Arkansas signed 22 players in its 2016 recruiting class. Once the dust settled from last season, the group featured 12 redshirts and five others who played a high amount of snaps.
The class ranked No. 23 nationally according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. Based on average recruit rating, it’s the best class signed in the Bret Bielema era.
Here are SEC Country’s grades based on how each player signed has performed, with an overall grade for how the class at the bottom.
(All recruiting ratings are based on the 247Sports composite.)
McTelvin ‘Sosa’ Agim, 5-star DE
Summary: There isn’t a more physically gifted player on the roster than Agim. He played in every game as a freshman, becoming a starter midway through the season. His 2.5 sacks were second among SEC freshmen. And even when he wasn’t recording a sack or tackle for loss, he was taking on double teams and disrupting opposing offenses.
The expectations are through the roof for Agim, but, so far, he’s lived up to the hype for the highest-rated signee of the Bielema era.
Devwah Whaley, 4-star RB
Summary: Whaley is set to take over the primary running back duties with Rawleigh Williams III now retired. Based on what he showed last year as a reserve, there’s reason to believe Whaley will turn into a star. He rushed for 603 yards despite receiving 10 or more carries in only four games. He’s also always a big play waiting to happen. He had eight plays that went for at least 23 yards.
Arkansas getting Whaley in the first place was huge. He was a highly-rated recruit with opportunities to play about anywhere. After one season, he’s justified the expectations.
Austin Capps, 4-star DT
Summary: Capps impressed the coaching stuff enough in fall camp to warrant immediate playing time as a freshman. He appeared in 12 games, missing one with injury, and had 12 tackles. However, his value isn’t about stats. With exceptional strength and ability to use his hands, Capps is capable of holding his own against interior offensive linemen in the SEC. That allows him to plug up holes and command attention while the rest of the defense behind him makes tackles. He’s expected play a significant role in 2017 at any, or all, of the three spots on the Hogs’ defensive front.
T.J. Hammonds, 4-star RB
Summary: Arkansas made efforts to get Hammonds on the field last season. Ultimately, it was a wasted year of eligibility with 15 carries for 88 yards. When he did get touches, he looked impressive.
Hammonds moved primarily to wide receiver in the spring. He adjusted to the position well and showed play-making ability from the slot in spring scrimmages.
Now that Williams III has retired, we may not have seen the end of Hammonds at running back. But his growth at receiver has given the coaching staff reason to leave him there, which appears to be likely.
Briston Guidry, 4-star DT
Summary: The coaching staff speaks highly of Guidry, and that’s all that’s known of him. He’s had some nice moments in scrimmages last fall and in the spring, but it isn’t known how good he will be. Regardless, he’s considered a future starter and will have a chance to be involved in the defensive line rotation this season.
Jake Heinrich, 4-star OG
Summary: Early in fall camp last season, it became evident Heinrich would redshirt. After that, he’s hardly been mentioned by the coaching staff which remained the case through the spring. At best, it looks like he may compete for a second-team job this fall.
Jordan Jones, 3-star WR
Summary: Jones turned heads last August with his elite speed and big-play ability in practice. Though he presented a strong case, he didn’t play right away as he redshirted due to a crowded wide receiver group. Now, four of Arkansas’ top five receivers from last season are gone and Jones has an opportunity to play a lot this season.
Ability will never be what keeps him off the field. He’s flashed as much talent as any receiver on the roster. But based on accounts from the coaching staff, he’ll need to be more reliable and committed to be trusted with regular playing time.
Jonathan Marshall, 3-star DE
Summary: Marshall was the fourth and final addition to what Arkansas’ coaches viewed as a strong defensive line class. He flipped his commitment from Oklahoma to Arkansas a few days before National Signing Day.
Since he arrived on campus, he redshirted last season and is likely to be at least a small part of the defensive line rotation in 2017. He has the size and versatility to play either end or tackle in Arkansas’ 3-4 scheme. For that reason, he’s likely to be especially useful in goal-line situations.
Though he seems to be behind the other defensive linemen in this class, Marshall hasn’t done anything to be viewed as lacking value to this point. Time will tell how effective he can become.
Kofi Boateng, 3-star WR
Summary: Offensive coordinator Dan Enos stated his belief last fall Boateng would turn into a good player in the future. Less than a week later, Boateng tore his ACL and spent the 2016 season recovering. He got back on the field during the spring, though he was limited. There’s no way to tell at this point which direction Boateng’s career is headed, but he’ll have a chance to earn playing time this fall.
Alexy Jean-Baptiste, 3-star LB
Summer: Jean-Baptiste redshirted last season and seemed primed to at least play a role in the new 3-4 defense this season. He is, after all, a perfect fit at outside linebacker.
However, he suffered a broken foot during spring practice in April and may not be cleared by the time fall camp begins later this week. That would be a setback toward his chances at starting this season, but he may carve out a role. He’s viewed as a valuable player for the future, especially in the new scheme.
De’Jon “Scoota” Harris, 3-star LB
Summary: Harris earned enough trust from the coaches to warrant playing time as a freshman. His playing time picked up late in the season once Dre Greenlaw was lost with a broken foot. He finished 2016 with 37 tackles, 11 coming on special teams, and earned a spot on the coaches’ SEC All-Freshman team.
