Arguably the most anticipated season of Razorback football in recent memory is just 33 days away. The Hogs will open their season with a contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats on September 3. While the schedule is daunting, the Hogs return a nucleus of experienced veterans and all three coordinators. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this year’s team is the depth at several key positions. This team possesses depth that Razorback fans have long forgotten. We know who Sam Pittman and his staff will call on in high-pressure situations. KJ Jefferson, Bumper Pool, Jalen Catalon, and others with extensive experience are the betting favorites to lead this team. But here are some options on both sides of the ball that can explode in a big way this season.
The return of KJ Jefferson is reason enough to be excited about this team’s offense. Additionally, the Hogs will start the season with a talented backfield and an experienced offensive line. But the offense will require more critical contributors to keep SEC defenses off balance. The most significant need for KJ Jefferson this season will be a few reliable playmakers who can make a spark. Jadon Haselwood, Ketron Jackson Jr., and Rocket Sanders will get several opportunities to make plays in the open field, but who else can the Hogs call on?
Malik is probably the most popular answer and somewhat of a cop-out. However, Malik’s experience is minimal. We know his speed is consistent with the best that the SEC offers, and he showcased it by getting out of the pocket last season. But can he translate his athleticism to the wide receiver position? We will know quickly, as the coaching staff has made it clear that Malik will have plenty of opportunities to work into the regular rotation of receivers. The SEC is in trouble if he gets comfortable as a route runner early in the season.
Crawford will not be making plays in the open field this season. However, the junior is ready to make his stamp on the Razorback offensive line. The Charolette transfer was a touted recruit before arriving in Fayetteville. Last season, Crawford appeared in every game but saw mostly special teams action. Regardless of his role last season, he may find himself as a starter against Cincinnati. Cody Kennedy’s offensive line is experienced, deep, and ready to clear the trenches in 2022.
We saw flashes of Green’s playmaking ability last season before Rocket Sanders and Dominique Johnson assumed most of the carries. This season, the absence of Treylon Burks will force Kendall Briles to reach into his hat, which could result in Rocket Sanders split out wide. Due to personnel switch-ups, I think AJ Green will get the chance to establish himself as a dynamic playmaker in his second season as a Razorback.
After many years as TEU, the Hogs now find themselves in unfamiliar waters. Arkansas’ roster features plenty of potential standouts at tight end, but no one stands as the clear favorite in the preseason. However, after battling injuries and adjusting to the position change, Trey Knox is a viable option to give Arkansas a reliable target. Knox can create separation from the tight end or receiver position this year. Additionally, he will likely play a significant leadership role amongst offensive skill players.
Barry Odom’s return to coach the defense is equally as crucial as Briles’ decision to stay another year to coach the offense. In year three, the Razorback defense is poised to give opposing offenses fits. A sum of young talent led by a few seasoned veterans makes this year’s defense an exciting group. Bumper Pool and Jalen Catalon will serve as the anchors, but here are a few names to keep an eye on.
Chris Paul Jr.
The Arkansas linebacker core is perhaps the thinnest defensive group. Bumper Pool will lead the way in his pursuit to break the career tackles record at Arkansas. Additionally, the Hogs brought in Alabama transfer Drew Sanders to help fill the void that Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry left behind. But, still, the Hogs will need consistent play from more than just two linebackers this season. Enter Chris Paul Jr. The redshirt freshman appeared in four games last season, recording a few stats. However, 2022 will provide plenty of opportunities for Paul to shine, and I believe the young linebacker will be ready.
Gerald is a name you’ve heard plenty of times before. However, a season-ending injury in last season’s opener caused Gerald to explore transferring and even retirement from football. But the senior defensive end is locked in for one more year as a Razorback. After a few losses to the defensive line, including Tre Williams to the NFL Draft, the Hogs will need some production on the line. A healthy Gerald can help the Razorback defense in multiple ways this season.
After seeing limited action as an LSU Tiger, the Texarkana native is on The Hill and ready to make an impact this season. The former 4-star recruit brings the size and physicality that Barry Odom will need on the defensive line this season.
It is worth noting the potential of this year’s defensive secondary. It would be easy to doubt the secondary after a few critical transfers to LSU. However, the return of Jalan Catalon mixed in with a handful of experienced Hogs and transfers sets the table for an exciting year for this group. The defensive secondary may very well be the most vital asset to the Razorback defense this season.