Photo courtesy of Oklahoma athletics
The first transfer portal addition for Arkansas football following 2021’s conclusion was none other than Jadon Haselwood. Standing at a sturdy 6-foot-2 and about 205 pounds, the Ellenwood, Ga. native has gained a lot of attention.
Playing for one of Georgia’s best high school programs in Cedar Grove certainly played a major role. He was a consensus top-five player and No. 1 wide receiver in the 2019 class. He took his talents to Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense.
Haselwood was given a shot to play as a freshman. During that 2019 season, he tallied 19 catches for 272 yards and one touchdown. He also had three rushing attempts that totaled 14 yards.
His 2020 campaign was something of a comeback story. An accident at home resulted in a torn ACL in April. Haselwood fought doubts about moving forward with his desire to return to the game of football.
Haselwood accomplished that feat in seven months. He only managed four receptions for 65 yards with the season ending right at his return.
This past season, Haselwood set a new career-high in every receiving category, except for yards per catch. With 39 catches and 399 yards, he managed to lead a talented Sooners wide receiver room in total catches. He finished third in receiving yards. He added six touchdowns despite being narrowly removed from a devastating injury.
Many college football fans took notice, but Haselwood had to adjust to a change at quarterback as the Sooners transitioned from Spencer Rattler to Caleb Williams. Having to routinely readjust to a new signal caller isn’t easy for any pass catcher.
What does Haselwood Bring to the Table?
With solid size, Haselwood also provides solid speed and acceleration. He put a catch radius on display that was bigger than his frame. It was also great for his quarterback’s confidence.
Balls were thrown from his ankles to above his head and he would always find a way to come down with them. Combined with his ability to go get the football, he also has a knack for absorbing contact. Even after he returned from his injury, he still had a great feel for contact.
Three of his four catches in 2020 were over multiple opposing players. His progression upon returning from injury was not just good for the sake of his recovery, but for his confidence as well.
The great part of Haselwood’s game doesn’t stop with his pass-catching ability. Time and time again, he would show off his excellent vision with the ball in his hands. While he didn’t have many opportunities to prove it out of the backfield, he was dynamite after the catch.
A majority of Haselwood’s catches – especially as a freshman – came on crossing routes. Those crossing routes could also turn into curls between the numbers. Those curl routes allowed him to show off how shifty he was and his ability to create space.
As a ball carrier, he has a stutter-step move that consistently makes defenders miss. His head and shoulders would be seemingly locked into place, making the move look stiff, but his footwork made it happen. His solid footwork also brings a step-back move to the table that he used to create chunk plays.
If there is a noticeable weakness in Haselwood’s game, it was his lackluster ability to get off the press. It never really affected his game as Oklahoma was able to play to his strengths. Being shifted to an outside receiver primarily for the 2021 season, he became more involved in screens and out routes.
Once he became more comfortable on the outside, the whole field was unlocked. His entire repertoire was on display when the Sooners played host to Nebraska on Sept. 18. Arguably one of his best games of the season, Haselwood caught slants, outs, curls, and a screen on the way to 61 receiving yards and a 23-16 win.
To come off a complete ACL tear in just over half a year and show the ability he has is nothing short of incredible. Overall, he has become a player that can be lined up in the slot, but provides better use as an outside receiver. Shifting to an outside guy allowed Haselwood to show that he is a complete receiver.
Haselwood has shown versatility, excellent hands and the ability to run after the catch. He has the potential to be a very special player in Fayetteville.
How can Haselwood be used in Briles’ Offense?
It is certainly no secret that Haselwood will be asked to contribute right away in coordinator Kendall Briles’ offense. Arkansas is losing three starting wideouts in Tyson Morris, Devion Warren, and of course Treylon Burks. Haselwood will step in as one of the most experienced guys in the room.
While there won’t be another Burks to bless the Razorbacks in a generation, Haselwood has some similar traits. He also has some unique skills that Briles will be certain to utilize.
One similarity is how they may be used in the screen game. Lining up on the outside, Burks was a guy who quarterback K.J Jefferson just had to get the ball to. After that is when the speed and shiftiness took over.
This past season for Haselwood proved that he could be a go-to guy for the screen game to work. The other main similarity is his ability to make catches in traffic. While Burks was more of a 50/50 ball nightmare, Haselwood gets his props from taking the hits and always coming down with the catch.
Coming in as a polished route runner is one of Haselwood’s greatest qualities. Briles’ offense is relatively simple when it comes to the route tree. His versatility will give the offense a chance to open up the playbook a little more.
The one route that was never really designated for him in Norman was the go route. Verts should be something incorporated into his game during spring practice. With no immediate red-zone threat in the receiver room on paper, Haselwood is a player who could fill that role.
Most of the time, “red-zone threat” means a massive target. While Haselwood isn’t a small wideout, he is the type of threat that will beat the defense with his technical prowess. This was put on display in October against TCU when he hauled in three touchdowns — all in the red zone.
The most notable catch was a short out route where Caleb Williams tossed a back-shoulder throw with a player draped all over Haselwood.
What strides Haselwood makes during his first season at Arkansas will be interesting to see. He brings in a winning mentality and maturity to the group of wide receivers and could emerge as one of the group’s leaders.
With two years of eligibility remaining, SEC defenses should already be on notice. With the spring and summer to bulk up and find his role in the offense, Haselwood could be the biggest weapon for the Razorbacks in the passing game by the time that 2022 rolls around.