Perhaps no one in the SEC has a 1-2 punch like Arkansas football with KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders. They are the Razorbacks’ known stars entering 2023, with Dwight McGlothern, Beaux Limmer and Cam Little being other legitimate preseason All-SEC possibilities.
However, if Arkansas is going to take that next step and be a top-25 team, it will likely need some other players to step up and play at that level. Here’s a look at Best of Arkansas Sports’ five potential “breakout candidates” for the Razorbacks this season…
LB Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr.
Ok, so this wouldn’t necessarily be a “breakout” performer to Arkansas football fans, but Chris Paul Jr. – known simply as “Pooh” by those in and around the program – has the potential to introduce himself on a national scale in 2023.
That’s because the Razorbacks’ linebackers last season were Drew Sanders and Bumper Pool. Sanders received most of the attention, rightfully so, and Pool is an all-time fan favorite who broke the UA career tackles record. It’s understandable why Paul’s season was overshadowed, so let’s shine some light on it.
While it wasn’t until the final week of the regular season that he moved into the starting lineup, Paul got significant reps throughout the season because of Pool’s hip injury and was actually named a Freshman All-American by The Athletic and College Football News. Despite splitting time, Paul racked up 62 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery, plus earned a solid 76.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.
It really isn’t a stretch to say Paul is capable of having an All-America type of season in 2023. After all, he played almost exactly half the number of snaps as Sanders, a unanimous second-team All-American, last season and put up very comparable numbers when factoring in the playing time discrepancy:
- Drew Sanders: 103 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 39 PFF pressures
- Chris Paul Jr. (doubled): 124 tackles, 16 TFL, 8 sacks, 6 QBH, 36 PFF pressures
The Razorbacks added a pair of veterans via the transfer portal in Antonio Grier from South Florida and Jaheim Thomas from Cincinnati, but we still expect Paul to take on the leadership role in the linebacker room and on the defense as a whole.
DE Landon Jackson
Whether or not Landon Jackson could be considered a “breakout candidate” is up for debate because he did start more than half of the games last season and played quite a bit, but we believe he’ll make a significant jump in his second season with Arkansas football and should qualify for this list – and we have several reasons why.
First of all, Jackson was a heralded recruit coming out of Pleasant Grove High School in Texarkana, Texas. At one point, he was a borderline five-star prospect. Injuries eventually knocked him down some, but Jackson still had high four-star status when he signed with LSU.
Then, with the Tigers, his freshman year was cut short by an ACL injury and he didn’t get to do much in spring ball after transferring to Arkansas. That impacted his play as a sophomore. Now that he’s another year removed from that injury and got to go through spring drills, he’s much closer to the guy that had college coaches drooling when he was in high school.
On top of being fully back to 100%, he will be playing in a defensive system that puts a heavy emphasis on rushing the passer. That is a calling card of new defensive coordinator Travis Williams and Jackson should be one of several beneficiaries. In fact, Sam Pittman mentioned during the spring that he was hard to block and would be “a problem” for opposing offenses this year.
CB Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson
It’s hard to say a guy who started every game for a Power Five team last season would be a “breakout candidate,” but that’s how we see Lorando Johnson – who also has the awesome nickname of “Snaxx.” Let us explain.
Johnson is actually one of two Baylor defensive backs who transferred to Arkansas this offseason and the other, safety Alfahiym Walcott, was an All-Big 12 honoree. The Razorbacks also signed former five-star recruit Jaheim Singletary as a transfer from Georgia. Those two transfers probably overshadowed Johnson a bit.
The Razorbacks were also set to return Quincey McAdoo after his surprising emergence down the stretch of last season. He was expected to start at the cornerback spot opposite of Dwight McGlothern, a legitimate preseason All-SEC candidate.
However, Johnson had a really strong spring and got lots of reps with the first-team defense. It looked like he was going to have a role of some sort, but with McAdoo’s status for 2023 up in the air following a serious car accident, that role grew significantly. He now looks primed to start at cornerback and could be a key piece to the improvement of a unit that ranked dead last in pass defense last season.
WR Isaiah Sategna
A four-star prospect just down the road at Fayetteville High School, Isaiah Sategna was arguably the most hyped recruit in last year’s signing class when he flipped to Arkansas from Texas A&M. However, he ended up playing in only four games and redshirting, finishing with just two receptions for 12 yards.
There hasn’t been any talk of Sategna being a bust, though, especially after the spring he had. What he lacks in size – he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 178 pounds – he makes up for with speed and incredibly reliable hands. He routinely got open and caught passes in one-on-one sessions during media viewing periods.
It’s not a given that Sategna will be at the top of the depth chart in the opener, as he’s still battling redshirt sophomore Bryce Stephens for the starting job in the slot, but he’s our pick to take the No. 1 spot.
Of course, several wide receivers – mainly the transfer trio of Isaac TeSlaa, Andrew Armstrong and Tyrone Broden – would qualify for this list because there’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled at that position, but pinning down which of them will emerge as the go-to guy on the outside is difficult at this point.
RB Rashod Dubinion
Another second-year guy, Rashod Dubinion looked like he might be the Razorbacks’ best true freshman heading into last season. He got quite a bit of playing time and burned his redshirt. There were flashes of his talent, but – as you’d expect with a young player – it was very inconsistent, as he finished with 293 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries. That’s a 4.1-yard average.
There’s no denying that Rocket Sanders is the Razorbacks’ No. 1 running back and arguably the best in the SEC, and possibly the country. He’ll handle the bulk of carries this season, but there is a legitimate question surrounding who emerges as the backup.
The safe bet is junior AJ Green, as he was the primary backup in 2022. However, the Razorbacks are also expected to get Dominique Johnson back after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Isaiah Augustave is a heralded freshman. That’s a lot of options, but we think Dubinion emerges as much more than a competent backup who gives opposing defenses almost as many headaches as Sanders.
Sam Pittman at SEC Media Days:
At SEC Media Days, the Arkansas football coach went to bat for the Arkansas football program in a way that would make any of the teams favored for the World Series according to the biggest MLB bets proud. He answered questions about losing four games by a total of 9 points head on.
“A lot of times you just look in the mirror and you’ve found it and how are you going to fix it?,” Pittman said. “I think the blame game is terrible. Blaming this guy, that guy, this guy. You got to look in the mirror and you got to go fix it. It’s my job to fix it. We worked on that a lot this spring. We worked on third and short both sides, we worked on go live both sides.”
“We worked on situation football, we worked on third down going for fourth down. So I’ll be more comfortable. And those are talking, you’re talking about if we make one, will it be a difference in three points? Well, if it is, then we would’ve won four more games. So all those things we’re looking internally, some things that we do, schematics, but we’ve got to get back to physical tough football. And I think we lost a game or two because we got out physical last year.”
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