To get a glimpse of just how much the Arkansas football program’s reputation has improved under Sam Pittman, look no further than the preseason All-SEC teams and predicted order of finish released Friday morning.
Just two years after the media picked the Razorbacks to finish dead last in the SEC West and tabbed only one player to the three preseason squads, the press corps at this year’s SEC Media Days placed them third in the division and voted a pair of players to the first team.
It’s the highest Arkansas has been picked in the preseason since 2012, in which it was also picked third, and center Ricky Stromberg and safety Jalen Catalon gave the Razorbacks their first pair of preseason first-team All-SEC selections since Travis Swanson and Chris Smith in 2013.
Linebacker Bumper Pool and offensive lineman Brady Latham were also recognized, landing on the second and third teams, respectively. That gives Arkansas nine total preseason All-SEC selections the last two years, which is more than the previous four years combined (8).
However, that number could have easily been higher.
Despite there being three preseason All-SEC teams, but only two chosen after the season, here are a handful of Razorbacks who could prove they were snubbed by the media:
(Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll get it right after the season, either.)
KJ Jefferson – QB
Yeah, this one was obvious. Once ranked as the worst starting quarterback in the SEC by one national writer, KJ Jefferson took the SEC by storm in his first year as Arkansas’ starter.
He completed 67.3 percent of his passes, which ranks second on the UA single-season chart, for 2,676 yards, 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions, plus led the Razorbacks with 664 rushing yards and six more scores on the ground. Jefferson was even better in SEC play, posting an incredible 165.7 passer rating — breaking Ryan Mallett’s mark of 164.2 in 2010 for the best by an Arkansas quarterback since joining the conference in 1992.
Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was the obvious pick to be first-team All-SEC, but the media tabbed Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Kentucky’s Will Levis ahead of Jefferson, too. Those aren’t bad quarterbacks, by any means, but Jefferson feels like a snub here and could potentially use this as fuel for this season — much like he did last year with the last-place ranking.
Of course, that probably also requires someone stepping up and filling the massive shoes — and gloves — of Treylon Burks, which might have led to some media not voting for Jefferson.
Cam Little – K
The top-ranked kicker in the 2021 recruiting class, Cam Little lived up to the hype as a true freshman. He racked up 106 points, which is tied for third on the UA single-season list, as he made 20 of 24 field goals and all 46 extra point attempts.
On top of being incredibly accurate overall, Little also booted a 51-yard field goal and was 7 of 10 on his tries from at least 40 yards out. Plus, he proved to be clutch when he made the game-winning kick in overtime at LSU’s Death Valley.
It’s hard to argue putting him ahead of Missouri’s Harrison Mevis, considering he has six career field goals of 50-plus yards and is a returning All-American, but even he was just the third-team pick. Alabama’s Will Reichart and Auburn’s Anders Carlson took the top two spots. Both of them missed a PAT last season and Reichart was just 8 of 13 on field goals of 40-plus yards and Carlson was 6 of 11, including missing all of his tries from 50-plus yards.
Drew Sanders – LB
This is more of a projection than a true snub because Drew Sanders has never played a snap in an Arkansas uniform. Although he started a few games at Alabama last season, he doesn’t have a ton of snaps under his belt, period, so it’d be hard to justify including him on a preseason All-SEC list.
However, there are incredibly high expectations for the former five-star recruit in his first season with the Razorbacks. In fact, it isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility that Sanders has an even better year than his teammate, Pool, who landed on the second team.
The athleticism is there, as he flashed throughout spring ball and in limited action with the Crimson Tide, and most Alabama people — coaches, media and fans alike — have nothing but positive things to say about him. Put him in a defensive system that turned a former walk-on into a second-team All-American (Grant Morgan) and he should thrive at Arkansas this year.
Rocket Sanders – RB
When Raheim Sanders — who’s aptly nicknamed “Rocket” — arrive on campus as a four-star recruit from Florida, he was expected to play wide receiver. However, the Razorbacks needed bodies at running back and he had the skillset to help, so he switched positions ahead of spring ball as an early enrollee.
Despite being new to the position and playing in the toughest conference in college football, Sanders still rushed for 578 yards and five touchdowns on 114 carries as a true freshman — all while serving as the backup the entire season, first behind Trelon Smith and then behind Dominique Johnson.
Johnson is back this season, but it would not be surprising to see Sanders surpass him on the depth chart and take over the starting role. He looked more comfortable in the offense this spring and appears to be the most complete back on the team. The biggest question surrounding his All-SEC candidacy will be whether or not he gets a big enough chunk of the carries to separate himself from a loaded running back room at Arkansas.
Jadon Haselwood – WR
Despite Pittman taking the diplomatic route by saying Arkansas planned to take a “by committee” approach to replacing Burks, much of the pressure rests on Jadon Haselwood’s shoulders.
