Ranking the Razorbacks’ Receivers: Deeper Without Burks?

Part 4 of the BoAS "Ranking the Room" series

Warren Thompson, Arkansas football
photo credit: Nick Wenger

FAYETTEVILLE — When analyzing the wide receiver situation for Arkansas football in 2022, there’s an obvious elephant in the room.

Arguably the best wide receiver in school history, Treylon Burks, no longer suits up for the Razorbacks after becoming a first-round pick by the Tennessee Titans. That means Arkansas must figure out a way to replace his tremendous production.

After all, the Warren native accounted for a huge chunk of the Razorbacks’ passing attack, hauling in 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season.

Head coach Sam Pittman has said numerous times that no single player will be responsible for filling Burks’ shoes, but rather the Razorbacks would do so by committee — a committee made up of receivers looking to make their own mark on the program.

“I know people keep bringing up Burks and whatnot,” Jadon Haselwood said. “I mean, he was a great player, but it don’t stop there. It’s gonna continue to get better every year, even when I’m not here, because we got good players who’s younger, we got good players coming in.”

However, it wouldn’t be truthful to say the coaching staff always felt good about the room.

Without Burks, the Razorbacks’ passing game was virtually non-existent in the Outback Bowl win over Penn State — although they didn’t need to throw it much because of how well the ground game was humming. Super seniors Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren also graduated, so Arkansas returns less than 20 percent of its wide receiver production.

Using the transfer portal, traditional recruiting and good, old-fashioned development, though, the unit now appears deeper than last year’s group — albeit perhaps without a bonafide super star at the top. In fact, Pittman even admitted that he never would have thought the wide receivers would be this far along at this point.

“Coming in, that was really a weakness we felt like — it was unproven,” offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “We’ve had a lot of guys step up. … We feel like that’s a strong group now, which going into the spring and fall camp we didn’t feel that way. We’re really excited about the group.”

Even as recently as the spring, the coaches were unsure of what they had at the position. For evidence of that, look no further than all of the talk surrounding quarterback Malik Hornsby getting work at wide receiver.

The speedster is still getting some work at the position, but it doesn’t sound like Arkansas is counting on Hornby as a receiver being as big of a part of its offense as it did just a few months ago.

“Now all of a sudden you’ve got all these wideouts that are playing pretty good ball,” Pittman said. “That doesn’t mean that Malik won’t continue to go out there. It’s just harder to put him out there if we have to take somebody off the field, and my thinking before was that he would be by far the best one we had out there.”

Enough players have stepped up that Pittman identified wide receiver as one of the positions still up in the air when it comes to who will start Sept. 3 against No. 23 Cincinnati. It isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility that the starting lineup changes from week-to-week, either.

With that said, here’s how Best of Arkansas Sports sees the pecking order at wide receiver playing out over the course of the season…

1. Jadon Haselwood

It isn’t very often that Arkansas lands a five-star recruit, but it did just that via the transfer portal this offseason by securing Oklahoma wide receiver Jadon Haselwood. One thing working in the Razorbacks’ favor was actually their running backs coach, as Jimmy Smith was his high school coach in Georgia.

That connection was the key to gaining Haselwood’s commitment last December. Smith told reporters earlier this month that it was the “perfect time” to land a guy like him because of the aforementioned loss of Treylon Burks. Now he is being looked at as the main replacement for the superstar.

“I know what he wants to do, I know his goals,” Smith said. “I think that if he continues to work, he can reach some of the things he wants to do. He’s a hard worker, man. He came in and put his head down.”

It wasn’t an entirely smooth transition, though. He battled a nagging shoulder injury during spring ball and never really flashed his five-star potential over 15 practices. Since coming back for fall camp, that has changed.

“Haselwood didn’t bring to that room in the spring what he’s bringing to it now,” Pittman said. “Part of that is, I’m sure, he was uncomfortable, didn’t know the guys.”

Listed at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds on the roster, Haselwood has impressed his teammates with his physicality. Right tackle Dalton Wagner said he’s “not scared” to go hit anyone and quarterback KJ Jefferson said he likes him as a red zone target.

With the Sooners, Haselwood caught 62 passes for 736 cards and seven touchdowns, which is just 11.9 yards per reception. That would seem to indicate he’s just a possession receiver, but Jefferson said he believes he can also be a big-play guy.

“You give him a chance, he’s going to go make a play,” Jefferson said. “(It’s great) being able to use him in certain situations where he can stretch the ball down the field and…give him a good, catchable ball, a 50-50 ball, knowing he’s going to go up and make a play. He will stretch the field vertical for us.”

Those numbers, compiled in 28 games across three seasons, are solid, but not quite what you’d expect for a guy who was the unanimous No. 1 wide receiver in the 2019 class and top-five overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite.

That fact isn’t lost on Haselwood, and Pittman said he thinks that will serve as a motivating factor for him in 2022.

