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Arkansas' Returning Starters: How Much Production Is Coming Back?

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The Hogs suffer significant losses at QB, RB, TE, OL, and FS in 2016. Can the Razorbacks take another step forward behind unproven offensive players and a veteran defense?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason every magazine, newspaper, website, and superfan coworker in your office will tally up the returning starters on offense and defense. They will cite this as a positive or negative on expectations for the next season without really taking a look at what those players contributed. Are those returning a significant part of the gameplan, or will they be a seldom used run blocking fullback, demoted offensive lineman, or specialist nickel corner? That distinction makes a huge difference when looking at the returning production for any team.

Bill Connelly has found a better way to look at the amount of production that is lost by the players no longer in the program. His formula is based on the amount of returning production on offense and defense.

"My goal was to begin compiling "percentage returning" data for every level of an offense and defense -- passing yards/attempts/completions, rushing attempts/yards, receiving targets/receptions/yards, offensive line starts (because that's all we have), and tackles/TFLs/pass breakups at each level of the defense."

Bill Connelly: Football Study Hall

That formula has Arkansas pretty far down the list after losing starters at QB, RB,TE, OL and FS. The Hogs sit at #73 out of the 128 teams compiled. Football Study Hall

returning starters 2016

Takeaways: Arkansas has the lowest percentage of offense returning for 2016 in the SEC West at only 37%. On the other side of the ball the opposite is true returning 89% of the defensive production which is the highest. Will all that experience on defense translate into production? The numbers seem to think so by giving up 4.5 points less per game. In the style that Arkansas plays, that number could be more important on the defensive side of the ball where they can keep some of the higher powered offenses in check. Holding Alabama or A&M to 3-4 points less per game would be a huge improvement even if the offense shows some regression.

An improved defense by 3-4 points per game would also relieve some pressure from an inexperienced starter at QB.

Where will Arkansas lose or gain production

Quarterback: As we all know, Arkansas will have to replace all of Brandon Allen's production in that spot next season. Austin Allen, the front runner to take over, attempted only three passes in 2015. Can Austin jump right in and put up numbers somewhere around 2,000 yards and 60% completions? At this point we are not even certain who will win the job, so lots of questions at the position.

Running back: Alex Collins accounted for 61% of the rushing yards last season. That is a higher percentage than Montee Ball in 2012 at Wisconsin (55%), 2011 (58%),  and 2010. John Clay in 2009 also racked up 57% of the rushing yards under Bret Bielema. Last season Alex Collins was featured heavier than any other Bret Bielema coached back with the exception of his first season in 2006 with PJ Hill accounting for 75% of the rushing yards.

% of rushing in 2015

Wide Receiver/Tight End: This position group returns the leader in receptions and yards in Drew Morgan, and several established options including Keon Hatcher after sitting out last season. Connelly's formula does not however take into account the added roster losses of Kendrick Edwards and JoJo Robinson, not that they were often significant targets (16). It does add in the 29% that Hunter Henry was targeted and that production will be difficult to replace with a single player. Another productive year by Morgan and Hatcher, Sprinkle in some catches to the TE and the occasional big play from Cornelius and Reed and the WR/TE group will be fine. Figuring out who will be getting this group the ball is the real question.

%Passing targets 2015

Offensive Line: The formula that Bill Connelly uses leaves out the offensive line and the number of returning starters.

According to Connelly after looking at offensive line starts related to overall offensive performance there was not a whole lot of evidence that it makes a big difference.

If you had asked me beforehand, I would have ventured that the strongest correlations would be tied to the quarterback and offensive line. Instead, quarterbacks and receivers had far stronger correlations than RBs or OL, and the correlation between line experience and offensive improvement is actually negative. Bill C.

Arkansas will have three new starters in the fall, at the center, guard and tackle spots. None of the guys rolling in to those positions will have more than a few snaps experience. So the idea that offensive line starts is not much of an indicator of production actually falls in the Hogs favor. Let's hope it proves true.


tackles %

The bright spot that we are all looking at is the talent, and depth that returns on defense. The most impact will be felt with the loss of Rohan Gaines. His play and 8% of the tackles on the season went mostly under the radar. Robb Smith and Bielema have both made comments about how they needed to get better up the middle on defense. The FS is a big part of that and Josh Liddell will likely be in that role. On the outside Jared Collins and DJ Dean have a combined 34 starts between them.

The DBs return a lot of production and players like Henre Tolliver, Santos Ramirez, and Ryan Pulley will be expected to increase their role. Finding a solid third corner in Kevin Richardson III later in the season improved the pass covereage somewhat.

The linebacker combo of Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw held together a paper thin group. The 20-25% of tackles will probably look the same after next season, but Khalia Hackett and one of the incoming freshmen linebackers (Walker, LaFrance, Jean-Baptiste, or most likely Harris) must add some production at the LB spots. Fans also shouldn't forget about Derrick Graham, who redshirted last season, and Kendrick Jackson, who played at fullback last year. Randy Ramsey is also returning to the team this spring as a walk-on. We all know how an SEC schedule grinds a depth chart and several young players need to make a jump in 2016.

On the defensive line Arkansas has a wealth of experience with seniors Deatrich Wise, (led the team in TFL and sacks) JaMichael Winston, Taiwan Johnson and Jeremiah Ledbetter. This group could start the year with all SRs and throw in some talented young guys in McTelvin Agim or Briston Guidry. Lost in the mix are several who have been in the system like Bijhon Jackson, Tevin Beanum and Karl Roesler who could all have breakthrough years. In the case of Roesler I really think that there is a place for him as an edge LB in the Sam spot. He played there some late in the season and had a few busted plays in covereage, but against the run heavy teams he may be a good option.

As a whole there are a slew of questions on the depth chart, none more than at QB. It will be interesting to see how this defense starts off the season with the most depth and experience that the hogs have had since Bret Bielema landed in Fayetteville. Are the numbers accurate and Robb Smith will see a 4.5 point swing? If that is how it plays out Arkansas may become the team that everyone projected going into last season.