Brandon Allen, QB, Sophomore- Allen is obviously young and inexperienced, but I think he has a lot of upside. He may not have quite as strong an arm as Brandon Mitchell (the man he beat out for the starting quarterback job) but he definitely has adequate velocity based on what I’ve seen. I think he can add even more velocity if he starts using his lower body better, as he is making a lot of “all arm” throws right now in my opinion. However, he showed pretty good accuracy, he is athletic and can throw on the run, and supposedly has been emerging as a leader since he was named the starter. He’s listed at 6’3”, 214 pounds and only threw 49 passes last year (completing 21) for 186 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Part of that is because he was the next guy in line after Tyler Wilson went down and had to start against Alabama as a freshman. He’s going to take his lumps as a brand new starter in the SEC this year, but I definitely think he has some long term upside.
Jonathan Williams, RB, Sophomore- I like what I saw from Williams in the spring game. He’s got some big shoes to fill since Knile Davis went so high in the draft (higher than I would have drafted him, to be sure) and I was one of the biggest Dennis Johnson fans last year (if not the biggest). However, the 6’0”, 220 pound running back showed impressive burst and athleticism for his size, he ran hard and gained some tough yards after contact. He’s powerfully built but he has enough athleticism to gain chunks of yardage and isn’t purely a power back. Not only that, but he showed some ability to make catches out of the backfield. He’s also surprisingly shifty for such a big running back which I really liked to see. I think he’s going to have a big year if Arkansas can give him the requisite blocking up front.
Nate Holmes, RB, Sophomore- Holmes is a speed demon, simple as that. He’s listed at 6’1”, 176 pounds but he has a lot of speed and is the fastest back that Arkansas has. He doubles as a punt returner and I really think that he has a chance to be a gamebreaker in that phase of the game. He’s not going to get a lot of carries I don’t think, but he could be worked in as a change of pace guy. He was held out of the first half of the spring game because of academic issues, so if he can stay eligible I think he can be a very valuable weapon for Arkansas.
Demetrius Wilson, WR, Senior- Wilson impressed me while I was watching the spring game. I don’t know how many receptions he ended up with, but he showed reliable hands and was able to make a couple of tacklers miss (particularly on curl routes) and gain extra yardage after the catch. He doesn’t look like a dynamic receiver necessarily, but I think he is going to easily surpass his 9 reception, 117 yard, 1 touchdown stat line from a year ago. He’s listed at 6’1”, 202 pounds and likely isn’t even on NFL draft radars as a possible undrafted free agent (he played some special teams for the Razorbacks last year for what it’s worth) so I am hoping he has a good year as a senior.
Javontee Herndon, WR, Senior- Herndon is one of the main guys returning for Arkansas at receiver, though that isn’t saying a whole lot. He is tied with Mekale McKay for the most receptions returning to Arkansas with 21, and is second to McKay in yards with 304 last year. He also added 3 touchdowns, the most of any receiver returning to Arkansas. The offense last year was essentially just throw the ball to Cobi Hamilton, and it showed as he totaled 90 receptions, 1,335 yards and 5 touchdowns, or 69 more receptions, 1,018 more yards and 2 more touchdowns than ANY receiver returning for 2013. That is a staggering differential, and I’m not sure Herndon or anyone on the roster is going to be able to be that “go to” guy that Hamilton was last year. Still, Herndon showed reliable hands, wiggle after the catch and seemed to be a solid route runner. He’s listed at 6’1”, 194 and he doesn’t exactly look like a burner, but he should be a reliable slot receiver for Arkansas as a senior. He’s likely in the undrafted free agent boat as well, but that can all change if he can finish his career on a strong note.
Mekale McKay, WR, Sophomore- McKay is the guy I think might have the chance to replace Hamilton’s vast production at some point. It may not be this year, but I think he’s got the most upside of any of the receivers I’m previewing. He’s listed at 6’6”, 195 pounds and definitely looks skinny when you watch him. He produced 21 receptions, 317 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman and is going to be relied upon as a significant contributor as a sophomore. He and Herndon are the two most productive receivers returning for Arkansas this year, so it will be interesting to see if his route running has improved since the spring game. He showed good hands and obviously has a large target radius, but he really needs to fill out his frame too. He still demonstrated to me that he can make a catch and take a hit, and while he isn’t a burner he has long strides so he can cover more ground than you might think. He’s got upside, so we’ll see what he can do as a sophomore.
Keon Hatcher, WR, Sophomore- Hatcher is a back-up on this team right now but he impressed me in the spring game. He’s likely not going to get much playing time this year, but he’s listed at 6’2”, 208 pounds, looked like a natural hands catcher and showed some wiggle after the catch. I think he’s going to be a significant contributor in the future, but may not be this year.