“He’s 100% that he thinks from where he was in high school to what he’s done in college is not acceptable to him,” Pittman said. “I think he’ll have a really good year. I think he’s got a lot of want-to and a lot of things in his mind that he needs to prove.”

2. Warren Thompson

A four-star recruit coming out of Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla., Warren Thompson was ranked 157th overall in the Class of 2018 in the 247Sports Composite and signed with Florida State.

He spent three seasons with the Seminoles, including one with current Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, and caught 11 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown in limited playing time. That Briles connection helped the Razorbacks land him out of the portal last offseason, but he actually joined the team as a walk-on.

However, Thompson quickly asserted himself as a contributor and earned a scholarship before the season. He went on to have 19 receptions for 304 yards and two scores for Arkansas in a year filled with ups (touchdown catch as time expired at Ole Miss) and downs (multiple drops against UAPB).

Those flashes of brilliance might have been a sign of things to come, as Pittman identified him as arguably the most improved player on the roster.

“He’s always been very talented, but he’s catching a contested ball and catching some you’re going, ‘Man, how’d he catch that one?’” Pittman said. “He’s always been fast, he hasn’t always used it, but he is now. So I’ve been really pleased with him.”

Pittman isn’t the only person who’s noticed his improvement. Thompson’s name has come up several times in interviews during fall camp, with the overwhelming theme being about him taking his game up a notch.

“To me, Warren’s probably had the most consistent camp of any receiver,” Briles said. “Warren, from last year to where he is right now, is a different guy. … He’s seeing things, he’s talking about it. If he misses a route or misses a play that he should’ve had, he’s beating himself up about it. Last year, he might not even know it.”

A quiet guy who leads by example, Thompson could be on the verge of a breakout season entering his second year in Arkansas’ system as a fifth-year senior.

“I would say what separates him from last camp and this camp is his confidence,” Jefferson said. “At first, last year, he was coming in and just figuring out the system and figuring out everybody, how the offense is, getting around new people and stuff like that, so it kind of took a toll on him a little bit. He got down on himself in certain situations, but now his confidence level is through the roof.”

3. Matt Landers

During fall camp perhaps no wide receiver has received more praise, from both Arkansas football players and coaches on his side of the ball and those trying to stop him, than Matt Landers. Defensive backs have been in awe of his speed and Haselwood even said he might be the fastest receiver on the team — an unusual characteristic for a guy listed at 6-foot-5, 203 pounds.

“There are guys that are really pretty runners, get their knees really high and run like a track athlete,” offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “He’s really not that. Very deceptive speed. We’ve under-thrown him quite a bit just because you don’t think that he’s moving as fast as he is.”

Landers was a three-star recruit coming out of St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2017 and signed with Georgia. He caught 12 passes for 132 yards over four years with the Bulldogs and transferred to Toledo last season before making his way back to the SEC via the portal as a super senior this offseason.

Because of that experience in the conference, wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton said he’s not a typical “bright-eyed kid” and nothing really surprises him. In fact, his presence has elevated the room as a whole.

“It’s just different when you’ve got a guy that long, that tall, that fast and can track the ball,” Guiton said. “He’s added to our room something different. I actually think it’s picked up other guys, as well, to say ‘look at that.’”

In his lone season at Toledo, Landers caught 20 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns, with most of that production coming in the Rockets’ final five games (18 receptions, 486 yards, 5 TD). That means he averaged 27 yards per reception over that stretch and 25.7 yards over the whole season.

“Matt’s that guy that’s going to cause attention because he’s such a long guy and he’s fast — faster than people think,” safety Jalen Catalon said. “He just brings that size and that threat where you’ve got to have eyes on him, because if not, he can stretch you out and that opens up the offense for a lot of other things, as well.”

Landers’ elite acceleration is clearly evident in his tackle escape at the 2:55 mark below:

4. Ketron Jackson Jr.

Even though he arrived in Fayetteville as an early enrollee last year, Ketron Jackson Jr. was limited during spring ball because of a lingering knee injury that required him to wear a brace. He showed flashes of potential in practice and played quite a bit as a true freshman, but was limited to only 97 yards and one score on five receptions.

Now a year removed from his injury and with a season under his belt, the former four-star recruit and top-200 prospect could see an uptick in his production in 2022 simply because he’s more comfortable on the field.

“Last year, I didn’t feel comfortable at all coming off an injury, not really being comfortable in my body and with the playbook,” Jackson said. “This year, everything’s slowing down for me, so just knowing the game, learning the game, I’ll be better.”

While some big-time recruits might be soured by the lack of targets he experienced last year and consider entering the portal, Jackson took it all in stride and has been very receptive to coaching this offseason.

“The jump that he’s made from then to now, man it’s awesome to see,” wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton said. “He’s such a good dude that he’s going to say ‘yes sir’ to anything you say and try to go get it done, try to go execute it.”

After coming in to college as a raw prospect, Jackson is starting to put it all together and becoming a more polished wide receiver. He’s slotted as the first guy off the bench in our pecking order, but could easily find himself in the starting rotation at some point.

