Arkansas football: 5 biggest holes to fill in the 2021 starting lineup
Sam Pittman set the bar high in his first season.
Arkansas finished 3-7, but that was a huge sign of progress for a program picked to finish last in the league. Even more impressive is that the Hogs did so against an SEC-only schedule when they had lost 19 consecutive conference games entering the season.
All in all, it was a memorable year and a great start to the Pittman era, but it’s time to start looking toward the future.
Arkansas added a strong recruiting class and while they didn’t lose many starters, the Hogs did lose a very important one. Feleipe Franks, key to the 2020 turnaround, is on to the NFL. Running back Rakeem Boyd and defensive lineman Jonathan Marshall will also not return.
Duke graduate transfer AJ Reed, who started at kicker, also has not said whether he is returning. All in all, it’s not too bad when you return 20 starters between the offense and defense combined. It should be mostly familiar faces for the Hogs in 2021, but here’s a look at what will be different:
1. KJ Jefferson replacing Feleipe Franks at QB
Franks was great as a one-year starter during a coaching transition. He gave Arkansas its first consistent quarterback since Brandon Allen and boosted his draft stock in the process. He’ll surely be remembered fondly for what he brought to Fayetteville this past season.
Now it’s time to hand the reins over to Jefferson.
Jefferson doesn’t lose a year of eligibility, so will remain a redshirt freshman in 2021. He has seen limited game time in 2 seasons. Most recently he started in place of an injured Franks against Missouri, going 18-for-33 for 274 yards and 3 passing touchdowns while also adding another TD on the ground.
A former 4-star prospect, there is plenty of potential. He has a big frame at 6-3, 236 pounds. Hopefully with another offseason to learn Pittman and Kendal Briles’ offense he can become the quarterback the Razorbacks need.
2. Trelon Smith replacing Rakeem Boyd at RB
Smith already started plenty last season with Boyd frequently injured and eventually opting out. He should be in line for a bigger workload in 2021.
He finished with 710 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns and added 22 catches for 159 yards. Although I expect Smith to start, I don’t know if we’ll get him in a bell-cow role.
Senior TJ Hammonds, sophomore Dominique Johnson and even true freshman AJ Green are all candidates to receive carries behind him.
3. Taurean Carter replacing Jonathan Marshall at DT
Carter will likely step into a starting role with Marshall having graduated.
The former 3-star prospect was ranked the No. 51 overall player in Texas for the class of 2019. He played as a reserve in 2020, recording 11 tackles.
He has big shoes to fill as Marshall was the most effective defensive lineman in 2020, finishing 2nd on the team in tackles for loss with 6.5.
4. Jaquayln Crawford replacing Trey Knox/De’Vion Warren at WR
Knox and Warren are candidates to start, but I’m predicting Crawford will be the Razorbacks’ third-best wideout this season.
The transfer from Oklahoma played only 2 games with the Sooners. He was ranked No. 179 in the class of 2018 according to 247Sports and held offers from Georgia and Notre Dame. Arkansas recruited him as well and he even visited campus before deciding on the Sooners.
Crawford has a lot of speed and should fit nicely alongside Treylon Burks and Mike Woods. He could be a big playmaking threat this upcoming season.
5. Cameron Little replacing AJ Reed at K
The fact that kicker is one of the biggest pieces to replace next season says a lot about how much talent is coming back.
Reed handled the field goals and extra points for the Razorbacks in 2020 but hasn’t yet said if he will be back next season. If Reed isn’t back, expect Little, the No. 1 kicker in the class of 2021, to take his place.
Either way, you’ve got to feel good about what’s coming back to Fayetteville in 2021.