Arkansas football signed 22 players in its 2016 recruiting class. The group ranked No. 23 nationally and No. 9 in the SEC, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings.
In their first season on campus, the newcomers didn’t contribute significantly overall. They combined for 12 starts and 85 games played.
Defensive lineman McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, who was a 5-star recruit, and running back Devwah Whaley were the only two to play in all 13 games during the 7-6 campaign. Four others — fullback Hayden Johnson, linebacker De’Jon Harris, defensive tackle Austin Capps and tight end Grayson Gunter — saw action in 12 games.
Not relying heavily on newly arrived players is exactly the way coach Bret Bielema likes to run his program. If they’re too talented to ignore — like Agim and Whaley — they’ll play. Otherwise, Bielema prefers players to redshirt and spend what he believes is a valuable year developing.
Here are statistics from members of the 2016 recruiting class last season:
|Hayden Johnson||FB||7/12||2 receptions, 25 yards|
|McTelvin “Sosa” Agim||DL||5/13||27 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks|
|De’Jon Harris||LB||0/12||37 tackels, 2 TFL, 1 sack|
|Devwah Whaley||RB||0/13||110 carries, 602 yards, 3 TD|
|Austin Capps||DL||0/12||12 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks|
|T.J. Hammonds||RB||0/8||15 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD|
|Grayson Gunter||TE||0/12||1 reception, 29 yards|
Johnson filled an immediate need at fullback essentially by default. In fall camp, he was the only player on the roster at the position. Kendrick Jackson was eventually moved back to fullback from linebacker to help share the load. Johnson is once again expected to split time with Jackson, who will be a junior, next season. However, he’ll also see some work at H-back this spring as the coaching staff looks to expand his role.
Whaley arrived with extremely high expectations as a 4-star prospect from Texas who chose Arkansas over several major programs. While he never overtook Rawleigh Williams III as the starter, he showed flashes of his immense talent while backing up the SEC regular-season rushing champion. He has all the makings of becoming one of the most feared backs in the country as evidenced by what he did to LSU standout safety Jamal Adams last November:
That’s a projected top-5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft getting thrown down by a true freshman. If he continues to develop in pass protection and as a receiver, the future is very bright for Whaley.
The defensive linemen were the highlight of this class when they initially signed. They haven’t disappointed to this point.
Agim was arguably Arkansas’ most talented player last season. He developed from a rotation player at end to a starting tackle by the conclusion of the season. The switch to the 3-4 defense, where he’s a lock to start at end, is perfect for his skill set.
If opponents try to block him 1-on-1, Arkansas is going to like its chances:
Capps, a 4-star recruit, displayed enough strength and toughness in fall camp to warrant playing time as a true freshman. Though he only played sparingly, he’s a favorite of the coaches and is expected to play a significant role in the rotation at nose tackle going forward.
According to the coaches, Harris stood out as much as any freshman in fall camp as a true freshman. Initially a backup and special teams contributor, he saw most of his playing time once starter Dre Greenlaw was sidelined with a broken foot over the second half of the season. He’s highly expected to become a mainstay at inside linebacker moving forward.
Defensive lineman Briston Guidry, quarterback Cole Kelley and wide receiver Jordan Jones all made positive impressions prior to last season before ultimately redshirting. Guidry is projected to become a significant factor in the defensive line rotation in 2017. Kelley is the favorite to back up Austin Allen before replacing him as the starter in 2018. Jones, who turned heads on the scout team last season, will have every opportunity to start in the fall.
Hammonds should be on this list as a potential breakout star coming off a redshirt season. However, for whatever reason, he didn’t redshirt. Playing in eight games and receiving 15 carries while buried behind Williams and Whaley essentially amounts to a wasted year of eligibility. It seemed like the coaching staff believed he could be a difference maker, which he showed flashes of, but never found a niche for him. Expect that to change in 2017 as he shifts some of his focus to playing slot receiver and likely returning kicks.
Agim and Whaley are the real deal. Both proved they weren’t over-hyped recruits and are likely to become NFL prospects after only three seasons on campus. If the trajectory of those two continues in the right direction and players such as Harris, Guidry, Jones and Kelley reach their potential, this class will be viewed as a success.
Maybe most importantly, all 22 signees still are with the team after a full season. For Bielema’s plan to work, it’s essential for several players from each class to stick around for three to four seasons.