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OTH Arkansas: Unbiased Position Grades After 5 Games

Arkansas head coach: Sam Pittman
Photo: Walt Beazley, Arkansas Razorbacks

Offense – B

Quarterback – A+

Photo: WholeHogSports.com

Franks had played in 28 career SEC games prior to coming to Arkansas as a grad transfer. In fact, he was a fantastic QB at Florida, leading them to multiple winning seasons before a devastating injury allowed Kyle Trask to take over the starting job.

Franks hasn’t missed a beat at Arkansas, throwing for 11 TDs and only 3 INTs – 2 of which came in the season opener against #4 Georgia – through five games. He’s racked up an impressive 1213 passing yards to go along with his stellar decision making. Franks has enough size and athleticism to run for first downs when needed as well, as was on full display in the game against Texas A&M where he accounted for 91 rush yards to go along with his 239 pass yards.

After eight starting quarterbacks in two seasons, Franks’ stabilizing presence has been exactly what Pittman and company needed to revive this Arkansas team offensively. He’s not breaking records or winning national awards, but he’s taking care of the ball and finding his playmakers in space, something Arkansas fans haven’t been used to in recent years.

Wide Receivers – A-

Photo: Brett Rojo, USA TODAY Sports

If this unit was broken down into individual receivers, Treylon Burks would have an A+ while everyone else would fall somewhere below a B+. Burks has been sensational, as was expected from the standout sophomore. Through only four games, Burks has accounted for 26 receptions, 366 rec yards, and 4 rec TDs, along with 50 rushing yards on eight attempts.

Unfortunately, he’s also attempted two passes, one of which was intercepted by Georgia. But we’re focusing on his play as a receiver, which has been elite to say the least.

The main receivers behind Burks have been Mike Woods, a reliable presence in any situation, and De’Vion Warren, a self-proven big play threat from anywhere on the field. The two have combined for 473 receiving yards on 30 total catches. Warren has three TDs while Woods has accounted for one so far. These two have been relatively up and down in their production from game to game, but together have been a serviceable receiving core complementing Burks in Arkansas’s pass attack.

The biggest disappointment thus far has come from Trey Knox. No word of injury or discipline has been mentioned, leading us to believe that Knox was straight up passed on the depth chart by Warren. The 6’5 target has all the physical tools to be great, and we’re still holding out for his breakout performance, but it hasn’t come so far with only 4 rec and 33 yards through five games.

Running Backs – B-

Photo: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images

Rakeem Boyd was expected to do big things at Arkansas this year, and so far, he has done quite the opposite. He missed one game with injury but has only racked up 188 rush yards through his other four games, 100 of which came against Texas A&M, averaging only 3.7 yards a touch on the season. That’s a far cry from his 6.0- and 6.2-yard averages in his first two seasons with Arkansas. However, those 100 yards against A&M may have been the spark Boyd needed to get his season on the right track en route to his 2nd consecutive 1000-yard season.

The true surprise for Arkansas has come from sophomore transfer, Trelon Smith. Smith is much more of an elusive, pass catching back compared to Boyd’s north and south style. He’s easily the teams leading rusher at 251 yards on 61 attempts, totaling 4.1 yards per carry. He’s also caught 15 passes (3rd most behind Burks and Woods) for 114 yards and his lone touchdown. The dual threat RB has been a pleasant surprise and should be a staple in the game plan moving forward.

Tight Ends – B+

Photo: 247Sports

All eyes were on redshirt freshman and legacy standout, Hudson Henry. The third and final Henry brother carried a lot of pressure as soon as he stepped on the Arkansas campus, and so far, he hasn’t disappointed. He’s not been quite as good as his older brother Hunter, but few ever have been, and Hudson still has a lot of time to progress. Through five games he has 12 rec, 75 yds, and one massive TD in Arkansas’s first SEC win in over two seasons.

One of the bigger questions coming into the season was: who comes after Hudson on the depth chart? That answer has quickly become clear: Blake Kern. The 6’6 senior has played mainly special teams and goal line situations during his first few seasons as a Hog, but this season he’s accumulated 8 catches for 92 yards, totaling a whopping 11.5 yards per catch. He’s also been fantastic in run blocking situations, providing a much bigger body than Hudson does with his finesse, almost WR like style of play.

Offensive Line – C

The running back group only received a B- despite having two deadly SEC weapons at their disposal. A big part of that comes from the blocking they receive. They haven’t been downright atrocious, but believe you me, our running game could be much more than it is if they were running behind the offensive line protecting Kellen Mond at Texas A&M. The big boys up front have done a decent job at adjusting on the fly, but it’s apparent this group may have been affected by the lack of training camp this spring. This O-Line has a lot of moving pieces and even some youth.

Along with the wasting of potential in our RB room, the offensive line has allowed close to double the sacks that the D-Line has accounted for: 15 sacks allowed compared to 9 defensive sacks. That averages to about three sacks a game, which could be worse, but it’s also aided by the fact that Franks has shown the ability to get out of a collapsing pocket. At times he is hesitant, but when he escapes a sack the ball is almost always thrown out of bounds, thrown to a RB in the flat, or tucked under Franks’ arm as he slides forward for 2-3 yards. It’s not ideal for a QB to always be on the run.

This line is still much improved from the past few seasons. This doesn’t make them great, but it’s encouraging for Arkansas fans to see a step forward.

Defense – A

Photo: 247Sports

Defensive Line – C+

This is another category that would provide a variety of grades should it be handed out to individual players. Jonathan Marshall for example, has the second most QB pressures amongst all SEC defenders at 22. Unfortunately for Arkansas, he accounts for the bulk of the D-Line stats.

