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Positional Breakdown Part 1: The Backfield, No Need To Worry

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Taking an in depth look at the Razorback fullbacks and running backs for 2017.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

I understand your instinct to be concerned about the Razorback backfield in 2017. I really do. Rawleigh Williams’ medical retirement on the last day of spring practice is as painful as a spring injury can get. But his health is what’s most important and the Razorbacks are moving forward without him. Even without one of the SEC’s leading rushers in 2016, Arkansas will be just fine running the ball. Throughout Bret Bielema’s career he’s successfully replaced great running backs time after time. So let’s take a look at the current list and see who is going to feature in the backfield this year.

Arkansas 2017 RBs

Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Dave Williams 6'1" 220 lbs Devwah Whaley 5'11" 216 Maleek Williams 6'0" 230
Connor McPherson 5'7" 208 TJ Hammonds 5'10" 197 Chase Hayden 5'10" 189
Justice Hobbs 5'10" 220

If you knew who the two seniors are without looking them up I’d probably call you out for lying. Connor McPherson has been on the team a couple years but only has had two carries against Alcorn State. David Williams was a late transfer from South Carolina that came one to help with depth. That SEC experience is incredibly valuable and he was the third leading rusher for the Gamecocks last year. He’s not going to be a featured back, but will be a good option to spell the top two.

Now for the top two. Devwah Whaley and TJ Hammonds are the clear top two, and there is plenty to be excited about. Bielema has constantly gushed about Whaley’s natural ability and gave us flashes of it last year. Now the two are making the jump from freshman year to sophomore year, which is usually where the biggest jump in development happens.

It’s been proven time and time again by Bret Bielema coached running backs. Just look at how much these running backs have improved from their first to second years.

Rawleigh Williams:

  • Freshman - 56 Carries, 254 YDs, 1 TD
  • Sophomore - 245 Carries, 1,360 YDs, 12 TDs

Alex Collins:

  • Freshman - 190 Carries, 1026 YDs, 4 TDs
  • Sophomore - 204 Carries, 1100 YDs, 12 TDs

Jonathan Williams:

  • Freshman - 45 Carries, 231 YDs, 0 TDs
  • Sophomore - 150 Carries, 900 YDs, 14 TDs

Montee Ball:

  • Freshman - 98 Carries, 391 YDs, 4 TDs
  • Sophomore - 163 Carries, 996 YDs, 18 TDs

Melvin Gordon

  • Freshman - 20 Carries, 98 YDs, 1 TD
  • Sophomore - 62 Carries, 621 YDs, 3 TDs

Is that enough evidence to put you at ease. Some of the best running backs that Bielema has coached made huge jumps from their first to second years and I expect Whaley, and to a lesser extent Hammonds, to do the same.

If that wasn’t enough there’s the two freshman coming in. Maleek Williams enrolled early and is a big dude. On the team’s site he’s listed at 230 lbs. He looks ready to contribute right away if need be. Chase Hayden chose the Hogs over Michigan and Tennessee, some pretty good company to be with.

At the fullback position there will be no surprises. Hayden Johnson and Kendrick Jackson are the only two listed on the roster. Johnson has the inside track to start and will be assigned with clearing running lanes for the most part.

Obviously you would want to have Williams in the backfield, he was an outstanding player and will be missed. With that said, Arkansas should still have one of the better running games in the SEC. The combination of an improving offensive line and emerging young talent at the position will make for a solid year.