– Evin Demirel
The best Arkansas teams of recent years have featured elite playmakers at defensive end, havoc wreakers like Jamaal Anderson, Jake Bequette and Trey Flowers.
It’s no secret that the top SEC teams not only hold their own on the defensive line, but have multiple defensive ends who can cause major disruption in the backfield. “When you look at the teams that have been successful in this league this year, the one thing they did have in common is they had a very, very dominant defensive line,” Chad Morris said.
To this end, the Razorbacks have a serious upgrade in talent arriving in 2019. Arkansas inked five defensive ends during the Early Signing Period. Four of them rank as a four-star player in at least one of the major recruiting services.
Morris knows these gunners will elevate the play of the older defensive linemen, as well as the offensive linemen, the same way a new star class of wide receivers will sharpen the secondary players’ game. “I felt like that’s what we had to have moving forward to create the competition and the depth,” Morris said. “Especially playing and going through this league the first time and [learning] what both sides of the line of scrimmage require to be successful.
“They may have the best defensive end group in the country,” Tom Lemming, a CBS national recruiting analyst, told the Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport. “Some might wind up at defensive tackle, but right now they’re defensive ends in high school.”
Here are the new Arkansas defensive ends:
Putnam City (Oklahoma City)
6-5, 255 pounds
4.79 in the 40-yard dash
Chose Hogs over Georgia, Michigan and instate Oklahoma State.
“He’s one of the top three players in Oklahoma. I was just real impressed with him when I saw him and then watched him on film. He’s a legit 4-star athlete that I think could be an All American in college.”Tom Lemming, CBS Sports Network
Douglasville (Ga.) Douglas County
4.75 in the 40
Chose Hogs over Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oregon and Stanford.
“Mataio Soli comes from a legend there. His daddy [Junior Soli] played here. To be able to bring a former Hog and his son into this program. A fabulous football player from Douglasville, Ga. A guy that we were been recruiting regardless if he hadn’t had the Razorback ties. This guy is absolutely dynamic. He was wanted by everybody in the country. We anticipate him to come in and be here in January and compete to play. We anticipate that. He is a very serious, straight business guy. That is what I love about him, love about his family. When you meet and talk to his dad, but you find out where everything comes from with the mom. The seriousness and the demand of excellence they all require.”Chad Morris
Joe T. Robinson (Little Rock, AR)
6-4, 230 pounds
4.57 in the 40-yard dash
Chose Hogs over Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.
“Zach Williams is another [whose] dad played here. Another legend. When you can bring guys like that back in here. Rickey was a fabulous player and now his son be able to come up here. He’s long. We had to get some length at the defensive edge to rush the passer. Zach brings that. A highly recruited guy and grew up wanting to be a Hog. That means so much to us.”Chad Morris
IMG Academy (Florida)
4.7 in the 40
Chose Hogs over Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Mansfield Legacy (Mansfield, TX)
Chose Arkansas over Florida, Houston, Colorado and Indiana.
Turning Down The Kool-Aid-Ometer
Arkansas has a lot of potential at this position, no doubt, but the program has a ways to go before it signs the consensus best defensive end group in the nation.
Alabama and Texas A&M, for instance, are loaded with defensive end signees ranked in the nation’s Top 50 for their position by 247Sports. Georgia’s up there, too.
Still, Lemming’s endorsement is valuable. He sees latent talent in the Arkansas defensive ends just needs the right coaching and training to help bring out. Such maximization would happen much sooner at Arkansas than at Alabama or Georgia, because these guys will get heavy minutes in Fayetteville earlier in their careers.
So, in this way, “best” takes into account short-term dividends: How good or accomplished the player will be in the next couple seasons — not by the time they are juniors and seniors.
Arkansas defensive ends like Mataio Soli and Zach Williams will need to put on 20-25 pounds of muscle before fall to do significant damage as freshmen. Fortunately, both are early enrollees who will arrive in Fayetteville for the spring semester as opposed to waiting for summer. So they’ll be hitting the proverbial hog trough soon enough.