National Signing Day will be February 3rd next year, which means we've officially hit the halfway point on the recruiting calendar. Arkansas' class is taking shape as the Hogs received several commitments over the spring and summer, and dominant storylines for this year's class are beginning to emerge.
This Year's Big Recruiting Story
Pretty much every year, there's one recruiting story that dominates conversation. Sometimes they don't work out for Arkansas, sometimes they do, and sometimes it seems like they work when they sign with the Hogs but the player's career didn't meet expectations. But this year feels slightly, yet significantly, different.
This year, it's not just a single player grabbing the attention but an entire position group. Arkansas needs running backs this year. And not just any running back, but some really good running backs. With the departures of Jonathan Williams and most likely Alex Collins after this season, the Razorbacks are facing 2016 with no headliners at the position. They will have Kody Walker returning for his 6th-year senior season and Rawleigh Williams, who is something of an unknown as he's preparing for his first season in Fayetteville. There are some others there on the depth chart but so far have not been able to make a significant impact in SEC play.
Arkansas appears to be going on on two elite running back prospects, Devin White and Devwah Whaley, and the scary thing is, while the Razorbacks are very much in the picture for both, the Hogs are not clear leaders for either. White is a big back (258 lbs) with good speed (composite rating #77 player nationally) from Springhill, Louisiana, just a hop and a skip from the Arkansas border. Alabama and LSU are the other schools most often mentioned with White. Whaley is from Beaumont, Texas and is more of a traditional back. His finalists are Arkansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Texas. He visited Fayetteville recently and according to reports the Hogs made a great impression, and it appears he'll be back for an official visit sometime over the next few months. His composite rating is the #129 player in the country.
Adding to the intrigue, the Razorbacks chose not to offer Little Rock's Damarea Crockett, who was given a 4* rating on Rivals although his only SEC offer is Vanderbilt. He camped at Arkansas in June but since he didn't get an offer from Arkansas, he committed recently to Boise State. 247 and Scout both have Crockett rated as a 3*, but still, if the Hogs strike out on White and Whaley and miss on Crockett, it will be very easy for fans to criticize the coaching staff for letting a quality back out of their own backyard, even though we feel the need to reiterate, his only SEC offer is Vanderbilt despite his 4* status.
It feels like a high-stakes game the coaches are playing with this and how it ends up will likely have a major impact on the program over the next few years. If both White and Whaley sign elsewhere, it's possible Arkansas could look toward the juco ranks, and, it should be noted, commitment T.J. Hammonds from Little Rock is an "athlete" who could play running back in addition to receiver, so there are still options.
The In-State Star
In a more typical year, the big story would be Hope defensive end McTelvin Agim. Agim is an elite 4* prospect and the state's clear #1 player. Considered the nation's 56th best player overall, Agim is the highest-rated in-state player in a few years. So, yes, he's the type of prospect Arkansas really needs to land. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, Agim is considered a strong Arkansas lean. There hasn't been a Crystal Ball prediction for anyone other than Arkansas in over a year. He does list a final four of Arkansas, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss, but Arkansas is the clear favorite.
Who's Already Committed and Who's Left?
Much of the rest of Arkansas' class is shaping up as you'd probably expect. Arkansas continues to stockpile quality offensive linemen with the commitments of Jake Heinrich and Kellen Deisch. They will add at least a couple more.
The Razorbacks also have a strong pair of defensive tackles in Austin Capps and Briston Guidry, both composite 4* players. Adding Agim to that defensive line group would be pretty impressive.
This is certainly not the deepest in-state class ever but the Hogs have gotten everybody they've offered so far except for Agim with the commitments of Hammonds and wideout Jordan Jones, who remained committed after Alabama offered him. A few more highly-rated prospects have visited Fayetteville, such as Tyrie Cleveland and Isaiah Graham. If the Hogs could land someone like that it would be a nice boost to the class.
The Razorbacks have their quarterback in Cole Kelley. He's a raw prospect with a lot of potential and a really big arm. I think with Arkansas' current depth chart at quarterback being pretty solid with Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey, it's a great time to take a chance on a quarterback who might take a little time to develop. It could seriously pay off down the road. And if it never works out, the Hogs have quarterbacks to play with for the next few years and they'll continue to add quarterbacks in future classes, so Kelley makes a lot of sense here.
Arkansas has a pair of linebackers committed in Alexy Jean-Baptiste and De'jon Harris. They just missed on a third, Donta Evans, who committed to Ole Miss on Sunday. So I expect them to find a third linebacker somewhere. Jordan Carmouche is the highest-rated linebacker still on the board most likely.
The Hogs also have commitments from safety Deon Edwards, tight end Grayson Gunter, and fullback Hayden Johnson. Johnson is the lowest-rated commitment on Arkansas' list, but that's also partly because he's a fullback and fullbacks don't generally get high ratings. He was recently offered by Florida State, so we'll see if that has any impact on his rating.
Talkin' 'Bout Stars and Rankings
Midyear recruiting rankings are largely pointless because there are still so many different possibilities with what can happen to the classes. Arkansas is currently sitting at 40th in the country (which is admittedly not great but again, rankings at this point in the year are pretty worthless), but if the Hogs are able to land some of their top targets, such as Agim, one or both of the running backs, and possibly a top receiver or lineman, Arkansas will shoot up the rankings pretty quickly.
Arkansas will always have its strongest classes when in-state talent runs deepest, such as last year. This year is probably about average in terms of depth. It is a good sign that the coaching staff has received as many commitments as they have this early on in the year, which is a signal they're getting players they really want.
I would argue this class so far is shaping up to be a pretty standard class for Arkansas but still with potential for it to be a really high-level class for Arkansas with all those big names still out there. And if the Hogs miss on some of those guys, it could be kind of scary. It should be a pretty interesting next few months.