The 2023 football season may not be over yet, but teams are already looking forward to next year. Between the transfer portal and high school recruiting, coaches are staying busy. But another important aspect of this time of year is figuring out which players are going pro and which plan on returning to school. For Ole Miss, this weekend was big on announcements for returning key pieces.

While there’s still plenty of speculation surrounding targets that Lane Kiffin is going after in the portal, it appears the offensive side of the ball will be okay regardless. And as we know by now, the Ole Miss offense is arguably the most important part of the team.

Jordan Watkins

Senior Jordan Watkins announced his intentions to return to Oxford to exercise his Covid-year eligibility. Watkins initially started his career with the Louisville Cardinals before becoming a Rebel before the 2022 season. In his two seasons at Ole Miss, he’s proven to be an invaluable piece of the passing offense. In 13 games last year, he caught 40 passes for 449 yards and two touchdowns. Through 12 games this season, he’s already set career highs in receptions (53) and yards (741). He also brought in three touchdowns.

Assuming Jaxson Dart and Quinshon Judkins both return, with Watkins back, this is a Rebels offense that is sure to put up huge numbers. But there are questions about what Watkins’ role proves to be next year.

The Ole Miss receiver room is already crowded, even with Dayton Wade announcing his departure. And it’s well known that Kiffin is targeting a few others in the portal and this year’s high school recruiting class. If they land these guys, with only one ball to go around, targets could be limited for each player next year.

The good news for Watkins is that he’s known as a sure-handed and intermediate route-runner. With his experience in the system, there’s a good chance he still sees a majority of the snaps. But he could see his reception number drop. There’s also a good chance that he becomes more of a possession receiver, which could see his yardage decrease as well.

Even with a role shift, Watkins should have a solid year next year. And with the experience he brings, he’ll be great for the locker room. Needless to say, his return is huge news for Rebel fans.

Caden Prieskorn

Tight end Caden Prieskorn also announced his intentions to return to Ole Miss next season. Prieskorn spent the first three years of his college career up the road at Memphis but just completed his first year in Oxford. And there’s no denying it was an impactful one.

While not technically a wide receiver, Prieskorn showed good hands from the tight end position. In only nine games this season, he’s brought in 20 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. The reception number doesn’t compare to the 48 he caught during the 2022 season as a Tiger, but his 15.7 yards per catch this year was a career-high.

The other side to Prieskorn’s game is his ability to block at his position. In a Kiffin-led offense that starts with the running game, solid blocking on the edge is a must. Prieskorn has shown the ability to do just that.

As the numbers bear out, you shouldn’t expect Prieskorn to become a primary target for Dart next year. But he is a good safety blanket to have in the passing game. And with his blocking ability, his return should be massive for Judkins and company in the running game.

Tre Harris?

While the news of Watkins’ and Prieskorn’s return is huge for Rebel fans, the attention now turns to fellow receiver Tre Harris. Ole Miss’ leading receiver for the 2023 season has yet to decide his future. While he has one year of eligibility remaining, there’s sure to be some NFL interest in the 6’4, 205-pound senior.

So the question becomes does he follow Wade to the NFL, or does he join Watkins and Prieskorn back in Oxford?

For Rebels fans, it’s a huge question. But it may not be as dire as it seems, regardless of what the answer ends up being. That’s because top-rated JUCO player Deion Smith committed to Ole Miss early last week. And at 6’4, 205 pounds, Smith is virtually a carbon copy of Harris, at least body-wise. They’ve also shown similar abilities to be true deep threats in the passing game.

So even with Wade’s exit, and Harris’ decision looming, the commitment of Smith offsets at least one of those. And the return of Watkins and Prieskorn simply solidifies the offense even more.

The 2023 season may not be over yet, but Rebels fans are already excited and looking forward to 2024. Based on the receiving talent set to be on campus, it’s for good reason.

Photo Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Akash Mahi, a dedicated enthusiast of the game, is a recognized expert in the domain of tennis balls. With a keen understanding of materials and aerodynamics, he has contributed to the evolution of tennis ball design, enhancing playability and performance. Mahi's expertise continues to impact both casual players and professionals alike.