Travis Swanson, C, Senior- Swanson is the best prospect that the Razorbacks return on their offense, and he is considered by many as the top Center in the 2014 NFL Draft class. Initially when I watched him I was pretty underwhelmed, and he really seemed to struggle against Texas A&M’s Kirby Ennis, a 6’4”, 300 pound nose guard. He struggled to create push in the run game when blocking defensive linemen 1 on 1 in all the games that I watched which is contrary to what you might think given his listed size of 6’5”, 314 pounds. Still, he had a bad game against Texas A&M and that happens to everyone, it’s why you need to watch more than one game whenever possible. Swanson bounced back strong against Auburn and showed more mobility than I saw versus Texas A&M (almost to the point that I wondered if Swanson was playing through an injury that week) and looked more comfortable combo blocking and reaching linebackers at the second level. That was very encouraging to see, and it was also good to see him flash some ability to pull and make cut blocks. I think he needs work in this area, but there’s ability to work with there. He can generate push when double teaming with one of his guards, but he’s at his best when he can combo block, reach the second level, or seal off a defender without trying to push him off the ball. When he tries to generate push he tends to lean too much and it made him easy to shed for guys like Kirby Ennis of A&M and Isaac Gross of Ole Miss. There were times that Swanson really seemed to struggle with speed and quickness in the run game, and that was particularly evident against Ole Miss when Isaac Gross regularly beat him despite being listed as a 6’1”, 255 pound true freshman defensive tackle. He was much quicker than Swanson and that made it tough for him to initiate contact and keep him out of the backfield. However, despite some of his struggles in the run game I was quite impressed with him in the pass game. It’s evident that he is very smart and he makes very few mental mistakes based on what I was able to see. He isn’t easily fooled by twists, stunts, or late blitzes and seems comfortable making line calls and adjusting blocking schemes. That is good news, because he’s going to have to hold Brandon Allen’s hand a little bit in that regard since he has so little experience starting at quarterback in the SEC. He’s also regarded as a very good leader and that is very encouraging. I thought he showed a pretty solid anchor in pass protection, but I still think he can get stronger and improve it at this point in his career. He’s pretty tough to bull rush though, and a number of the issues I saw with him in the run game weren’t present in the pass game. He’s going to be a good pass protector in the NFL and I think he might be able to plug and play at the center position thanks to that skill set. He has experience snapping under center, in shotgun and the pistol thanks to Arkansas’ offense, and as I mentioned previously he has a lot of experience making line calls. I still want to see him continue to work on his hand placement, particularly in the run game, and there are times in pass pro where he tends to shuffle back in a strange way. He almost seems to be on his heels trying to gain depth after the snap, and it looks like if he was engaged he would really struggle to anchor and recover. He’s shown an ability to do that when I’ve watched him, but that shuffle looked strange to me. Regardless, he still needs work in the running game and I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the mauling run blocker you might expect given his size and weight, but he’s a good pass blocker with a high football IQ who I think has a long NFL career in front of him. At this point I have a 3rd round grade on him, so it will be interesting to see if he can boost his stock beyond that point during his senior season.
Chris Smith, DE, Senior- Smith is a defensive end that is listed at 6’3”, 266 pounds but I’d be surprised if he was really that tall and that heavy when officially measured and weighed, but that’s just my opinion of how he looks when I’m re-watching his games. He has a very impressive first step and that helps put offensive tackles on their heels immediately, and he does a good job working back inside if he gets them off balance. He flashes a solid bull rush, but after that his pass rush repertoire is fairly limited. He needs to learn to use his hands better and I worry about how long his arms are. There were a number of times that he was engulfed by larger, long armed offensive tackles. He needs to learn to slap their hands away and avoid getting locked up with them, but he also needs to learn to shed those blocks better with counter moves after he is inevitably engaged on some plays. He got washed out at times versus the run, particularly against those massive offensive tackles, but he’s no slouch in the run game either. He seems to have a good motor as well and that matches up nicely with his 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL and 4 pass break-ups from a year ago. He’s not great at getting his hands into passing lanes, but he at least flashes the ability to do it. I like him as a defensive end prospect and he’s a very solid 3rd rounder in my mind right now. That could obviously change with another strong season this year.
Trey Flowers, DE, Junior- I was relatively familiar with Smith having watched him the past couple seasons, but Flowers was a player I was completely unfamiliar with. I knew he was productive last year, but I hadn’t really watched him play. When I finally did I was blown away. I like Smith, but I love Flowers. He is a former linebacker who is listed at 6’4”, 256 pounds and he honestly reminds me of Barkevious Mingo when I watch him play. I don’t think he is that level of a freakish athlete, but he has a long, lanky frame that he can definitely stand to add weight to, he plays the run much better than you would expect given his frame and athleticism, and he’s a hell of a pass rushing prospect. He’s still learning the position, and he doesn’t have Smith’s elite get-off, but there is 1st round upside here in my opinion. Last year as a sophomore he notched 50 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 TFL, and 3 pass deflections. He packs a punch as a hitter, he’s got an impressive motor and he has been very disruptive and active in all of the games I’ve watched (albeit less disruptive against Texas A&M because he and Smith were playing contain the whole game). He sets the edge well, seems to understand how to control blockers with his long arms and then shed to make the tackle, and I’ve watched him beat an offensive lineman, then a running back, and then end up with a sack despite all of that. He’s a very impressive player and he and Smith are going to be a helluva pass rushing duo for Arkansas this year, and boy will they need it.
