• 70°

Marquis Haynes’ decision to bypass NFL, return to Ole Miss was ‘easy’

Marquis Haynes could be preparing for this year’s NFL Draft. Instead, Haynes is spending one last spring on the practice fields at Ole Miss.

Haynes made the decision in December to put off the NFL and return to Ole Miss for his senior season. The Rebels’ pass-rushing specialist talked to his parents and head coach Hugh Freeze about whether to stay or leave, which he said made the choice clear.

“It was easy for me really,” Haynes said. “I just know I need to come back and work on my technique, what I need to do to get better and finish my degree here.”

Haynes has been able to get the quarterback since the day he arrived on campus and should be an impact player for first-year coordinator Wesley McGriff on a defense that was short on them a season ago. Haynes tallied a team-high seven of his 24.5 career sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season, but the Rebels still finished 96th nationally in total sacks and plummeted to 100th in scoring defense, 111th in total defense, 120th against the run and 126th in red-zone defense.

Haynes said he’s trying to add 10 pounds to his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame by “eating all the good food my girl(friend) cooks” to help him become a more complete player.

“That’s one of the things that everybody wants to see,” Freeze said. “He’s kind of that in-between guy of a rush end and a stand-up linebacker. He’s got the speed, he’s got the tools, he’s got the pass-rush ability, but you’d like to see him be able to gain some weight.”

Still, the next level isn’t far from Haynes’ mind, particularly with the postseason off the table next season with Ole Miss self-imposing a one-year bowl ban as a result of the NCAA’s investigation into the program. Haynes sees next season not only a chance for the defense to redeem itself but also as 12 opportunities to improve his draft stock in the process.

“This is my last year,” Haynes said. “There’s nothing I could do to control (the bowl ban), but all I can say is it’s more work for me to get better film for the NFL for next year.”

Freeze said Haynes could follow the same path to the next level as former tight end Evan Engram, another tweener who returned for his senior season to lead all tight ends in receiving yards, ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and could see his name come off the board in the first two rounds of next month’s draft. Freeze admitted every player’s situation is different but said he was honest in his discussions with Haynes this offseason.

NFLDraftScout.com already ranks Haynes as the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect for the 2018 draft.

“I get the facts from people that I trust that are in that profession, and what reality is now that everything is slotted is you can improve yourself and leave with a degree,” Freeze said. “The average guy plays two years in the NFL. What are we going to do after that? That’s what I talked to him about, and I thought reality was he would be a third-to-fourth-round pick.”

With a simpler approach being taken by McGriff, Haynes is hopeful the defense can get its identity back before he leaves.

“I feel like we’re playing faster because it’s not a lot of thinking going on,” Haynes said. “We get the play called, and we’re already down ready to go.

“This year, we’re going to be the Landshark defense.”