FAYETTEVILLE — A common example of “coachspeak” is declaring the current team deeper than the previous year, but for Arkansas football, it may actually be true.
Outside of head coach Sam Pittman, no one should have a better understanding of a team’s depth from top to bottom on both sides of the ball than special teams coordinator Scott Fountain.
His duties go far beyond working with just the specialists. Fountain may spend more time with the kickers, punters and long snappers, but he also plucks players from pretty much every other position group outside of quarterback to fill out the Razorbacks’ special teams units.
Going three deep on kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage, punt return, field goal and field goal block — while also factoring in how big of a role each player has on offense or defense — requires quite a few bodies.
Needless to say, Fountain has an intimate knowledge of all 125 players on the Arkansas football roster, which has been the case since he joined Pittman’s original staff in 2020.
“We certainly have more talent on the team than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” Fountain said last week. “In the past we kind of pieced things together at times. This year I feel like we’ve really got some good players and of course we picked up a couple of more guys this summer, so we’re still evaluating those, as well.”
Most fans look only at the first two units on either side of the ball when judging a team, but a rash of injuries – such as what Arkansas experienced in the secondary last year – can quickly expose a lack of depth, as can special teams.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, data backs up Fountain’s assessment. Of course, this is just on paper. Whether or not it rings true during the season remains to be seen.
Arkansas Football Talent Since 2017
Let’s get this out of the way first: Recruiting rankings are not perfect, but stars *do* matter.
There are numerous examples of three-, two- or even no-star recruits who went on to be All-Americans and first-round picks. There are also plenty of five-star recruits who fail to live up to expectations.
However, that is more anecdotal evidence than any actual trend. Data shows that higher-ranked recruits have success at a much higher rate than lower-ranked recruits. That’s why teams who do well on the recruiting trail tend to win more on the field and produce the most NFL Draft picks. It’s not 100%, but nothing ever is.
With that said, recruiting rankings can be used to paint a pretty good picture of a team’s depth.
It’s been a slow build with traditional high school prospects and players out of the transfer portal, but Sam Pittman has Arkansas football in a much better spot than where it was just half of a decade ago.
In 2017, the last year of the Bret Bielema tenure, the Razorbacks had only 23 players who were at least four-star recruits on Rivals or in the 247Sports Composite, plus another 11 high three-stars.
The following year under Chad Morris, the roster bottomed out. Only 17 players were four-star recruits or better. Throw in 13 high three-star recruits and that accounted for barely one-third of Arkansas’ 85 scholarships.
Fast forward to the upcoming 2023 season and Arkansas has increased those numbers by nearly 100%.
For the second straight year, the Razorbacks will have 31 former four-star recruits on their roster. They have three more high three-stars than last year, though, bringing their combined total to 56 players – nearly two-thirds of the 85 scholarships.
Seven years worth of data can be found in the chart below:
|4-star or better
*In 2021, super seniors did not count against the 85-man limit, so Arkansas actually had 95 players on scholarship. To keep things consistent, we didn’t factor those players into this data. Otherwise, the Razorbacks would have one more four-star and one more high three-star.
Context Beyond Recruiting
The departure of Western Kentucky transfer AJ Brathwaite Jr. less than one week into camp allowed Arkansas to award his scholarship to walk-on offensive lineman Josh Street.
That move quickly put the Razorbacks back up to 85 scholarships, but was also significant because it highlighted another aspect of the roster health they’ve developed under Sam Pittman.
He is one of only three traditional walk-ons on scholarship this year, joining tight end Nathan Bax and safety Hudson Clark. That’s a significant drop-off from recent years.
In fact, because of extensive roster turnover and old rules that limited the number of annual signees, Chad Morris had nine traditional walk-ons on scholarship – or roughly 10% of the total scholarship players.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Razorbacks’ number of former four-star and high three-star recruits on this year’s roster is even more impressive when you look a little closer.
The 31 four-star recruits are based solely on high school rankings. That’s important to note because of the prevalence of the transfer portal in today’s game.
For example, two of Arkansas’ most prized transfers are wide receivers Isaac TeSlaa and Andrew Armstrong. They were unheralded prospects when they signed with Division II schools out of high school, but were highly coveted in the portal this offseason and actually received four-star transfer ratings from 247Sports.
Similarly, safety Alfahiym Walcott was a two-star recruit on Rivals and low three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite coming out of high school. By the time he left Baylor, he was a four-star transfer.
Throw in those guys and suddenly Arkansas has 34 four-star recruits and 59 who were high three-star or better — essentially double where it was in 2018.
Top-Rated Arkansas Football Players in 2023
These are the top five Razorbacks on the 2023 roster, based on their 247Sports Composite rating coming out of high school:
|247Sports Composite Rating
|1. Jaheim Singletary
|2. Landon Jackson
|3. Isaiah Sategna
|4. Jaylon Braxton
|5. Shamar Easter
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