2010. While his career in Atlanta was short lived, he's been a Cleveland Brown for the past two years.
If there's one Ole Miss Rebel I wouldn't bet against, it's Jones. He's a fighter.