They’ve written their own summary, which is pretty interesting and can be found here: Reviewing the Position Rankings. It’s very flattering for the Hogs with them coming in at #2 overall behind Alabama…and ahead of everyone else. We also tied Alabama with the total number of players ranked with sixteen.
Kick Returners: Arkansas has two of the top five in this category with Joe Adams at #1 and Dennis Johnson at #5. Johnson was sorely missed last season after going out with the freak bowel injury. Adams didn’t actually return many punts, but he was #2 in the conference averaging 15.6 yards per return with one TD against Ole Miss.
Kickers and Punters: Zach Hocker is the #2 kicker in the SEC. And to think, we all thought Eddie Camara was going to be the savior kicker coming in. Hocker got a scholarship offer late and committing just before signing day…then went on to be the best kicker we’ve had in a long time. Dylan Breeding is the #3 punter. It’s hard to get excited about a punter, but he made some game changing kicks last year, like against Georgia.
Special Teams: Overall, ESPN has the Razorbacks’ special teams at #2, pretty much as a result of the above rankings. Our special teams are finally “special”.
Safeties: Tramain Thomas is #2 in this category. He’s gotten better every year and is now poised to be a great safety for this defense. I knew he had a solid year last year but it really registered when reading some NFL rankings of players and they had Thomas listed as a top 5 college safety. He had 83 tackles and four interceptions in 2010…and had four more just during 2011 spring practice, including a spectacular one handed INT of Tyler Wilson that showcased his athletic ability.
Cornerbacks: We didn’t have anyone ranked in the top 10. But we play against seven of the top 10.
Defensive Backs: Even though we only had one player ranked in the top 10 of these two categories, ESPN still puts us at #4. Obviously, they feel that even though there is only one star, the group overall is solid enough. Darius Winston and Isaac Madison have 27 starts between them and there’s plenty of young talent. One thing that enhanced the ranking was the fact that Jerico Nelson sometimes plays a hybrid defensive back in certain situations.
Linebackers: Jerry Franklin comes in at #3 here. The main reason for his high ranking is experience, in my opinion. He’s led the team in tackles every year that he’s been on the hill. He’s not a flashy linebacker, just very solid and knows what he’s supposed to do. It also doesn’t hurt that he causes turnovers, with five interceptions and five forced fumbles. Overall, ESPN ranks our linebackers at #3 in the SEC. Jerico Nelson wasn’t individually ranked, but everyone that has watched the Hogs’ defense knows that Nelson is THE playmaker. ESPN also mentions that we finally have quality depth with Bret Harris, Terrell Williams, and Jarrett Lake. If Ross Rasner gets out of the doghouse, that’s a huge bonus as he’s another player like Nelson. Personally, I want to see what Braylon Edwards brings this season.
Defensive Tackles: Robert Thomas is the only ranked Razorback at this position, listed at #10. True, he hasn’t played a down of SEC football, but reports out of spring practice were abundantly positive. Add that to a standout JUCO year last year and this sophomore could be a real difference maker for the defense.
Defensive Ends: Both Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright made the list, coming in at #2 and #6 respectively. Jake has tons of SEC experience as he’s been in the lineup since his freshman year. He led the team in sacks with seven in 2010. One of those guys described as having a motor that never stops running. Wright is quietly efficient. He’s had some great plays in his career (2009 A&M game comes to mind) but his stats were almost the same as Bequette’s last year, and he didn’t start a single game.
Defensive Line: I was floored when I first read this. #2 in the SEC…the land of imposing defensive lines. I won’t say how long its been since we’ve had a dominant D-line, because everyone’s got their opinions. But I know it’s the strongest in our current coach’s tenure and stronger than anything the previous clown put on the field. And depth…glorious depth with DD Jones, Byran Jones, Zach Stadther, Alfred Davis, and Lavunce Askew…plus the new guys.
For all the talk of our defense being a liability the past few years, now we have the #2 Defensive Line, #3 Linebackers, and #4 Defensive Backs.
Offensive Linemen: Alvin Bailey is the only ranked player at #8…and he’s a a true sophomore. Big and strong, he’ll also need to be a leader as one of two returning starters. I was a little surprised Travis Swanson wasn’t on the list.
Offensive Line: Not surprisingly, ESPN ranks us near the bottom of this category at #9. With only two starters returning, it’s the biggest question mark on the team. But…Florida and Auburn are ranked lower. And Vanderbilt, shocking.
Tight Ends: Chris Gragg is #6, even though he hasn’t really made a consistent impact. But that’s hard to do when you share the position with the Mackey Award winner, D.J. Williams. The Petrino offense utilizes the TE, so there’s no reason to suspect that the starter at that position is going to be in the top half of the SEC. Gragg’s not just “the starter” though, he has good size and speed that causes matchup problems, as evidenced by his 57 yard TD reception last year.
Wide Receivers: No surprise here. Arkansas has three of the top five, with Greg Childs leading the way at #2 (behind Alshon Jeffery). I can’t write anything that you haven’t read a million times. Childs is one of the top receivers in the country with decent speed, great hands, and a physical style. Joe Adams is #4 and Jarius Wright is #5.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: You can’t listen to anyone talk about NCAA wide receivers without hearing “they might have the best receiving corps in the country”. You can’t be #1 in the country without being #1 in your conference, which this group is. The big three listed above are all seniors and have 324 catches for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns. Ridiculous. And that doesn’t even include Cobi Hamilton or the new guys that haven’t had a chance to shine. By the way, we have sixteen WRs on the roster.
Running Backs: Knile Davis is #3 here. 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 per carry. All SEC first team last year. And third behind two guys that didn’t do as well as he did. SEC running back reviews are all over the board, depending on where you look. Some have Davis as a Heisman candidate and some list him as the best back in the SEC. I get that Trent Richardson could be #1 because he’ll now be the featured back and Alabama has the #1 Offensive Line in the conference. But Marcus Lattimore is still riding his high school reputation or something.
Running Back Group: #3 again…behind Auburn (WTF) and Alabama (WTF). Dennis Johnson could have ended up the feature back last year without injury and Ronnie Wingo still has all the potential in the world. That doesn’t make us better than Alabama, but our crew is better than Auburn’s. Mike Dyer had a solid freshman season and Onterio McCalebb also rushed for 810 last year, but they both benefited from defenses worried to death about Cam Newton running wild, which he did.
Quarterbacks: Tyler Wilson is #4, which is about where he needs to be coming into his first season as the starter. The only guy above him that for sure should be there is Aaron Murray of Georgia. Stephen Garcia and Chris Relf are both amazingly inconsistent. Looking at the whole list, there aren’t any players that carry the reputation anywhere close to Ryan Mallett or Cam Newton. To be the best QB in the league this year isn’t going to take gaudy stats…it’s just going to take solid play and leadership. Honestly, Wilson could end up the top QB in the SEC at the end of the year.
Quarterback Group: We’re #6, which makes sense because we don’t have a proven QB starter and our backups are truly untested. All of the teams ahead of us have an established starter returning, plus backups that have some game time.
Expectations are high for the Razorbacks this fall…but Bobby Petrino wouldn’t want it any other way. He doesn’t come to paint…he comes to win games.
We’ve got a thread going on this, but it’s degenerated (as they do). Come give your two cents worth…and see if you can right the ship.