2024 Arkansas LB Preview: Hard-Earned Lesson Means Former 5-Star Slots Lower

Brad Spence, Xavian Sorey Jr., Arkansas football
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Georgia Athletics

We are less than a month away from the return of Arkansas football – sort of.

The actual season is still 6.5 months away – the season opener against UAPB is set for Aug. 31 – but the Razorbacks will start spring ball on March 7.

With that in mind, Best of Arkansas Sports figured it was a good time to preview each of their position groups before they hit the practice field.

After taking a closer look at the quarterbacks, we’ll switch to the other side of the ball and examine arguably the most interesting position on defense, if not the entire team: linebacker…

Top Storyline: Linebacker Depth

After several transfer portal defections, who will make up Arkansas’ two-deep at linebacker?

No position on the Arkansas football roster was hit harder by the transfer portal than linebacker. When the dust settled, four of the five linebackers listed on the Razorbacks’ two-deep were gone.

Sam Pittman knew he’d lose Antonio Grier because he was out of eligibility, but Chris Paul Jr., Jaheim Thomas and Jordan Crook each chose to move on and landed at other Power Four schools – Ole Miss, Wisconsin and Arizona State, respectively. Reserve linebacker Mani Powell also left and transferred to UNLV.

That group accounted for 92.9% of Arkansas’ total linebacker snaps in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. They also combined for 233 tackles last year, with Thomas (90) and Paul (74) finishing as the team’s two leading tacklers.

Needless to say, there is a lot of playing time up for grabs this spring.

As the only returning player from the two-deep, sophomore Brad Spence – who played 94 snaps and had 16 tackles as a true freshman – is probably the best bet to be a starter in 2024. Everyone else is a bit of a mystery.

Alex Sanford (4) and Carson Dean (7) got limited defensive reps as true freshmen, as did walk-on Brooks Both (7), so there should be a good chance for a newcomer or two to get into the starting mix.

Those newcomers include one scholarship transfer – Xavian Sorey Jr. from Georgia – and a trio of touted freshmen in Justin Logan, Bradley Shaw and Wyatt Simmons, as well as a walk-on transfer in Jake Yurachek from Wake Forest.

Whether or not Arkansas goes after another experienced option at linebacker in the transfer portal after spring ball likely depends on how those new players look, as all but Simmons are already enrolled and will go through spring drills.

Returning Player to Watch in Spring Ball

Alex Sanford

During spring ball last year, the Arkansas football coaches were really high on Carson Dean and seemed to believe he’d contribute as a true freshman. When fall camp rolled around, though, he fell by the wayside and Alex Sanford – a summer enrollee – emerged as a candidate for immediate playing time.

Even though he played only four defensive snaps, Sanford was a key special teams player. He was on the field for 135 snaps, which was the seventh-most on the team last year. Those came on four different units – kickoff return (55), kickoff coverage (39), punt return (32) and punt coverage (9).

Burning his redshirt for special teams purposes seems to indicate the Razorbacks have plans for him on defense in 2024. The key will be him developing like they hope and taking that next step.

It’d be easy to assume that the natural progression would be for him to contribute heavily on defense, but there is a precedent for that not happening. Mani Powell got significant special teams reps as a freshman in 2022, but had virtually the same role this past season before hitting the transfer portal.

On the flip side, defensive lineman Nico Davillier burned his redshirt as a freshman in 2022 by primarily playing special teams and then contributed 149 defensive snaps as part of the defensive end rotation last season.

That makes Sanford someone to watch this spring, as he’s critical to the Razorbacks’ linebacker depth in 2024.

Arkansas Football Newcomers

Xavian Sorey Jr., Justin Logan, Bradley Shaw, Wyatt Simmons, Jake Yurachek*

One of the biggest transfer portal acquisitions for Arkansas football this offseason was Xavian Sorey Jr. from Georgia. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in 2021 and signed with the Bulldogs over Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and several other big-time programs.

However, over the last three years, he’s been unable to earn a consistent role on Georgia’s defense. Sorey got his most playing time this past season, playing 188 defensive snaps and starting two games – including the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. That came after playing 90 snaps in 2022 and 26 snaps in 2021.

The Razorbacks are likely hoping he’ll live up to his high school ranking, similar to what happened the last time they landed a lightly used linebacker from an SEC powerhouse via the transfer portal.

Drew Sanders had played 336 defensive snaps in two seasons at Alabama when he transferred to Arkansas – 32 more than Sorey played in three years at Georgia – and evolved into an All-American who racked up 9.5 sacks and 103 snaps, helping him get selected in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Considering he’s the only linebacker the Razorbacks landed out of the transfer portal, it seems as though they’re putting all of their eggs in that basket.

However, if Sorey doesn’t turn out to have a Sanders-like effect, Arkansas does have a trio of heralded linebackers coming in via traditional high school recruiting. Two of them, Bradley Shaw and Wyatt Simmons, won’t arrive on campus until this summer. That leaves only Justin Logan as the only true freshman who will go through spring ball.

Logan was once a four-star prospect, but dropped to a three-star rating late in the process. The two summer enrollees were more heavily recruited, with Shaw being the most heralded linebacker in the group. He was a top-200 prospect who was also pursued by Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and several other big-time schools. Simmons is an in-state prospect and son of DII national champion Harding University head coach Paul Simmons. He turned down the likes of Clemson and Auburn to stay home.

By going through spring drills, though, Logan will have the best opportunity to assert himself as a potential contributor early on.

The Razorbacks also added Jake Yurachek, the son of athletics director Hunter Yurachek, as a walk-on transfer from Wake Forest.

Projected Arkansas LB Depth Chart Entering Spring

1. Brad Spence
2. Alex Sanford
3. Xavian Sorey Jr.
4. Carson Dean
5. Kaden Henley
Others: Justin Logan, *Brooks Both, *Mason Schueck, *Donovan Whitten, *Jake Yurachek

A few years ago, Sam Pittman brought in several transfers and immediately put them in the starting lineup during spring ball. It rubbed some of the returning players the wrong way, so he has since changed that practice.

That’s why we’ve slotted in Xavian Sorey Jr. with the second unit and have Brad Spence and Alex Sanford as starters. That could change based on how things unfold, but that’s almost certainly how it’ll start out.

Figuring out how to fill in the rest of the depth chart is more difficult, but we followed a similar line of thinking with putting Carson Dean and Kaden Henley, a pair of returning players, ahead of Justin Logan, the freshman. Again, that could change, but that’s how we see it to start the spring — and it’s liable to change again when Wyatt Simmons and Bradley Shaw get to campus this summer.


Rack Up Points of Your Own Alongside Arkansas’ New Offense Under Petrino 

Download the free Autograph app and:

  • See how you stack up across other Razorback fans on our leaderboards.
  • Level up in status and unlock unique offers. 
  • Unlock the most flex-worthy rewards, curated exclusively for you.

Click below for more:

Miss our preview of the quarterbacks? Check in out here:


More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments