Top 10 defensive 'prove-it' players for 2014

For Ole Miss to take the next step, Robert Nkemdiche will need to dominate. Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports

Top 10 'prove-it' players on offense | Defense

A year ago, Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss signed a recruiting class that caused head turning from the SEC to the Pac-12. It created a buzz. And it was a sensation that wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to the Rebels, or to Freeze.

Ed Orgeron compiled a high-end class in 2006, but he could never turn it into wins. Freeze was on that staff, as an administrator and then an assistant, so he has seen firsthand that recruiting alone will not save a staff. Freeze has won 15 games in his first two seasons, an establishment of moderate success but success that must be built upon in one of the country’s toughest divisions.

Vegas, for one, is a believer that 2014 will be the year the Rebels will rise. A team that has gone 3-5 in the SEC in Freeze’s first two seasons is 40-1 to win the national title, according to the Las Vegas Hotel.

If it works out for Freeze, or if it doesn’t, we’ll point back to that 2013 class. That means we likely will point in particular to defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, RecruitingNation’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2013.

And that’s why Nkemdiche is atop the list of defensive players with the most to prove in the 2014 season:

1. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss Rebels

Nkemdiche was the jewel of Freeze’s top-five haul, a Clemson flip the Rebels hoped would provide an immediate impact. He did, starting 10 games and collecting 34 tackles (8.5 for a loss). But only six of those games were starts at his recruited position, defensive end.