On paper, Arkansas football has arguably the best 1-2 punch in the SEC – and maybe the country – with KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders.
Those two have consistently been ranked among the top returning quarterbacks and running backs, respectively, in college football for 2023 and it’s easy to see why.
This will be Jefferson’s third year as the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback and he’s put up huge numbers each of the last two seasons, despite not having continuity at wide receiver and battling injuries.
Sanders signed with Arkansas as a receiver, but was promptly moved to running back – a switch that couldn’t have gone better. After being the No. 2 guy his entire freshman year, he burst onto the national scene as a sophomore and finished with the fourth-most yards in a single season in UA history.
For them to live up to expectations and be a true 1-2 punch on the field, though, the Razorbacks will need to have good players around them. They need guys to block for them and Jefferson needs guys to throw to, which would in turn open up the run game for Sanders.
Only time will tell if it has enough, but here’s an early projection of what Arkansas’ offensive depth chart will look like when it heads to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the season opener against Western Carolina on Sept. 2…
Arkansas Football Depth Chart — Backfield
|Quarterback||KJ Jefferson||Jacolby Criswell||Cade Fortin|
|Running back||Rocket Sanders||Rashod Dubinion||AJ Green|
KJ Jefferson is arguably the best quarterback in the SEC, so there’s no denying his status as QB1 — as long as he stays healthy. Of course, that was an issue last year and it cost Arkansas multiple games.
The Razorbacks addressed that this offseason, replacing Malik Hornsby with Jacolby Criswell. It’s also worth noting that Cade Fortin, who’s now on scholarship, might fit Dan Enos’ system better than he did Kendal Briles’ system. Those two split the second-team reps this spring, but it’s our belief that Criswell will assert himself as the No. 2 guy this fall.
True freshman Malachi Singleton had his moments this spring, too, but it’s unlikely he burns his redshirt by playing in more than four games.
Arguably the deepest position on the team, Arkansas football has five SEC-caliber running backs — highlighted by Rocket Sanders, who is considered one of the best in the country. He’s coming off a season in which he ran for more than 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Similar to the quarterbacks, the Razorbacks rotated quite a bit at running back during spring ball, but the rotation extended to Sanders. That means Rashod Dubinion and AJ Green also got their fair share of first-team snaps.
They will be the top two candidates to be the No. 2 running back in 2023, but Dominique Johnson and Isaiah Augustave could also factor in. After all, Johnson ended the 2021 season as the starter, only to tear his ACL in the Outback Bowl and again early last season. Augustave, meanwhile, arrives as a heralded four-star recruit.
Arkansas Football Depth Chart — Pass Catchers
|Outside receiver||Andrew Armstrong||Tyrone Broden||Davion Dozier|
|Slot receiver||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens||Chris Harris|
|Outside receiver||Isaac TeSlaa||Jaedon Wilson||Sam Mbake|
|Tight end||Var’Keyes Gumms||Luke Hasz||Nathan Bax|
No position experienced a more dramatic change from 2022 to 2023 than wide receiver. Matt Landers, Jadon Haselwood, Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson are all gone and, to replace them, the Razorbacks added Andrew Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden from the transfer portal.
Armstrong and TeSlaa each showed enough during the spring that it looks like they’re going to be okay making the jump up to the SEC. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if they end up starting immediately. Broden might have had that opportunity, but he was hampered by an injury for the second half of the spring. Jaedon Wilson might have had a say in that, as well, because Sam Pittman was really high on him early on, but an injury suffered in a car accident led to him watching most of spring ball from the sideline.
In the slot, it’s a battle between Isaiah Sategna and Bryce Stephens. The latter is by far the most experienced receiver on the team, but the former might have been the Razorbacks’ spring MVP. Sategna consistently got open and caught everything within reach. He appears primed for a breakout season that reminds everyone why he was a four-star recruit.
Under former offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Arkansas routinely used five wide receivers, with three starters and two coming off the bench. It remains to be seen how deep Dan Enos will go at the position, but he typically stuck to five – and occasionally used a sixth – last season at Maryland.
This is a position that could still see an addition from the transfer portal because as things currently stand, Arkansas has just eight scholarship wide receivers for 2023. That means it doesn’t even have enough to fill out a complete three-deep without a walk-on like Chris Harris.
One reason it was important for the Razorbacks to land Var’Keyes Gumms, despite a brief de-commitment, was because it will take a ton of pressure off true freshmen Luke Hasz and Shamar Easter. Assuming this pledge sticks, he could slide right into a starting role, as he’s the most experienced tight end on the roster.
That said, Sam Pittman has been very open with his praise for Hasz and he could still be a major part of Arkansas’ offense in 2023. He got a lot of first-team reps in the spring. The thing that will hold him back is the blocking aspect of the position, which is why Nathan Bax – despite not being a threat in the passing game – will still play this season. When it comes to targets, redshirt freshman Ty Washington will probably be in the top three ahead of Bax.
Easter could very well end up pushing for a spot in the three deep, but he is behind the eight ball because he didn’t enroll early. Being able to go through spring practices gave Hasz a head start.
The Razorbacks also brought in Francis Sherman as a transfer from Louisville, but he’ll likely have a role similar to that of Bax – a blocker who doesn’t factor in much in the passing game.
Arkansas Football Depth Chart — Offensive Line
|Left tackle||Devon Manuel||Andrew Chamblee||Terry Wells|
|Left guard||Brady Latham||Cole Carson||Paris Patterson|
|Center||Beaux Limmer||Amaury Wiggins||Josh Street|
|Right guard||Joshua Braun||E’Marion Harris||Joey Su’a|
|Right tackle||Patrick Kutas||Ty’Kieast Crawford||Tommy Varhall|
There was more shuffling along the offensive line than at any other position during spring ball, and that was by design. Sam Pittman and Cody Kennedy were trying to find the best combination and, while still somewhat a work in progress, they somewhat settled on a starting group by the Red-White Game.
The one spot that has been solidified the entire time is center, where Beaux Limmer shifted to from right guard in the lead up to the Liberty Bowl. The depth behind him, however, looks a bit murkier, although Arkansas’ recent addition of Amaury Wiggins from the JUCO ranks clarifies things a bit. Without seeing him in person, we’re projecting him to jump ahead of walk-on Josh Street on the depth chart. Of course, if something were to actually happen to Limmer, it’s likely Patrick Kutas could slide over to center and someone else fill in at right tackle.
Speaking of Kutas, he emerged late in the spring as the frontrunner to be Dalton Wagner’s replacement. The Razorbacks clearly think highly of him, as Pittman consistently brought him up last year and played him on special teams enough to burn his redshirt. He spent most of 2022 as an interior lineman, though, so it’s somewhat of a new look with him at tackle, but he’s drawn rave reviews so far. That’s kind of surprising because prior to the spring, Ty’Kieast Crawford was projected to find a starting spot somewhere on the line.
That could still happen, but the play of Florida transfer Joshua Braun has made him a strong candidate to start at right guard. Crawford might remain in the same role as last year, which is the sixth offensive lineman who fill in if/when someone goes down, even if it requires some shuffling. Redshirt freshman E’Marion Harris might have something to say about that, though.
Left tackle was another question mark entering the spring, but the coaches seem to like what they’ve seen from Devon Manuel. Now in his third year in the program, he has completely reshaped his body and, after losing at least 50 pounds since stepping on campus (and possibly much more), looks like an SEC tackle. Arkansas is still high on Andrew Chamblee, and he may get an opportunity at some point, but it seems like Manuel has the edge right now.
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