Rakeem Boyd or Feleipe Franks: Who is more critical to Arkansas' success?
There are plenty of uncertainties surrounding Arkansas entering the 2020 season. But when it comes to who the Razorbacks will be calling on to carry the bulk of the weight offensively, that seems unmistakably clear. Rakeem Boyd and Feleipe Franks will be the faces of the team and likely the ones with the biggest numbers next to their names in box scores.
Boyd – a former star on Netflix’s Last Chance U docu-series – amassed 1,133 yards rushing along with 8 touchdowns in 2019. He is the 3rd-leading returning rusher in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill and Alabama’s Najee Harris. His speed and ability to take and shed contact make him a problem for defenses, and he should see his numbers increase as the offensive line improves under Sam Pittman.
Franks, on the other hand, has a lot to prove this season. After Franks injured his ankle during Week 4 of his junior season at Florida, Kyle Trask stepped in to save the Gators’ season. He performed so well that Franks was forced to join the Razorbacks as a grad transfer in the offseason.
Frankly (no pun intended), Arkansas couldn’t have lucked out more. It desperately needed a new quarterback and landed one of the better ones it could have found with so little time. Franks brings experience needed to steady this mostly young team and should come in fighting to show he’s still among the elite playmakers in the SEC. Nobody questions the physical tools. He has NFL size and elite arm strength. He passed for just shy of 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.
There’s no doubt that both Boyd and Franks will be crucial keys to the success of Arkansas’ offense this season. But if Arkansas wants to win a few games it probably shouldn’t, which player will the Hogs need to lean on most? I’ll try to make a case for both, starting with Boyd.
Why Rakeem Boyd will be the most important piece this season
The last time an Arkansas running back finished a season with more than 200 carries was in 2016, when Rawleigh Williams III had 245.
It feels like Boyd is primed to surpass the 200-carry mark this season even in a 10-game regular season.
Devwah Whaley cut into his carries each of the past 2 seasons, but he graduated. The backup spot this season could be filled by any number of players, from transfer Trelon Smith to veteran TJ Hammonds or even freshmen A’Montae Spivey and Dominique Johnson. Regardless of who his backup is, Boyd should see an uptick in attempts this season.
He averaged just over 15 carries per game last year. If he gets 3 more touches a game, it will be big for Arkansas’ production. The Razorbacks might need him to be a bell cow, and that certainly fits into new coach Sam Pittman’s style of play. Maybe Franks takes away a few carries here and there, but it shouldn’t be anything serious.
A lot of this depends of the offense Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will implement. Will it be more run-heavy as we’ve seen from Arkansas squads in the past? Pittman is an offensive line guru, after all. Briles’ track record is of a fast-paced offense, which also bodes well for Boyd getting more opportunities.
The tandem of a dual-threat quarterback and running back has worked well in the system. In 2011 at Baylor (Briles was a receivers coach under his father, Art, at the time), Robert Griffin III didn’t deter Terrance Ganaway from rushing for 1,457 yards on 250 attempts. Baylor also shelled out 250 carries for Shock Linwood in 2014.
In the 5 years Briles has been an offensive coordinator, his teams have finished outside the top 25 in rushing only once (last year at Florida State). They also have averaged 80 plays per game in that span.
Everything points to Boyd reaping the benefits of a much more balanced offense. We saw what he did last year when defenses could focus the majority of its attention on stopping him. The addition of Franks should (hopefully) take some of that pressure away by forcing opponents to stay wary of both the run and pass.
If Arkansas is going to make any noise this year, it will do so on the back of Boyd.
Why it will actually be Franks
It’s easy for most people to forget about Feleipe Franks.
Because of how early he was injured last season coupled with how well Florida moved on, and with this season being delayed about a month, it feels like we haven’t seen Franks on the field since 2018. That was his best season to date, and he stayed on par with the likes of a young Joe Burrow and Jarrett Stidham.
Briles’ offenses have always featured capable passers and made an attempt to spread the ball out as much as possible. Tight ends have been feature receivers. Thankfully, Arkansas has the personnel to roll out a multi-pronged attack, which should only work to Franks’ benefit.
The real reason Arkansas’ success leans more on Franks than Boyd, though, is the simple fact that its aerial attack was atrocious in 2019. It finished 103rd overall, 93 spots behind the only other FBS school in Arkansas – Arkansas State. That has to change in 2020 if the Razorbacks expect to snap their SEC losing streak.
By reputation alone, Franks will empty the box to help Boyd. Execution, as frustrated Florida fans will tell you, is a different issue, but Franks has the arm to exploit safeties who stray too close to the line of scrimmage.
Arkansas fans probably have seen this throw, but it’s a reminder that the strongest arm in the SEC resides in Fayetteville.
Only 63 days until SEC football returns!@bigorangevolz almost lost his damn mind when Feleipe Franks threw this 63-yard game-winning Hail Mary pass to Tyrie Cleveland to beat Tennessee.#SECcountdown #GoGators pic.twitter.com/uQHZqF2eJn
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) June 22, 2019
That ball traveled 67 yards in the air … in about 3 seconds.
This throw against Georgia might have been even more impressive. It beat double coverage and covered 33 yards in less than 2 seconds for a TD.
— PFDZ (@PFDZ44) December 12, 2018
Franks gives Arkansas stability that it lacked at the position a year ago. The Razorbacks already know they can count on Boyd in the backfield. But he was missing his counterpart. If Franks can fill that role, he makes this offense a lot more dangerous.
That’s why he will be the bigger difference-maker. He showed potential before getting hurt of being a big-time player. If he can pick up where he left off, he adds a second dimension to the offense that it simply didn’t have a year ago.
Even if Boyd outproduces Franks, the latter holds the key to this season.
Cover photo of Rakeem Boyd and Feleipe Franks courtesy of University of Arkansas athletics.