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Identifying Your Playmakers

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During a tough 2-10 season, Arkansas has some promise for the future of the program. New coordinator Kendal Briles should have plenty of toys to tinker with heading into the six week summer practice period to identify his go to players.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

So who are those players? Well let’s go back to last season. Arkansas was able to move the ball on several teams. Through the first five games of the season, the Razorback offense produced an average 431 yards and 28.6 points per game. Although those were stellar numbers compared to the season prior, Arkansas still struggled to win ball games and score points.

During the Chad Morris era the Razorbacks lost quite a few ball games by one possession and a few of those were to teams they normally would beat. It’s a new year on The Hill and as most new regimes to do they go and begin identifying who their playmakers are.
Offensively, we are going to do just that today and our number one idea is getting the ball to Treylon Burks. Incredible size (6’3 231), huge hands (10 1/4”), he sees the field differently than any other player in the SEC and can be a game changing type of player. It is well known that somehow, someway Burks was unable to find the endzone during the 2019 season. As we saw last season Burks is a a wide receiver first but can also be used as a runner, on reverse, wildcat packages and as a punt and kick returner. In 2019, Burks recorded 38 touches from scrimmage for 510 yards. Ladies and gents that is a first down and more on every single touch of the football. I anticipate an absolute coming out party with the freedom he will receive in the Kendal Briles offense. Many folks around the state tout Burks as the best player instate since Razorback legend Darren McFadden. If that is going to be the case we should see Burks make a tremendous leap in 2020.

Wide receivers coach, Justin Stepp has an incredible track record as an up and coming position coach with preparing receivers for the next level but also recruiting big time wide receivers. As mentioned earlier in the column, Arkansas’ offense was producing good numbers early in the 2019 season. Arkansas boasts another x-factor on the opposite side of the field at receiver that is Trey Knox. Through the first four games Knox produced excellent numbers for a true freshman with 21 receptions for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was an early enrollee and was able to make way into the starting lineup for the season opener. Similar to Burks, Knox will play a vital role in the Razorback offense with his big, tall frame Franks could have a field day with fade routes and jump balls. Boy, I’m gettin a nervous twitch just thinking about it.

Moving along. Rakeem Boyd was fantastic in his junior campaign and returned for his senior season after mulling his options for the NFL Draft. Boyd had some great performances, long touchdown runs that displayed his speed and rushed for 1100 yards in a incompetent offensive scheme. If the three players above can put the numbers up that they did in 2019 then surely they can double it for 2020. Boyd scores eight touchdowns on the season and rushed for over 1,000 plus yards but how much more could number five put up if he was used the correct way? These days you do not need an every down back like 15 years ago but when you record eight carries for only 185 yards in a loss something just does not add up. I must say.... “RuN dA bAwL” -Funny Mayne.

The focal point of the offense is the quarterback, obviously. The play under center the past three seasons has been way over par compared to what fans grew accustomed to for over half a decade. Redshirt sophomore John Stephen Jones, redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson and redshirt senior walk-on Jack Lindsey return to the carousel. This offseason Arkansas added graduate transfers Feleipe Franks and true freshman Malik Hornsby go compete for playing time. I would be completely shocked if anyone but Franks trots out as the starter and here is why... growth.
The amount of maturation and development under Dan Mullen is there and you are blind if you do not see it. His ability to read through progressions, scramble to extend plays in the pocket and run downhill with reckless abandon will bode well for the Razorback offense in 2020. They *NEED* more toughness and Franks is very capable of leading them in all categories. He improved during his time as a signal caller under Mullen. The development that occurred from 2018-2019 is night and day. During the 2018 season prior to the game against South Carolina, Franks completed only 54.9% of his passes for 1490 yards, 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. A switch flipped during the week leading up to the South Carolina contest where he would go 15 for 21 with 161 yards and a touchdown. Not eye popping numbers but he was steady and did not turn the ball over. Limiting turnovers would carry on the remainder of the season as Franks would not throw another interception until Week Zero in 2019.

The closing of the 2018 season really carried over into 2019 as Franks played efficiently as a field manager and winning games. He would help lead Kentucky to a 3-0 start, passed nearly 700 yards and five touchdowns. Franks would be have a lower leg injury during the second half of the Kentucky game and missed the remainder of 2019 but he was on pace to have a career season in The Swamp. From the 2018 South Carolina game through the Kentucky game in 2019 Franks would go 117-168 (69.8%) for 1560 yards and 13 touchdowns versus only three interceptions. Mullen obviously worked his quarterback whispering waves with Franks.

Now in 2020, without Briles yet to see Franks throw a football in live action, one would presume he will be the starting quarterback. You do not go out and bring a proven SEC quarterback if you position group is already promising. Franks had a tremendous group of receivers and running backs around him during his time at Florida. Fast forward to 2020 and living in the Ozarks, Franks could be in position to lead Arkansas to one of those old fashioned red tent revival kind of seasons.

Fingers crossed. Woo pig.

Other players to watch:

WR Darin Turner

WR Shamar Nash

TE Hudson Henry

RB A’Monte Spivey

RB Trelon Smith

TE Blayne Toll

WR Kolian Jackson