For a while, the Arkansas football program was reeling in the wake of losing Antoino Grier, Jordan Cook and Chris Paul. The unexpected transfer portal losses of the latter two left the Razorbacks especially thin at linebacker entering next season.
That situation has changed in a hurry.
A week ago, Arkansas added former five-star linebacker Xavian Sorey and two highly touted high school linebackers in Justin Logan and Wyatt Simmons.
Then, on Christmas Day arrived a gift from Bradley Shaw, one of the top-rated linebackers in the 2024 recruiting class:
Shaw is a consensus four-star that 247Sports rates as the No. 8 linebacker in the country. His offer list was pretty impressive with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, USC and others.
In the end it came down to Arkansas and Clemson, but the writing seemed to be on the wall last week when national recruiting expert Steve Wiltfong put in a crystal ball prediction that had the Hogs landing Shaw.
Clemson Football Fans Rationalize Bradley Shaw Loss
In the following days, a few Clemson football fans who earlier might have been so high on the prospect of getting Shaw began to concoct reasons why they didn’t really want him that much in the first place.
One line of thinking was Clemson simply ran out of space for Shaw after the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker CJ Kubah-Taylor committed last week. On message boards, they praised Kubah-Taylor – whose other offers came Charlotte, Colgate, Delaware State and Maine – for being bigger than the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Shaw.
That is true, but Kubah-Taylor also doesn’t possess the same elite ability to quickly diagnose offensive plays or the same level of athleticism that allowed Shaw to take home the Alabama state championship in discus while challenging for another title in the shot put.
The versatile Shaw also tallied touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams:
Even if Bradley Shaw doesn’t become a star, it’s hard to imagine him not contributing as “one of the ‘headiest’ defenders in the cycle regardless of position,” as national recruiting analyst Cooper Pategna puts it. Shaw “possesses an ascending ceiling with an extremely high floor due to his outstanding football acumen and second level playmaking ability.”
No doubt, it will be interesting to see what kind of ceiling he can reach under Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams, the former NFL linebacker who is bolstering his reputation as an ace recruiter.
The fact that the likes of Clemson and Alabama also offered Shaw should be an indication he’s the real deal, especially since the Tigers are notoriously stingy when it comes to sending out offers and usually only do so when they expect a commitment.
Interestingly, at least one Clemson football fan believes such an offer actually played a role in keeping Shaw’s recruiting rating propped up on Rivals when it otherwise should have fallen to three-star status.
“Maybe the firm offer from Clemson kept him from slipping too far in Rivals ranking,” user housess1 writes on the Tigers Illustrated Clemson football message board [paywall]. On another thread, “Silverstreak02” barreled in with this: “No one’s going to look back and say ‘damn wish we’d made room for Bradley Shaw.'”
“Respectfully, of course.”
These particular members were only getting revved up. The former also decided Alabama “didn’t even try for” Shaw while instead signing two Rivals three-star LBs – Justin Okoronkwo and Cayden Jones.
But “houseess1” saves his rationalizing best for this statement: “It really has the feel of Clemson not showing the ‘love’ and letting a desperate Arkansas take him based on Rivals ranking.”
So, there you have it, folks. Clemson football coaches Dabo Swinney and Wes Goodwin love their Arkansas counterparts Sam Pittman and Travis Williams so much that they “let” the Razorbacks have one of the nation’s best young linebackers.
I hardly think that was the case. No, if Swinney has recently gifted Arkansas anything, it would have been partially off-setting the remainder of the buy-out money that Arkansas owed Chad Morris when he brought Morris back into the fold as an offensive analyst.
Razorbacks’ Linebacker Room in 2024
Aside from Xavian Sorey and the incoming freshmen, Arkansas has three other returning linebackers in good position to push for playing time.
Jaheim Thomas was Arkansas’ leading tackler in 2023 and has one final year of eligibility. While he’s not yet made an official announcement, it seems very likely that he is going to return next season.
The Hogs also have a pair of high-rated three-star players from the 2023 recruiting class returning, who each showed a lot of promise last season – aBrad Spence and Alex Sanford.
Spence appeared in 11 games last season, recording 16 tackles (7 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a very memorable pick-six in the season-opener against Western Carolina.
Sanford didn’t have nearly as much statistical impact as Spence, only recording one tackle on the year, but he burned his redshirt on special teams and is someone who the staff remains very high on.
Regardless of whether Thomas returns or not, Pittman said in his Early Signing Day presser that he feels like they need to add another linebacker. So, Arkansas still isn’t done working on their linebackers, but this room is starting to resemble a strong SEC position group.
Arkansas Football 2024 LB Room
Here’s a full rundown of where things stand for the Hogs at the linebacker position.
