As the clock ticks down on the month of July, and the start of Arkansas preseason football drills in early August draws nearer, the biggest question concerning the Hogs’ offense is which players will step up to fill the void left by the departure of Treylon Burks, the Hogs’ most reliable and productive receiver the past three seasons.
Burks, a first-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans in April, was a highlight waiting to happen last year for the Razorbacks. He made 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 18 touchdowns on his way to earning All-SEC honors. Burks completed his college career with 146 catches for 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Burks takes his place as one of the best receivers in Razorback history. Some consider him THE best, and honestly, it’s hard to refute their argument considering the plays he made during his career.
No one player can replace Burks’ production, and as good as he was, Burks isn’t the only loss the Razorbacks suffered in their receiving corps. Tyson Morris, who caught 24 passes for 337 yards and 2 touchdowns, and De’Vion Warren, who caught 13 passes for 243 yards, were Arkansas Nos. 2 and 4 receivers in terms of yardage. They have matriculated as well.
So there is a world of opportunity awaiting Arkansas’ receivers. The question is which ones will step forward and become reliable pieces in the puzzle of Arkansas’ offense.
Standout junior quarterback K.J. Jefferson, who will be appearing at SEC Media Days next Wednesday in Atlanta along UA head coach Sam Pittman, linebacker Bumper Poole, and safety Jalen Catalon, is confident that the situation will work itself out after several receivers had productive spring practices.
The Razorbacks’ top-returning receiver in terms of catches and yardage is senior Warren Thompson (6-3, 193), who tallied 19 catches for 304 yards and 2 TDs. Thompson had flashes of brilliance mixed with instances of inconsistency. In the spring, he said his goal is to continue to improve with no setbacks.
“We’re trying to build every day, just trying to build a foundation with consistency and just play-making,” Thompson said in a Zoom interview in the spring. “We’ve got the ability in the room. We’re going to bring that. We’re building every day.”
Thompson, who transferred from Florida State, was at Tallahassee, Fla. at the same time as Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles was working with the Seminoles.
“I trusted in Coach Briles,” Thompson said. “I really didn’t know Coach Pittman. But once I got here, man, I fell in love with him because he was like a different type of head coach that I had never been around before. I just appreciated it. I appreciated being here and I still do.”
Thompson came to the Hogs as a walk-on, but was granted a scholarship by Pittman just before the start of last season.
Returning for his sophomore season is Ketron Jackson Jr. (6-2, 209). The Rose City, Texas product showed promise last season in limited playing time, making 5 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. He played even better in the spring and will be counted on to be a factor in the Hogs’ passing game.
Jackson is ready to accept the challenge that Razorback receivers coach Kenny Guiton issued to his troops during spring drills.
“Coach came in and told us after that, ‘He’s [Burks] gone. Who’s going to step up?’” Jackson Jr. said in a Zoom interview in the spring. “Like we’ve got the talent to do it. It’s just a matter of who’s going to step up.”
One talented player Razorbacks fans are excited to see perform in the Hogs’ Cardinal and White is Jadon Haselwood (6-3, 211), a junior transfer from Oklahoma, who has the requisite size and speed to be a play-maker in the SEC.
Haselwood, who hails from Ellenwood, Ga. and attended high school where Razorback running back coach Jimmy Smith worked, is a proven commodity in the Big 12. He finished third in receiving yards for Oklahoma last year with 339 yards on 39 catches with 6 touchdowns.
His talent was evident in the spring, and as Haselwood builds more of a connection with Jefferson, his ability should show up on Saturdays for the Razorbacks.
Thompson, Jackson, and Haselwood appear to be the front runners for starting roles for the Hogs, but Bryce Stephens (6-0, 173) of Oklahoma City, Harper Cole (5-9, 176) of Aurora, Ill., Quincey McAdoo (6-2, 182) of Clarendon, and Jaedon Wilson (6-3, 189) of DeSoto, Texas also had productive springs.
Freshman Isaiah Sategna (5-11, 173) of Fayetteville has blazing speed and good hands. We will see if he is able to secure playing time in his first year as a receiving threat and possibly a punt returner.
Quarterback Malik Hornsby (6-2, 187) also saw considerable practice time in the spring as a receiver. He has blistering speed and solid hands, but with the Hogs are short on quarterbacks, it’s unknown how much Pittman and Briles will actually use him at receiver. That might be a question Pittman will answer next week at SEC Media Days, or one he may keep to himself.
While a pecking order was developed in the spring, nothing is settled. Competition for playing time should be stiff when preseason drills begin. How players fare early in the season will likely play a role in how Guiton divides up the playing time.
Practice for the receiving group ought to be highly competitive and very interesting in August as the receivers work to secure a connection with Jefferson, who is not only expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season but also in the nation, and earn playing time on the field.