“I feel like Coach Guiton was a big part in that because I had the raw talent, but he (helped) with all my techniques and stuff, small details, building every day,” Jackson said. “I stayed consistent with all that and it’s showing a little bit.”

5. Isaiah Sategna

The most heralded of Arkansas’ trio of four-star wide receivers in the 2022 class, Isaiah Sategna has quickly climbed the depth chart despite not being with the team for spring ball. Of course, he had a good reason for not being an early enrollee, as he is a world-class sprinter and didn’t want to miss his final season of track at Fayetteville High.

The Razorbacks were happy to oblige because they knew that speed would be an asset on the gridiron, whether it was on offense or special teams as a return man. However, one reason we already have Sategna fifth in our pecking order is because of the other skills he’s shown in fall camp.

“He’s just a really good player,” Pittman said. “Sometimes if you’re not the biggest guy, you have to have special skills, and he has them. He can separate, really good hands. He doesn’t say a word now. He just comes to work everyday.”

Listed at 5-foot-11, 173 pounds, Sategna is much smaller than the last in-state wide receiver who wore No. 16 and played in the slot, but his size hasn’t been a hindrance so far.

“The thing I like about him is he’s as low maintenance as any guy could be,” Briles said. “He just goes out there and goes to work. Obviously he can run and he’s pretty slippery, but I think the biggest thing I’ve been impressed with is just his toughness.”

6. Bryce Stephens

While most of the attention is probably on the top four guys vying for the three starting positions, the biggest battle among the wide receivers is likely between Sategna and Bryce Stephens. The two young speedsters are fighting for the backup job behind Haselwood in the slot — as well as the starting punt returner job.

Considering his solid returns against UAPB and LSU last season, Stephens probably has the edge at punt returner, but he wasn’t very effective on offense during his redshirt season.

The early departure of Burks opened the door for him to see an expanded role in the Outback Bowl and he did catch all three of his targets, but those receptions totaled just five yards. The Razorbacks attempted to get him the ball in space and let him work, but it didn’t work very well.

On top of that, Stephens has shown a tendency to drop passes in practice, which — compared to Sategna’s reliable hands — could separate the two backup candidates.

7. Quincey McAdoo

Since arriving on campus as another one of Arkansas’ four-star wide receiver signees, Quincey McAdoo has gained about 20 pounds, according to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.

On the field, the Clarendon product was an early enrollee who looked overwhelmed at times during spring ball, but has seemingly settled in and appears more comfortable at practice.

“It’s easy to see he’s a guy who came in early, got a good grasp of the offense,” Guiton said. “Obviously, he’s still learning, still in that learning curve process to where you can tell once that kid gets it down, he’s going to be an animal.”

Those two aspects have led to McAdoo enjoying a really productive fall camp. He’s made several impressive catches during the periods of practice open to the media and has recently gotten a lot of work with the second-team offense.

The Razorbacks won’t leave Fayetteville playing Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 24, but it sounds as though McAdoo will join them on the trip.

“We don’t plan on keeping him off (the field), it’s just where do you put him?” Pittman said. “He’s definitely going to travel and he’s on special teams now. He’s certainly working his way up the depth chart. I think he’s a really good freshman.”

8. Jaedon Wilson

Of course, it’s worth noting that one reason McAdoo has been bumped up to the second team is because Jaedon Wilson recently hurt his shoulder and has missed the last few practices.

Wilson is a relatively unknown player after coming in as a three-star recruit last year and not seeing the field during his redshirt season, but he drew some headlines when he reeled in a deep ball in front of the media on the first day of fall camp.

“I told him that nobody knows who he is…I said ‘Nobody knows who you are, bro,’” Pittman said after that practice. “If you want somebody to know who you are, you’ve got to do what he did at practice today. We’ve challenged him, big-time, because athletically, length and all of those things, he’s got all of that. He has to be more consistent.”

Unfortunately for him, Wilson has struggled with that consistency. Even before getting hurt, he had a couple of drops mixed in with other impressive catches.

Arkansas Football: 2022 Wide Receiver Overview

Definite Starter and/or in Main Rotation

1. Jadon Haselwood — redshirt junior

2. Warren Thompson — redshirt senior

3. Matt Landers — super senior

4. Ketron Jackson Jr. — sophomore

Battling for Spot in Main Rotation

5. Isaiah Sategna — freshman

6. Bryce Stephens — redshirt freshman

Fighting for Spot on Travel Roster

7. Quincey McAdoo — freshman

8. Jaedon Wilson — redshirt freshman

Not Expected to Contribute Much

~Landon Rogers — redshirt freshman

~Sam Mbake — freshman

~Harper Cole — redshirt sophomore (walk-on)

~Chris Harris — redshirt sophomore (walk-on)

~Kamron Bibby — freshman (walk-on)

~Kalil Girault — freshman (walk-on)

See More: Ranking the Room Series


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