Projected 2024 Roster
- Jaheim Thomas – redshirt senior
- Xavian Sorey Jr. – redshirt junior (transfer from Georgia)
- Kaden Henley – redshirt sophomore
- Brad Spence – sophomore
- Alex Sanford – sophomore
- Carson Dean – redshirt freshman
- Justin Logan – incoming freshman
- Wyatt Simmons – incoming freshman
- Bradley Shaw – incoming freshman
- *Brooks Both – redshirt senior
- *Mason Schueck – redshirt sophomore
- *Donovan Whitten – redshirt freshman
- *^Brooks Yurachek – redshirt freshman (transfer from Wake Forest)
Leaving the Program
- Antonio Grier – out of eligibility
- Chris Paul Jr. – transfer portal (committed to Ole Miss)
- Jordan Crook – transfer portal (committed to Arizona State)
- Mani Powell – transfer portal
More On Situation with Arkansas Linebackers
The linebacker position was in rough shape for Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams just last week.
Antonio Grier, a super senior transfer from South Florida last year, no longer has eligibility left and two key contributors entered the portal soon after it opened – Jordan Crook and Chris Paul Jr.
Crook, who committed to Arizona State on Tuesday night, spent two seasons with the Hogs but struggled to develop into a full-time starter. This past season was his best, statistically, as he finished with 28 tackles (8 solo), one tackle for loss, one sack and a forced fumble.
Despite Crook’s decision hurting Arkansas’ depth at linebacker, it didn’t make the kind of headlines as “Pooh” Paul. The team’s second-leading tackler last season, Paul recorded 74 tackles (30 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and a pass breakup – all while only missing eight quarters of action.
Just four days after entering the portal, Paul committed to the Hogs’ conference rival Ole Miss, confusing and upsetting a lot of Razorback fans in the process. While his father tried to explain to fans their reason for leaving, it didn’t really matter and the damage had been done — to both fans and Arkansas’ 2024 depth chart.
But that changed with the additions of Xavian Sorey, and letter of intent from two high school prospects last Wednesday morning.
Xavian Sorey Makes Splash for Arkansas Football
For the third straight offseason, Arkansas was able to nab a veteran linebacker out of the transfer portal. Xavian Sorey Jr. committed to the Hogs late Tuesday night after three seasons at Georgia and signed his letter of intent Wednesday morning, making it official.
Sorey, a native of Cambellton, Fla., finished his high school career at IMG Academy and was a five-star recruit as part of the 2021 recruiting class — holding offers from virtually every major school. He saw limited action the past three seasons, including a redshirt in 2021, but had his best statistical season this year, racking up 19 tackles (15 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and one pass breakup.
He capped off the year with an impressive showing in the SEC Championship game against Alabama, recording five tackles in the loss.
In his Early Signing Day press conference, head coach Sam Pittman noted Sorey’s athleticism and noted his history as a pass rusher.
“Sorey is an athlete, a guy that can run side-to-side,” Pittman said. “We’ll turn him loose and see what happens, but he was used primarily there (at Georgia) more in his career as a pass rusher.”
Like Drew Sanders, Jaheim Thomas and Antonio Grier before him, Sorey gives a once-depleted Razorbacks linebacker room some much-needed SEC experience entering next year.
Simmons, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound Searcy native, is rated as the No. 13 inside linebacker nationally and No. 5 player in the state of Arkansas by ESPN. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman likes the physicality and versatility he brings.
“Very, very, very, very, very aggressive,” Pittman said. “Very, very physical. Can run. Played a little bit of everything … but he’s a linebacker. He’s a Mike linebacker, to me. He can play Willy, too, but he’s a guy who go sic ‘em, go after the football.”
Logan, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Kennesaw, Ga., native, is rated the No. 22 inside linebacker in the nation by ESPN and No. 42 linebacker in the country by 247Sports. Despite Logan not being as highly rated of a recruit, Travis Williams saw enough to make a run at him according to Pittman.
“Logan was a guy who wasn’t quite as highly recruited as those guys, but we really liked his size,” Pittman said. “T-Will kind of went after him. That was his guy that he goes (after), he knew a little about him and things of that nature, character-wise. Great kid.”
For the latest on Arkansas recruiting, go here:
Charleston Collins Gives a Shout Out to Ole Miss
One of the more talented defensive linemen giving the linebackers a hand this season will be Charleston Collins, a true freshman from Little Rock Mills High rated by a couple outlets as the state’s top recruit in the class of 2024.
While he gushed over the Razorbacks after the signing, he also made it clear who finished No. 2 in an interview with the Buzz 103.7FM on Wednesday:
“Shout out to Ole Miss. All love that way to Coach [Lane] Kiffin, Coach Hill, Coach Joyner. Pete Golding, the defensive coordinator. It’s all love that way, but I never felt it in my heart to flip. Like I said, I’ve been a Razorback through and through my whole life, but those guys showed me a lot of love. I learned a lot of things from Coach Joyner and coach Pete Golding, and those are just bonds that I’ll forever have.
Just to hammer home the point, Collins didn’t consider flipping to Ole Miss. “I think some people got it misconstrued from the bonds that I already had with those guys, and tried to reflect it into my recruiting process,” he said.
But he absolutely did consider flipping someone or something off by channeling the spirit of prime Bobby Petrino on the Hill. More about that here:
Evin Demirel contributed to the above feature
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