Spring ball is just around the corner for Arkansas football, with its first official practice in preparation of the 2023 season scheduled for March 9.
Having replaced half of his coaching staff and nearly half of his roster, Sam Pittman is entering a critical part of his tenure in Year 4 at the helm.
The transfer portal and new schemes will likely play a huge role in just how successful this year is, but so will the Razorbacks’ 20-man signing class, which is ranked 20th nationally by Rivals and 22nd in the 247Sports Composite.
Several of those players won’t be expected to contribute much as true freshmen. For example, four-star quarterback Malachi Singleton is still behind KJ Jefferson and it’s rare for linemen on either side of the ball to play significant reps right out of the gate.
However, Arkansas football sure could use some of them in 2023. Predicting exactly which players will emerge as contributors is difficult, especially before seeing them in practice, but Best of Arkansas Sports took a stab at it. In no particular order, here are five true freshmen we believe are most primed to make an immediate impact…
Tight End | Bixby (Okla.)
247Sports Composite: 4-star (.9237), No. 200 overall, No. 11 TE
It is no secret that the Razorbacks needed tight end help this offseason. That was evident when their first two 2023 commitments were tight ends…and then they added another. Of course, when the third guy is as talented as Luke Hasz, you can’t really turn him down. That ended up working out great because one of those first two, Jaden Hamm, flipped to Kansas after the departure of tight ends coach Dowell Loggains.
Making the room even thinner than it already was, Trey Knox decided to follow Loggains to South Carolina and Hudson Henry chose to move on with his life despite still having two years of eligibility remaining. The Razorbacks also lost a pair of reserves, as Erin Outley entered the transfer portal and Collin Sutherland medically retired.
They did get a boost from the return of Nathan Bax as a super senior, but he’s a former walk-on and not much of a threat in the passing game. So that pretty much leaves only Ty Washington, and even he is a redshirt freshman with one career reception — granted it was a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl.
Needless to say, there is playing time to be earned at the tight end position, even if Arkansas brings in a transfer like it hopes to do, and Hasz is a prime candidate to get a chunk of it. After all, Michigan made a strong push to flip him over the summer and Alabama didn’t give up until just before the early signing period. If those two schools want you to play tight end for them, that’s probably a sign you’re a good player.
Tight End | Ashdown (Ark.)
247Sports Composite: 4-star (.9273), No. 184 overall, No. 10 TE
The other tight end Arkansas signed was Shamar Easter, one of only three in-state prospects in the class. Because of all the same reasons listed above, Easter will have a great chance to earn early playing time for the Razorbacks.
However, one advantage Hasz has over Easter is the fact that he is an early enrollee and will go through spring ball. Easter won’t arrive on campus until this summer. He put off signing until the traditional period because of the coaching change, but he was always planning to play basketball his senior year at Ashdown.
Between Washington, Hasz and Easter, the Razorbacks will have a pretty solid young trio of tight ends at their disposal in 2023. It remains to be seen what new offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ system will look like, but he is more of a pro-style play caller than Kendal Briles and could make use of multiple tight ends if they prove to be better options than the new-look wide receiver room. The position played a large role in his first stint, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it does again this time around.
Defensive Back | Pinson (Ala.) Valley
247Sports Composite: 3-star (.8842), No. 536 overall, No. 51 S
Perhaps no Arkansas football position group, including tight ends, changed as much as the secondary this offseason. Both coaches in charge of defensive backs — Barry Odom and Dominique Bowman — are gone and have been replaced by Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson, plus the Razorbacks saw double-digit players enter the transfer portal.
Assuming there are no more departures, the Razorbacks must replace 45.1% of their defensive back snaps from last season. No specific position was hit harder than safety, as Jalen Catalon and Simeon Blair transferred out and Latavious Brini exhausted his eligibility. Myles Slusher also played safety during his career and he has left, too.
Arkansas does return Hudson Clark, who converted to safety midway through the season, and did add All-Big 12 performer Alfahiym Walcott from Baylor via the transfer portal, but there could be playing time opening up at safety and TJ Metcalf was the most heralded of the safeties in the 2023 signing class. Rivals tabbed him a four-star prospect and he has excellent bloodlines as a cousin of Pro Bowl wide receiver DK Metcalf.
Defensive Back | Frisco (Texas) Lone Star
247Sports Composite: 4-star (.9405), No. 140 overall, No. 15 CB
One area where the secondary actually seems to be strong is at cornerback. Arkansas returns starters Dwight McGlothern and Quincey McAdoo, the latter of whom earned Freshman All-SEC honors despite not playing the position until the back half of the season, plus added Lorando Johnson, a starter from Baylor, via the transfer portal. It is also getting LaDarrius Bishop back as a super senior.
On paper, that appears to be some pretty solid depth at the position, which would make it a lot harder for Jaylon Braxton — who’s considered a cornerback by all of the recruiting services — to get on the field as a true freshman. However, he’s the Razorbacks’ highest-rated incoming freshman and could still make an impact.
In high school, Braxton excelled on both sides of the ball, so he could be versatile enough to move around in the secondary. With Myles Slusher gone, the Razorbacks will need a new nickel and perhaps he could beat out guys like Jayden Johnson and Jaylen Lewis for playing time at that spot.
Wide Receiver | Moody (Ala.)
247Sports Composite: 4-star (.8975), No. 354 overall, No. 49 WR
Another position hit hard this offseason was wide receiver. Not only did Jadon Haselwood declare for the NFL Draft and Matt Landers exhaust his eligibility, but potential returners Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson entered the transfer portal.
Of the other remaining five wide receivers from 2022, only Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Isaiah Sategna have caught a pass at the college level — and they’ve combined for only 17. With not much experience coming back, Arkansas emphasized the position in the portal and landed a trio: Andrew Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden.
All three of those players were highly coveted transfers, but none of them have ever played at the Power Five level. Armstrong and TeSlaa come to Fayetteville from the FBS and Division II ranks, respectively, while Broden played in the MAC.
The Razorbacks are obviously hopeful that all three pan out, but if they don’t, they do have Davion Dozier coming in as a true freshman. He was a low- to mid-level three-star recruit when he committed, but is now a four-star prospect after a dominant senior season. His chances of contributing early on also greatly increased when touted commit Micah Tease flipped to Texas A&M, but he’ll have to make up ground in the fall because he is not one of the early enrollees.
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