The Arkansas Razorbacks’ 2017 season gets under way this week with the start of practices. A new season means new faces on the field.
There are holes in the roster where the newcomers can make an impact, all of them on offense. The defense is the more experienced with returnees penciled in to start at 10 positions. One of the outside linebacker spots (the “Hog”) is an unknown, but none of the 2017 signees fit for that spot.
Here are five newcomers SEC Country believes will make an impact:
Brandon Martin, WR
Martin has the physical gifts to be a standout at Arkansas. He’s imposing at 6 foot-4, 219 pounds. He also has at least average speed and good hands. Those are above average measurables even by NFL standards. His case for immediate playing time is helped by the fact he’s a junior college transfer. He’s older and, presumably, more mature than four of the other five signees in the position group.
The only obstacle between Martin and constant playing time is his understanding of the offense. But even if he doesn’t master those ins and outs this season, he’s too talented to be left on the sideline. Conventional wisdom suggests he’ll at least be used to exploit smaller defensive backs and goal-line situations.
Jonathan Nance, WR
Nance, like Martin, arrived in January from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. While there has been little doubt Martin would see the field, that wasn’t a definite for Nance when he arrived. Now, after six months on campus, it has become clear he’ll play. Wide receivers coach Michael Smith confirmed as much to reporters Monday.
With a similar skill set to senior Jared Cornelius, Nance has the ability to play in the slot or on the outside. His hands and quickness have exceeded expectations as has his work in the classroom and with the playbook.
Jeremy Patton, TE
Another junior college transfer, Patton didn’t arrive on campus until late this summer. Has that late arrival set him back? There’s no doubt about it.
However, he has enough ability to make up ground and see the field regularly this season. Especially considering the race for playing time at tight end is open. It’s beneficial he played in a pro-style scheme similar to Arkansas’ while at Arizona Western the past two seasons. The terminology won’t be the same, yet the physical demands of being effective as a blocker and receiver are the same.
It may not come until late, but expect Patton to carve out a role. After all, he was the No. 1 junior college tight end in the 2017 class for a reason.
David Williams, RB
A graduate transfer from South Carolina, there’s little doubt Williams will be featured in some capacity for the Razorbacks. How extensively he’ll be used is unclear. He rushed for 239 yards on 56 carries last season for the Gamecocks, his least amount of yards in any of his three seasons in Columbia. So, it’s obvious he won’t be overwhelmed by the level of play Arkansas is set to face.
The main priority for Williams is staying engaged. At South Carolina, he often fell in and out of favor with the coaching staff. He was at one point slated to be the starter in preseason camp a year ago before falling to the bottom of the depth chart by the time the season began.
Though he hasn’t seen much, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema stated Monday he’s been impressed with Williams since he arrived on campus. Fall camp will be vital for Williams’ hopes to stake his claim as the primary ball carrier behind projected starter Devwah Whaley.
Maleek Williams, RB
Williams was made to play in Arkansas’ offense. He’s a bruising runner with a low center of gravity and he doesn’t shy away from contact. The coaching staff has bragged about his work ethic — on the practice field and in the film room — from the moment he arrived as an early enrollee in January.
The Punta Gorda, Fla., native showed in the spring he’s physically ready to play at this level. He unofficially rushed for 89 yards on 18 carries in an April scrimmage, primarily being used as a short-yardage specialist.
When 2016 starter Rawleigh Williams III retired due to injury in the spring, the younger Williams was seemingly destined for plenty of carries in 2017. With David Williams being added, things are less certain, but don’t be surprised if Maleek pushes him for the backup opportunities.