A lot of new faces in the rotation during summer drills and fall practices for the WR and TE groups. Can they live up to the standard set in 2016 or will a different approach be taken in the passing game?
Arkansas Wide Receivers 2017
|Jared Cornelius 5'11 212
|Jonathan Nance 6'2 187
|Brandon Martin 6'4 215
|Jordan Jones 6'1 183
|Maleek Barkeley 5'11 187
|River Warnock 5'11 185
|Deon Stewart 5'11 164
|Kofi Boateng 6'1 184
|Tyson Morris 6'1 199
|La’Michael Pettway 6'2 216
|Tobias Enlow 6'1 200
|Jarrod Barnes 5'11 167
|Koilan Jackson 6'3 210
|De’Vion Warren 5'10 170
Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, Dominique Reed and Cody Hollister accounted for a stunning 55% of the targets thrown last season. Drew Morgan alone was targeted 98 times in 2016 at a 25.5% rate. His production as a slot receiver and that of Keon Hatcher as a versatile inside or outside guy can not be emphasized enough and will be missed noticeably.
In 2017 that production will be shifted to Jared Cornelius and..... well who knows? On paper the Razorbacks have a group of unproven underclassman, that are highly talented, but with little to no experience. Cornelius himself has shown flashes of brilliance but struggled to stay healthy and on the field the last 2 seasons. A gruesome broken arm in 2015, a knee at the end of last season and Bielema held him out this spring after problems with a hamstring. In 2017, I just have a hard time seeing how he can be a high target guy like Morgan and Hatcher were last year but we will see.
In the unproven category there is Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance. Either of those two could emerge to become a solid second option and a go to down the field threat. Cornelius is not a burner and that is where Deon Stewart or La’Michael Pettway who both sub 4.5 guys as recruits gave an opportunity to make an impact.
This group is also lacking in experience with Jack Kraus and Austin Cantrell the most veteran looking, serving mostly as battering ram blockers in the run game. Cheyenne O’Grady's two catches and a TD in the disappointing loss to Virginia Tech added versatility to the passing game and provided a glimmer of future pass catching prowess. Cantrell is the easy answer to plug in where Jeremy Sprinkle left off in 2016, and his skill set could be a dangerous weapon. The offense will find some ways to get the ball in his hands on screens, flood/flat combo and various misdirection play actions that are staples of the Dan Enos playbook.
Arkansas Tight Ends 2017
Jack Kraus is one of those unsung heroes that many times may be missed but has played a critical role in the run game as virtually a sixth offensive lineman. A few chunk plays to him downfield would change up the tendency report for opposing defensive coordinators just enough to alleviate some early down pressure when he is on the field.
The most glaring question mark for the Tight End group would be the play of Will Gragg. He has the size and skill to be an all around TE in the mold of Hunter Henry or Jeremy Sprinkle but just has not been able to break in the rotation on a regular basis. As the 2016 team went to more 3 wide sets his snaps plummeted, however in the upcoming season Gragg’s input into the offense will be a factor.
A removal of 186 catches, 293 targets and 2498 yards from the offense of a year ago will take some time to replace. Anyone who thinks that the WR and TE’s will jump back into stride and mesh with Austin Allen in timing from day one is crazy. Sure Spring and Fall camp input rep after rep but its hard to simulate the same pressure of an October SEC game. My thought is that the offensive staff will game plan and spread the ball around early in the season while getting the top threats of Jared Cornelius, Jonathan Nance and Austin Cantrell going out of various looks. The most important factor for these two position groups is that they have a talented, veteran QB to make them look polished when the truth may not be so shiny.