FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football will be without the anchor of its offensive line in the bowl game and next season, as Ricky Stromberg declared for the 2023 NFL Draft on Tuesday.
After starting all but three games during his four-year career with the Razorbacks, the Tulsa native will begin his professional career rather than use his extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all players active during the pandemic-altered 2020 season.
“I want to thank Coach Pittman, Coach Kennedy and Coach Brad Davis and many more for helping me get to where I am today,” Stromberg wrote in a statement shared via Twitter. “They have poured so much into me as a player and I wouldn’t even have this opportunity without them.
“To the fans of Arkansas, thank you. You guys made the last 4 years unforgettable and I will cherish every moment I’ve had here.”
The timing of the announcement means Stromberg is also opting out of the bowl game, which Best of Arkansas Sports confirmed with a UA spokesperson.
Much like wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, who made a similar announcement Monday night, it is not a surprising decision. He likely could have entered last year’s NFL Draft, but chose to return for his senior season.
Stromberg is actually the second of 12 potential super seniors to reveal his decision for 2023. A few minutes before he tweeted his news, punter Reid Bauer announced he would enter the portal and pursue his sixth and final year of college football elsewhere.
Just a day after declaring for the draft, the East-West Shrine Bowl announced Stromberg had accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious postseason all-star game. He and Haselwood will both play in the game, which is scheduled for Feb. 2 in Las Vegas.
Ricky Stromberg with the Razorbacks
Originally committed to his hometown school of Tulsa, Ricky Stromberg quickly flipped to Arkansas when it came in with a late offer in the 2019 class.
He was rated as high as a four-star prospect by 247Sports coming out of Oklahoma powerhouse program Tulsa Union, but his only other offers were from Group of Five programs like Arkansas State, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Nevada and North Texas.
Despite being listed at 266 pounds as a freshman in 2019, Stromberg quickly earned a spot in the two-deep and was thrust into the starting lineup in the second game of the season because of an injury to Austin Capps. He started two games and left guard and then the final nine at right guard.
When Sam Pittman took over the following season, Stromberg bulked up, moved to center and evolved into a bonafide NFL prospect.
An injury caused him to miss one game and come off the bench in another as a sophomore, but other than that, he’s been the Razorbacks’ starting center. That includes 25 straight starts consisting of every game last year — when he was a second-team All-SEC pick by the AP — and this year.
Not only has he started every game, but Stromberg has also played every meaningful offensive snap in 2022. Now listed at 6-foot-4, 313 pounds, he has been on the field for 99.3% of Arkansas’ plays this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The analytics site also gives him an 81.6 offensive grade for this year, which is the top mark among SEC centers. That also ranks fourth among all FBS centers, trailing only Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz (92.4), USC’s Brett Neilon (89.4) and Ohio State’s Luke Wypler (83.3).
Other Pending NFL Draft Decisions
With Jadon Haselwood and Ricky Stromberg out of the way, the next most likely Arkansas football player to forgo his remaining college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft is Jalen Catalon.
A preseason All-American safety by multiple outlets, the redshirt junior was seen as a potential first-round pick entering 2022, but a season-ending injury sidelined him early in the second half of the opener against Cincinnati. Head coach Sam Pittman previously told reporters that he expected an announcement from Catalon sooner rather than later after the Razorbacks wrapped up the regular season.
As far as players facing that decision who could impact the bowl game, linebacker Drew Sanders is probably the most notable remaining name. He was projected as a first-round pick at one point during the season and should still be highly regarded by the next level after finishing the regular season with 9.5 sacks. He is just a junior, but a prime candidate to declare early.
Of course, there’s also the looming decision of quarterback KJ Jefferson. After two years as the Razorbacks’ starter, there’s at least a chance he tries his hand at the NFL.
Other Razorbacks who have remaining eligibility but might choose to declare for the draft instead include cornerback Dwight McGlothern and defensive end Jordan Domineck.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
The last time Ricky Stromberg missed a start, Arkansas still had Ty Clary available to fill in. He is long gone now, though, so the Razorbacks will have to turn to someone else.
Freshman Patrick Kutas has been listed as the backup center on the UA depth chart all season, but junior Marcus Henderson has typically lined up at the position with the second-team offense this season. Walk-on Josh Street has gotten reps with the backups at times this season, as well, when Henderson has been injured.
However, the most likely option to start the bowl game at center is actually right guard Beaux Limmer. He warms up with the centers during the Razorbacks’ pregame routine and Sam Pittman has praised his ability as a center while acknowledging they haven’t really gotten to see it much in a game because of Stromberg.
That move would of course open up a spot at right guard, which would likely be filled by junior Ty’Kieast Crawford. He has been the sixth man on the offensive line all season even though he’s listed as just the backup right tackle, as Arkansas shuffles things around any time someone gets banged up. For example, Crawford briefly played left tackle against Missouri when Luke Jones got hurt and then they moved Brady Latham to that spot, Limmer to left guard and Crawford to right guard.
Looking forward to next year, Arkansas will be breaking in a new center and should have some options. Limmer would probably get the first crack at it, but Pittman also has some young options to consider, such as Kutas and fellow true freshman Eli Henderson.
The shifting around of the offensive line could be further necessitated depending on whether or not Jones returns as the left tackle. If he doesn’t, Latham could slide from guard to tackle, meaning Arkansas might not have a single offensive lineman in the same spot next year as it did in 2022.
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