He’ll be an integral part of the defense this season as a projected starter alongside Greenlaw at inside linebacker.
Paul Ramirez, 3-star OT
Summary: Injuries set Ramirez back last season. However, it came as a surprise he wasn’t able to beat out struggling starters on the offensive line for more playing time.
It doesn’t seem Ramirez will play much in 2017, but will be given an opportunity to earn that in fall camp. He was the backup to Colton Jackson at left tackle when spring practice concluded. He’s running out of time to play regularly as he enters his senior season.
Giovanni LaFrance, 3-star LB
Summary: Last season, LaFrance was set back by a broken hand in August and redshirted. He appears to be buried on the depth chart at inside linebacker. He won’t be surpassing Greenlaw or Harris any time soon. Dwayne Eugene and walk-on Grant Morgan would be more likely options at one of the inside spots.
For whatever it’s worth, the coaches seemed to be on LaFrance’s case as someone who needed to step up and improve to make it at this level. But it’s possible the media just heard about him on his bad days.
Deon Edwards, 3-star S
Summary: The upcoming season is an important one for Edwards. Not because he’ll be asked to play a significant role, but because he’ll need to prove he can when 2018 rolls around. Arkansas has six upperclassmen, four of which are seniors, locked in to garner most of the snaps this season. So, 2018 will be the time for a player like Edwards, who redshirted last season, to gain control of a starting spot. For now, expect him to be special teams regular.
Cole Kelley, 3-star QB
Summary: Kelley has arguably the best tools of any quarterback on the roster. He possesses a strong arm, great size (6-foot-7, 270 pounds), an inordinate amount of confidence and has exhibited leadership qualities based on accounts from the coaches.
He was viewed as Arkansas’ quarterback of the future as soon as he stepped on campus. The future being once starter Austin Allen has departed after this season. That timetable may be delayed a bit if sophomore Ty Storey continues to show progression and seriously challenges Kelley for the backup job this season.
Michael Taylor, 3-star DE
Summary: A late arrival in the 2016 class, Taylor was never ruled eligible to play last season. If he had been, he may have worked his way into the defensive end rotation. He expects to play regularly in 2017, and is a player the coaches speak highly about.
Hayden Johnson, 3-star FB
Summary: When Johnson stepped on campus in 2016, he became the starting fullback by default. The Razorbacks didn’t have another player at the position until Kendrick Jackson switched over from linebacker in late August. Johnson remained the primary fullback throughout most of the season, playing in 12 games and starting seven.
After proving to be a capable blocker and receiver as a freshman, Johnson got some work at H-back (a hybrid tight end/fullback position) in the spring. Indications are he’s a big part of Arkansas’ future at whatever position he plays.
Britto Tutt, 3-star CB
Summary: It seemed as if Tutt was in position to play last season, at least as a special teams regular, until a torn ACL in August ended those chances. He’s probable to see a decent amount of playing in 2017 if he’s recovered and is as good as the coaching staff has advertised him to be.
Although, it’s not likely he plays a ton of snaps with so much depth ahead of him at corner. He’s still viewed as a future starter, especially after this season.
Deion Malone, 3-star OG
Summary: Malone redshirted in 2016 after transferring in from a junior college. That year of development helped in his push to get on the field. Bielema said in the spring Malone showed notable growth throughout the offseason. He’s projected to be backup, but if his improvement continues, there’s a chance he could challenge for playing time. Particularly at right guard where Johnny Gibson has had issues remaining out of Bielema’s doghouse.
Grayson Gunter, 3-star TE
Summary: Gunter quietly played in every game last season, primarily on special teams. He caught a 29-yard pass, his first and only catch, against Mississippi State. He played through a hurt left shoulder most of the year and had surgery to fix the ailment in January. As a result, he was limited in the spring. While that may have hurt his chances at winning a wide-open competition for playing time at tight end, he’ll have a chance to gain that status in fall camp.
Overall, he’s progressed well early in his career for a 3-star tight end who had just two SEC offers.
Dee Walker, 3-star LB
Summary: Walker spent 2016 on the sidelines as a redshirt. He was used at both outside and inside linebacker in the spring as the coaching staff looks to find a good fit for him.
It’s still clear which position he’ll play in the fall, though outside linebackers coach Chad Walker previously said he liked what he saw from him on the outside. The opportunity for playing time appears to be better there than on the inside. Fall camp will determine if the redshirt freshman seizes his chance to get on the field.
Micahh Smith, 3-star S
Summary: Smith, also coming off a redshirt, is in the same predicament as Edwards with no path to playing time this season. It’ll be important for him to show he can be relied on in mop-up situations and on special teams.
Overall Grade: B
Arkansas was able to redshirt 59 percent of its class while another 23 percent played a high amount of snaps. So, a large portion of the class either spent a year developing or made a measurable impact on the field. There’s obviously a lot to be determined with this group, but the early return has been promising. The defensive side of the ball appears especially strong with Agim and Harris both being SEC All-Freshman nominees last season.