Photo courtesy of Arkansas athletics
College football-talking seasoning is upon us as SEC Media Days wrapped up last week. With less than five weeks before kickoff, Arkansas looks to find solutions.
A variety of inquiries were tossed at head coach Sam Pittman. They ranged from his Hot Springs lake house to welcoming Texas fans. The more critical demands were brought to light of course.
That includes the wide receiver position. Treylon Burks has gone onto the NFL. For those looking deeper at the position for the Razorbacks, the SEC experience is visibly lacking. That isn’t the end all, be all, though.
Down to Statistics
When examining the Arkansas receivers room, the first thing that sticks out is who isn’t there. Replacing Burks’ production won’t be easy. He finished last season with 1,104 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns.
Burks accounted for 40% of Arkansas’ receiving yardage in 2021. That is the highest individual percentage since Marcus Monk in 2006 (46%). Historically, however, Arkansas’ best teams had even distribution at wide receiver.
In addition to Burks, Tyson Morris and Devion Warren are gone. Overall, 69% of last season’s receiving yards and 60% of last season’s receptions are no longer in Fayetteville.
For the sake of having more veterans in the room, the transfer portal provided aid. Jadon Haselwood, a former five-star prospect, hopped over from Oklahoma. Adding more experience, Matt Landers came over from Toledo after beginning his collegiate career at Georgia.
Those with game time aren’t alone when it comes to plugging holes statistically. Three of Arkansas’ top seven incoming freshmen, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, are wide receivers.
When it came to questions surrounding the position during Media Days, it was obvious. Replacing Burks was the unspoken focal point for most. Each time, Coach Pittman took that opportunity to praise his retuning players at the position.
“I don’t know that you replace a guy one-for-one,” the third-year head coach said. “I don’t think you can. So we’re going to have to do it by committee.”
That committee has his confidence. Bryce Stephens and Warren Thompson were among those mentioned. Thompson, a big receiver at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, has the potential to be one of the best in the SEC if it all comes together.
Tight end Trey Knox should also be a key piece to the pass-catching puzzle. The loss of senior Blake Kern at the spot has really flown under the radar. Losing a capable pass catcher who excelled as a block leaves a huge void.
Kern’s 183 receiving yards made up 87.5% of the receiving production from tight ends. That’s even higher when one considers the fact that Knox was listed as a receiver for much of last year. Like Burks, Kern will need to be placed by committee. Knox will certainly be part of that.
Noise from Veteran Wideouts
Entering his second season, Ketron Jackson received plenty of buzz leading up to SEC Media Days. His lone holdback in 2021 may have been simply learning the offense and the terminology.
Arkansas is one of just eight Power 5 schools returning both coordinators for a third year. Progress can occur faster with less to adjust to. Jackson, the former four-star Rockwall product, only managed five receptions last year.
While his numbers were pedestrian, his ability is anything but. The Razorbacks will rely on Jackson to step up in 2022.
“(Jackson) is going to have his best year,” Pittman said. “(He’s) ready to go.”
When losing so much positional production, it’s almost necessary to bring in proven commodities. The hype around the two transfers hasn’t been manufactured. Haselwood and Landers both have seemingly proven their value — even before fall camp.
Those two were among the first mentioned by Pittman — and confidently — when talking about the position.
For Arkansas, it’s Haselwood who comes with the highest expectations. A former five-star prospect, Haselwood will likely bring his lethal combination of hands and route running to the slot.
Outside, Landers, most notably, brings scary athleticism. While some may scoff at the competition level in the MAC, Landers began his career at Georgia and has passed the eye test everywhere he has played.
Malik Hornsby Must Play
Hornsby has been the man of mystery this spring and summer. After entering the transfer portal, Hornsby ultimately reversed course and has returned to Fayetteville. Originally a quarterback, having a full offseason at receiver should prove invaluable.
“He’s fast,” Pittman noted of Hornsby. “He has natural ball skills and we need to get him on the field.”
The new association with Hornsby is his ball skills. There was once a time when his ability to catch the ball was questioned, but that’s no longer the case. Another concern that no longer exists with Hornsby is his weight.
Once 170 pounds, Hornsby has bulked to 190 pounds to go with a 6-3 frame. That could prove huge as Hornsby takes hits and works the middle of the field.
The addition of quarterback Cade Fortin has also been to Hornsby’s benefit. Not working with the starters, Hornsby is getting to work with a signal caller with a lot of experience at the FBS level. For Hornsby, that can only be a good thing.
As far as the incoming 2022 class, there is no shortage of talent out wide. The only unknown is how soon they’ll contribute.
Quincey McAdoo was the only early enrollee of the group. Thus far, the four-star hasn’t cracked the first-team in practice. If he doesn’t made strides at receiver in the fall, he will likely see time on special teams.
The other two freshmen are Fayetteville native Isaiah Sategna and the Peach State’s Sam Mbake. Both were 247Sports Composite four-stars.
Arriving in May, there isn’t much on the pair at this stage. Sategna will be arguably one of the fastest receivers if not the fastest for the Razorbacks. He could be used as a deep threat or in the return game early on.
Mbake has the biggest frame of the three. As another outside receiver, it gives him a better shot to play.
Haselwood is everything but set in stone as a starter — most likely as a slot receiver. Mbake will be in the same boat as the others. He’ll try to work himself in the lineup for the Week 1 showdown with reigning American Athletic Conference champion Cincinnati.
Going into the Fall
When it comes to the effectiveness of the passing game, the efforts will go beyond just the receiving corps. Coming off a breakout year, quarterback KJ Jefferson will need to get in sync with his new corps of pass catchers.
“KJ is going to have to get comfortable with where these guys are gonna be,” Pittman noted at Media Days.
It reflects the change in speed and route running ability that Arkansas is bringing in with its freshmen and transfers. Burks leaves a void, but there is enough talent and more importantly, depth, at the position.
And if the freshmen can play a role in 2022, take it as a good sign.