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After breakout season, Corral's return for 2021 not necessarily a given

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and coach Lane Kiffin converse during the Rebels' Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State Saturday.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and coach Lane Kiffin converse during the Rebels' Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State Saturday. (Associated Press)

OXFORD -- It's long been assumed Matt Corral would return for the 2021 season.

His play, however, has forced Lane Kiffin to acknowledge he and his standout quarterback are likely going to have to discuss the future sooner than anyone originally thought.

After helping lead Ole Miss to a 31-24 Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State this past weekend, Corral was named Southeastern Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week by the league office on Monday.

Corral set the school record for Ole Miss passing yards in the Egg Bowl, completing 24-of-36 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns. He engineered a nine-play, 77-yard TD drive with 4:48 left to help clinch the victory. It was Corral's sixth 300-yard game of the season, the third best single-season effort in school history.

Corral currently ranks top 10 nationally in passing yards (2,744), passing TDs (24), completion percentage (.729), completions per game (23.3), passing efficiency (187.3) and points responsible for per game (20.8). The Ventura, California, native also moved into sole possession of fifth place on Ole Miss' single-season list with 24 passing TDs while also climbing to sixth on the career charts with 32 scoring passes. Corral sits 10th all-time in career passing yards at Ole Miss with 4,335 yards.

"I said that in our meeting this morning," Kiffin said Monday. "Just because he said that early on and he's a (third-year) sophomore, we're going to have to sit down and talk with him to see where he's at. It only takes one person to influence somebody. You see it all the time. A kid thinks he's coming back and then someone gives him some information about where they think he'll go in the draft and the kid leaves."

Corral's second-quarter, 60-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Sanders, one that came on a third-and-18, was the type of throw that will turn NFL scouts' eyes.

"I said at the time it was a John Elway-type of throw," Kiffin said, referring to the Hall of Fame quarterback who directed the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl victories. "It was 70 yards, you know, and he couldn't have put it any better. To throw it that early, as he did, that's a first-round throw."

It's a loaded quarterback class expected for the 2021 draft, a group that includes Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, Alabama's Mac Jones, Florida's Kyle Trask, BYU's Zach Wilson, Texas' Sam Ehlinger, former Wake Forest signal-caller Jamie Newman, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

"As far as this draft class, I see 5-6 quarterbacks who could be (first-round picks) if they all come out," Inside The League's Neil Stratton said. "They have a lot of passers who are discussed as Day 2 (second- or third-rounders) that I could easily see slide into Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) or out of the draft. It's a very unusual next six months. We don't even know if there's going to be a combine 100 percent. If that's the case, we won't see quarterbacks slide up in the spring as we normally do.

"So I'd say 5-6 is a hard cap, with maybe fewer. That's a lot of course. I guess I'd say the quarterback class is loaded at the top but not as deep, maybe as people think." canvassed some NFL contacts Monday to get a feel for Corral's situation.

"It's hard not to get a little excited about him, especially when he's doing high-level stuff," said Eric Edholm, who covers the NFL and the NFL draft for Yahoo sports. "He's got that natural ability and he can sling the hell out of the ball."

However, there are questions.

"Is there enough tape?" said Edholm, who is based out of Chicago. "How much of this is Kiffin's magic? How much of it is having one of the best wide receivers in the country (Elijah Moore)? He's not that big, but that really isn't a stigma anymore. If he can play, he can play."

NFL and college football analyst Chris Landry said he views Corral as a third-round pick if he came out this season.

"He probably could go up to a 2," Landry said.

Several NFL contacts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted Corral is a player they haven't done deep dives on yet, especially with this being such a strong quarterback class.

"A short baseline is always scary for a quarterback," one scout said.

"I've watched him play 4-5 times this year," another NFL contact said. "He is a second- or third-round (pick). He could easily be the fourth quarterback in this class. He is there with Lance and Wilson."

One scout said he felt Corral had NFL All-Pro potential "because of his easy arm strength, running ability and play-making skill."

Still, Corral "could really use another year, especially with this quarterback draft," he said.

Landry and Edholm agreed.

"There's always a chance he could have the kind of year Trask is having," Landry said. "More experience will help him. I think that's where he could help himself. No one was talking about (former LSU quarterback) Joe Burrow at the top of the draft after his junior season. Corral has a lot of room for improvement."

"One more year could give him a real chance," Edholm said. "Secretly, most NFL scouts would love to see him come back."

The 2022 draft isn't as quarterback-heavy. North Carolina's Sam Howell, at this point, is viewed as the only first-round lock. Other quarterbacks from that class who could emerge as viable pro prospects include Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler, Arizona State's Jayden Daniels, USC's Kedon Slovis, Iowa State's Brock Purdy and Oregon's Tyler Shough.

One NFL scout admitted his franchise is likely going to be scrambling to get information about Corral, saying the Ole Miss quarterback is having the kind of season that catches eyes.

"He'd be better served though to lead his team to a championship in 2021," he added.