As stated in the O-Line analysis, the defense has only sacked opposing QBs nine times this season. The plus on their C+ grade comes in consideration of the scheme they typically play. Against pass-first offenses in both Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the defense consistently only used a three-man rush. Even with more help dedicated to the secondary, the three bulls up front put pressure on Costello and Corral multiple times through the course of those two games.

However, when using a four man front against #8 Texas A&M, Kellen Mond looked like he could’ve completed most of his passes while relaxing in a recliner. There seemed to be no pressure on 90% of the defensive stats (yes, I made this number up based on the eye test). This poor output with more lineman than they’re used to playing with prevents them from rising to a B grade.

Linebackers – A

Photo: Nick Wenger, Rivals

The linebacker group has now seen two different players put up 19 tackles in two different games, Bumper Pool (20) and Grant Morgan (19). These two upperclassmen are the heart and voice of the Arkansas defense and have been pivotal in every game this season. The only game that they’ve struggled in outside of the opener against Georgia, was against the efficient offensive attack of Texas A&M.

Grant Morgan solidified his name amongst Razorback greats when he caught a one-handed interception that he then proceeded to return for a touchdown late in the game against Ole Miss. The game was within one score at the time, meaning Morgan’s pick-six all but sealed the Razorbacks’ second win of a season.

This unit has somewhat limited depth, but the two starters have been everything this resurgent defense has needed so far this season, earning them the highest defensive grade.

Corner Backs – A-

Photo: Matt Bush, USA TODAY Sports

One of the best stories in college football this season comes from the Razorbacks’ cornerback group. Hudson Clark, the walk-on freshman, has worked his way into a starting position for the Hogs. This came in large part due to his monstrous performance against the Rebels of Ole Miss, a game in which he recorded three interceptions, one of which came right at the end of the game to seal the Arkansas victory.

Starting nickelback, Greg Brooks Jr., has been one of the most versatile players on the defense, playing any role Barry Odom needs him to play. The team as a whole is amongst the national leaders in turnovers forced, in large part due to this ball-hawking unit. Fellow starter Montaric Brown has also been a great addition to the secondary, along with back-ups LaDarrius Bishop and Khari Johnson.

The game against Texas A&M is the only thing keeping this unit from being graded higher. Kellen Mond had all day to make passes, but it felt like every receiver he hit had five yards of space after the catch. Rarely was a catch closely defended, and only once did a defender get hands on a pass. Even then it was Grant Morgan who almost came away with the pick, not a member of the Arkansas secondary.

A major blow to this group also comes from players no longer with the team this season. Jarques McClellion opted out of the season shortly after losing his starting spot to Jerry Jacobs, only for Jacobs to pull a similar move when Clark threatened his starting position.

Safeties – A

Perhaps the most impactful player on the defense resides in this section: Jalen Catalon. Catalon is amongst the team (and league) leaders in total tackles with 46, trailing only the stellar LB duo mentioned above. He assisted in a TFL and has a huge pick six on the season, along with a fumble recovery in the same game. The young bull is having the best start to a season anyone could ask for, at least up until he was ejected for incidental helmet-to-helmet contact against Texas A&M.

Outside of the star RS Freshman, the safety core as a whole has been near impenetrable. Joe Foucha had two INTs against Mississippi State, propelling the Hogs to their first SEC win in over two years. He is second in this group with 24 tackles, followed by Simeon Blair at 16. Throw in freshman Myles Mason and nickelback Brooks Jr. and you have one of the deepest groups anywhere on the Razorback roster. This group has been phenomenal thus far.

Special Teams – C-

What keeps this group from a failing grade? Made PATs and no botched catches on punt/kick returns. Everything else has been iffy to say the least. The punt unit had three illegal formation penalties IN THE SAME GAME. I’m not sure how this mistake isn’t fixed after the first penalty, much less a second penalty. It’s not been a smooth ride for the first solely Special Teams coach in Arkansas history, Scott Fountain.

Of course, not all the blame can be placed on his shoulders, but I haven’t seen much to suggest he’s helping the problem. The Hogs allowed a huge fake punt conversion on 4th and Forever against an Ole Miss offense that had already gone 0/2 on 4th down conversions in the same game. It doesn’t take a football genius to at least be prepared for that stunt from never-kick-Kiffin.

Then, grad transfer kicker AJ Reed completely shanked two FG attempts against Texas A&M, preventing the Hogs from pulling within single digits late. This is one of those things that can’t be blamed on the coach, but it still affects the team in a vastly negative way.

Thankfully, Reed is now 5/7 on FGAs and has only missed one of his 13 extra point attempts, making for a decent percentage to this point. Not to mention both punters with at least 10 punts are averaging over 44 yards per punt. The battle of field position is something the Razorbacks haven’t won in several years, so this is a welcome improvement.

Overall Grade – A

Photo: BleacherReport

No one expected the Hogs to be where they are at this point in the season. Some would have given the team a high probability of winning no games than of winning four games. Now the Razorbacks have a legit shot at a 5-5 season if they continue to take care of business. Nearly every single aspect of the game has improved, and it all starts with the man behind the season: Sam Pittman.

Pittman and his crew have the offense and defense playing at levels even Arkansas fans didn’t think possible coming this soon off the heels of back-to-back 2-win seasons. It’s a turnaround for the ages, and the sports world is taking notice.

For more on all your favorite teams, visit OvertimeHeroics.net and follow us on Twitter!

For more Arkansas coverage, follow me on Twitter @OTHArkansas and @Panamaniac03

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