He didn’t live up to the five-star hype at Oklahoma, but a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for the former No. 1 wide receiver in the 2019 recruiting class. There are definitely a lot of targets to make up for between the loss of Burks and super seniors Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren.
With a talented quarterback throwing him the ball, the stage is set for a potential breakout season for Haselwood — which would presumably lead to All-SEC accolades if he makes the most of the opportunity.
SEC Media’s 2022 Predicted Order of Finish
Alabama was once again tabbed the favorite to win the SEC West, followed by Texas A&M and then Arkansas. Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn round out the predictions, with the Razorbacks actually closer to the Aggies than the Rebels in the voting.
Georgia was the pick to win the Eastern Division and Kentucky narrowly edged out Tennessee for second place. South Carolina and Missouri, the Razorbacks’ two East opponents this year, were picked fifth and sixth, respectively.
The Crimson Tide are the overwhelming favorites among the media to win the SEC Championship, receiving 158 of the 181 votes. The Bulldogs got 18 votes.
- Alabama — 1,262 points (177 first-place votes)
- Texas A&M — 968 (3)
- Arkansas — 844 (1)
- Ole Miss — 675
- LSU — 591
- Mississippi State — 390
- Auburn — 338
- Georgia — 1,254 points (172 first-place votes)
- Kentucky — 932 (4)
- Tennessee — 929 (1)
- Florida — 712
- South Carolina — 662 (3)
- Missouri — 383
- Vanderbilt — 196 (1)
- Alabama — 158 votes
- Georgia — 18
- South Carolina — 3
- Texas A&M — 1
- Vanderbilt — 1
2022 Preseason Media Days All-SEC Team
- QB – Bryce Young, Alabama
- RB – Tank Bigsby, Auburn
- RB – Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
- WR – Kayshon Boutte, LSU
- WR – Jermaine Burton, Alabama
- TE – Brock Bowers, Georgia
- OL – Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama
- OL – Warren McClendon, Georgia
- OL – O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
- OL – Nick Broeker, Ole Miss
- C – Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas
- QB – Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
- RB – Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky
- RB – Devon Achane, Texas A&M
- WR – Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
- WR – Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss
- TE – Cameron Latu, Alabama
- OL – Layden Robinson, Texas A&M
- OL – Kenneth Horsey, Kentucky
- OL – Darnell Wright, Tennessee
- OL – Javion Cohen, Alabama
- C – Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia
- QB – Will Levis, Kentucky
- RB – Zach Evans, Ole Miss
- RB – Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
- WR – Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
- WR – Josh Vann, South Carolina
- TE – Jaheim Bell, South Carolina
- OL – Brady Latham, Arkansas
- OL – Tyler Steen, Alabama
- OL – Javon Foster, Missouri
- *OL – Jeremy James, Ole Miss
- *OL – Kendall Randolph, Alabama
- C – Cooper Mays, Tennessee
- DL – Jalen Carter, Georgia
- DL – BJ Ojulari, LSU
- DL – Derick Hall, Auburn
- DL – Byron Young, Tennessee
- LB – Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
- LB – Nolan Smith, Georgia
- LB – Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama
- DB – Jordan Battle, Alabama
- DB – Kelee Ringo, Georgia
- DB – Eli Ricks, Alabama
- DB – Jalen Catalon, Arkansas
- DL – Zacch* Pickens, South Carolina
- DL – D.J. Dale, Alabama
- DL – Ali Gaye, LSU
- DL – Colby Wooden, Auburn
- LB – Bumper Pool, Arkansas
- LB – Dallas Turner, Alabama
- LB – Brenton Cox Jr., Florida
- DB – Cam Smith, South Carolina
- DB – Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
- DB – Christopher Smith, Georgia
- DB – Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
- DL – Gervon Dexter, Florida
- DL – Justin Eboigbe, Alabama
- DL – Maason Smith, LSU
- DL – McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M
- LB – Owen Pappoe, Auburn
- LB – Ventrell Miller, Florida
- LB – Jeremy Banks, Tennessee
- DB – Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama
- DB – Trey Dean III, Florida
- DB – Trevon Flowers, Tennessee
- DB – Malachi Moore, Alabama
- P – Nik Constantinou, Texas A&M
- PK – Will Reichard, Alabama
- RS – Kearis Jackson, Georgia
- AP – Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
- P – Oscar Chapman, Auburn
- PK – Anders Carlson, Auburn
- RS – Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
- AP – Devon Achane, Texas A&M
- P – Paxton Brooks, Tennessee
- PK – Harrison Mevis, Missouri
- RS – JoJo Earle, Alabama
- AP – Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
* – Indicates a tie
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