Deatrich Wise, DE, Sophomore- Wise is only a sophomore but he impressed me when I was watching Arkansas’ spring game. He is the back-up to Trey Flowers at defensive end but he definitely flashed some impressive athleticism when he got playing time. He is listed at 6’6”, 265 pounds and has very long arms. He just engulfs ball carriers when he wraps them up. Wise also has some burst and he flashed some bend as well. He’s still learning how to use his hands and obviously needs development, but he definitely intrigued me and he could be next in the line of promising pass rushers on Arkansas’ roster. Never thought I’d say those words a couple years ago!
Bryan Jones, DT, Senior- Jones looks like a solid defensive tackle prospect to me. I think he’s probably a day 3 guy right now, but he has more pass rushing upside than I previously believed when I started watching him. Initially I thought he was purely a run defender and wouldn’t add much to the pass rush at all, but over the next two games I saw more burst off the ball and a little more explosion than I anticipated which was encouraging to see. He’s listed at 6’2”, 310 pounds and produced 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL as a junior. He’s not on the same level as a prospect as Chris Smith or Trey Flowers in my opinion, but with a strong season I think he could boost his stock. He isn’t elite at the point of attack, but he is definitely reliable there and doesn’t get pushed around too easily versus the run. He’s not going to be a dynamic pass rusher, but he has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket with a bull rush and has flashed a pretty good swim move to beat a 1 on 1 block or split a double team. I’m looking forward to see if he takes any steps forward as a senior.
Robert Thomas, DT, Senior- Thomas didn’t get a ton of playing time as a junior but I think he’s going to surprise some people as a senior. He is projected to be a starter now and the 6’3”, 318 pound defensive tackle has some promise in my opinion. He only had 18 tackles last season, but he still managed 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL despite starting only 2 games (though he registered one of those sacks against Louisiana Monroe and had his 2.5 TFL versus the run against Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe). Still, he showed me something and he isn’t easy to push off the ball either, though he has struggled at times versus double teams. I think he has more burst and explosion off the ball than Jones does and he seems to be more violent and play with more purpose than Jones does at times. He seems feisty to me and I think he has a good motor, while there are times I think Jones is going through the motions a little bit. We’ll see if he keeps that motor running full time now that he’s a starter, but I think he’s got a chance to boost his stock and get drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.
Tevin Mitchel, CB, Junior- I really wish I had more notes on Mitchel because he’s an intriguing player but unfortunately between the camera angles and the teams Arkansas was playing in the games that I watched he wasn’t tested a whole lot. Mitchel is the boundary corner on Arkansas’ defense (or at least it seemed that way when I was watching them) meaning if the ball is on the left hash he will defend the outside receiver that lines up on the near sideline. The field corner (Will Hines) defends the outside receiver closest to the far sideline. The boundary corner is considered the more difficult position because you have less time to react before the ball gets there, which is why the more experienced Mitchel played there last season. He produced 34 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception on the season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 181 pounds and he definitely has a lot of upside, but I need to see more of him before I will be able to evaluate him fairly. He spends a lot of time dropping into zone coverage, particularly Cover-3 according to my notes, so I’d like to see him a lot more in man coverage.
Will Hines, CB, Sophomore- I didn’t get to see as much of Hines as I would have liked when I watched Arkansas, but he’s got some upside and got playing time as a true freshman last year (including 9 starts). That’s obviously rough in the SEC, but he had 24 tackles, 4 pass break-ups and an interception despite that. Supposedly he had an up and down spring, but he had an interception (albeit on a pretty poor throw) in the spring game and has the size (6’1”, 191 pounds) that some NFL teams are starting to target in corners. I haven’t been able to evaluate him specifically yet, but he didn’t look especially fluid when I did see him. However, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this year and in coming seasons.
Zach Hocker, K, Senior- Hocker caught my eye in the spring game during the bizarre kicking competition they had to try to give the defense some points. Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but Hocker has a legit NFL leg. He was 16/19 with a long of 51 as a freshman, but he hasn’t been quite as consistent since then. He was 21/27 with a long of 50 as a sophomore, and only 11/18 with a long of 46 as a junior. He’s got a strong leg though, he just needs to be more consistent. We’ll see if he can get back to his freshman year success, but he’s definitely got the leg to be a NFL kicker. He was just short of a 60 yard field goal in the spring game.