The Arkansas football team heads into the 2017 season with low expectations, an unfamiliar roster and a brutal schedule.

Some delirious Razorback fans expect Arkansas to contend for an SEC West title, just because they have a great quarterback in Austin Allen. Well, they had Allen last season and still finished 7-6.

The defense will be mediocre at best unless defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads can pull off a miracle in his first season at the helm running a new 3-4 scheme. Not likely.

Here’s a look at how confident Arkansas fans should be with each position group.


Austin Allen (Cole Kelley backup)

Confidence meter: 9/10

Why: Allen is a top-four quarterback in the SEC and might be the best pure passer. His toughness is also a huge added component to his overall makeup; he played through an injured knee and bruised chest at times last season. After a full season of game action, the former Fayetteville standout will be even better in 2017.

Until the offensive line proves itself, it’s silly to be 100 percent confident in Allen after the beating he took last season and could take again this year. He also threw a ghastly amount of interceptions (15) in 2016. That needs to be shored up.


Devwah Whaley

Confidence meter: 7/10

Devwah Whaley will try to replace Rawleigh Williams, who ran for 1,360 yards last year as a sophomore but has stopped playing football because of injuries.

Why: This will be Whaley’s first college season as the full-time starter. The Texas high school standout has to prove he can sustain carries and production throughout an entire season. Looking at coach Bret Bielema’s track record with running backs over the years, he should be fine.

Whaley’s year might depend a lot of freshmen Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden. If they don’t adjust to the college game quickly, Whaley might tire throughout the season with more touches. It also remains to be seen if the sophomore running back has the explosiveness to make game-changing plays.


Jared Cornelius, Deon Stewart, Brandon Martin, La’Michael Pettway, Jordan Jones

Confidence meter: 4/10

Why: The Razorbacks have been fortunate with a deep, reliable receiving core the past few seasons. That is not the case in 2017. Besides Cornelius, the Arkansas wide receiver unit has little to no game experience.

Little might be an understatement, with the remaining receivers combining for less than five career catches. These players will find getting open against Alabama and LSU is more difficult than it is in practice. Having an All-SEC caliber quarterback helps, but to what extent?

Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


Austin Cantrell, Jeremy Patton, Cheyenne O’Grady, Will Gragg

Confidence meter: 6/10

Why: None of these players earned the lock behind Jeremy Sprinkle last season. The offseason has seen one player step up. Cantrell looks like he is going to get the nod heading into Thursday’s game against Florida A&M.

Gragg and O’Grady, fellow teammates in his recruiting class, haven’t secured the backup role. Patton, unable to join the Razorbacks until the summer, is behind the 8-ball. The talent is not lacking, but sometimes talent is wasted.


Frank Ragnow, Hjalte Froholdt, Brian Wallace, Colton Jackson, Johnny Gibson

Confidence meter:  6/10

Why: Ragnow is one of the best centers in college football. Froholdt might be the most improved player on the offensive line. Despite the lack of success in 2016, the players garnered important experience which should help them improve in 2017.

Kurt Anderson has a year under his belt. He should know how to adjust and be more effective as the offensive line coach. Then again, the front five can’t get much worse than last season.


Bijhon Jackson, McTelvin Agim, Armon Watts, Austin Capps, Briston Guidry, T.J. Smith

Confidence meter: 4/10 

Why: Agim is the most talented player listed, but he can’t do it all by himself. The Razorbacks weren’t able to get much pressure in 2016 with veteran talent like Jeremiah Ledbetter and Deatrich Wise, and now the defense needs less experienced players to step up. The positive change could come from the blitz packages.

Rhoads will bring pressure more than former defensive coordinator Robb Smith did. If the former Iowa State head coach uses a bunch of different angles and packages, he could help these players wreck more havoc up front. That’s a big “if” though.

Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports


Randy Ramsey, Dre Greenlaw, Dwayne Eugene, De’Jon Harris, Josh Harris

Confidence meter: 6/10

Why: In 2017, this could be the strength of the defense. Greenlaw is a tackling machine, but was injured most of the 2016 season. When he went down, the defense tanked.

Ramsey has raw speed coming off the outside, but still has to prove that he can be an every-down linebacker. The same applies for others. The TCU game on Sept. 9 will be a major barometer of how the linebackers handle the new defense.


Ryan Pulley, Henre’ Toliver, Kevin Richardson, Josh Liddell, Santos Ramirez

Confidence meter: 5/10

Arkansas allowed foes to convert 44.8 percent of their third downs in 2016, worst in the SEC.

Why: As bad as the defense was overall in 2016, Arkansas’ secondary held its own. The Razorbacks only gave up 12 passing touchdowns and a little over 220 yards per game. Like the offensive line, this unit brings back major game experience.

Richardson continues to prove people wrong after starting in the program as a walk-on. Pulley and Toliver showed flashes, but will have to be more consistent. Liddell and Ramirez have to be strong in with communication in the back end, because of the change in defensive schemes.

Special teams

K Cole Hedlund, P Blake Johnson, RET Deon Stewart, Jonathan Nance, Henre’ Toliver

Confidence meter: 4/10

Why: Maybe Hedlund’s junior year will be different but he has underwhelmed at Arkansas, making only 14 of 22 field goals. The former high-profile recruit has been inconsistent. If a game is on the line, don’t expect him to make a kick under pressure. Johnson doesn’t have a enormous amount of experience punting in an Arkansas uniform. In fact, he only has two career punts as a Razorback after redshirting as a freshman. Stewart returned kicks last season; his longest return was 43 yards and he averaged around 20 yards per return. Nance enrolled in January and looks to make an impact on special teams. Toliver has soft hands and earned the respect of his coaches by catching wobbly punts near his own end zone. The Razorbacks haven’t had a consistent game-changer on special teams in the Bielema era. Looks like that is going to continue to be the case.