Arkansas signed 24 players in its 2015 recruiting class. Seven of those were 4-star recruits, the most signed in a single class during the Bret Bielema era.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, most of those players haven’t lived up to the hype. But there’s time for most of them. The positive spin on this class is nine players have become starters or earned regular playing time while only four have transferred or been kicked off the team.
Here’s SEC Country’s re-grade of each player signed, with an overall grade for how the class panned out at the bottom.
(All recruiting ratings are based on the 247Sports composite.)
Hjalte Froholdt, 4-star DT
Summary: Froholdt transitioned to the offensive line after redshirting as a freshman. He immediately earned a starting role at left guard, where he struggled early last season. However, he eventually adapted and is viewed as one of the top run blockers on the team entering this season. There’s untapped potential with Froholdt, but he’s trending in the right direction with the chance to be a four-year starter.
Cheyenne O’Grady, 4-star TE
Summary: The 2017 season presents O’Grady with his first chance at being a regular starter. He had his best game as a Razorback in the Belk Bowl last season, catching 2 passes for 40 yards with one of those receptions being a 28-yard touchdown.
O’Grady has the tools to develop into Arkansas’ next NFL-caliber tight end. With no Hunter Henry or Jeremey Sprinkle on the roster, the time is now for him to fulfill that potential.
Will Gragg, 4-star TE
Summary: Gragg has been a disappointment to this point in his career. He redshirted in 2015 and saw no game action last season. Big things were expected when he was signed, particularly because his brother, Chris (2008-2012), was a standout tight end for the Hogs. Will was by far the better prospect of the Gragg bothers, but has given no indication he’ll live up to the hype.
Ty Storey, 4-star QB
Summary: Storey earned the backup job behind Austin Allen last fall. He saw action in three games and looked shaky at best. It was believed he would be surpassed by redshirt freshman Cole Kelley on the depth chart for the 2017 season.
However, Storey looked like one of the most improved players on the roster in the spring. As a result, the backup job is up for grabs and may even be Storey’s to lose at this point. If his progression continues, he’ll have the inside track to replacing Allen as the starter in 2018. His grade is largely based on the fact he hasn’t yet lost any ground on the depth chart to others his age or younger.
Jamario Bell, 4-star DE
Summary: Bell has moved from defensive end to tight end and is now at outside linebacker in his two seasons at Arkansas. With immense physical ability, he’s been a disappointment as he’s yet to see any playing time. If he adjusts well to outside linebacker, it could be a career-saving move. Otherwise, don’t expect his grade to rise.
Jalen Merrick, 4-star OG
Summary: Merrick was in contention to possibly start last fall before a couple of minor injuries set him back. He did see action in nine games, mostly on the field goal protection unit. He’s not expected to start in 2017, though a strong fall camp could present a compelling case. Otherwise, he’ll need to start looking over his shoulder to make sure he isn’t passed up by one of three freshmen on the roster. The coaching staff has indicated more has been expected from the former 4-star recruit.
Jeremiah Ledbetter, 4-star DT
Summary: Ledbetter did everything asked of him in two seasons at Arkansas after transferring from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He ended his career with 25 straight starts and played significantly in every game while with the Razorbacks.
Starting at defensive end throughout his junior season, Ledbetter moved inside to tackle for part of his senior season before transitioning back to end late in the season. The moves were all done as opportunity to get the players possible on the field. Ledbetter remained effective at all spots on the defensive front and never complained.
He led the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (7.5) as a senior.
Zach Rogers, 3-star OG
Summary: Rogers showed enough ability as a freshman to avoid a redshirt and saw action as a reserve. Though still not a starter, he saw increased playing time last season. Because he’s primarily used at center, he doesn’t have much chance at playing time with Frank Ragnow firmly entrenched at that spot.
So far, there aren’t major complaints about Rogers’ play at Arkansas. The success of his career will likely be determined by how he performs once Ragnow has departed for the NFL after this season.
Austin Cantrell, 3-star TE
Summary: Cantrell has been the best of the three tight ends signed in the class despite being the least-touted recruit of that group. He’s proven to be an exceptional blocker, making him an integral part of the offense last season. He showed surprising ability as a pass catcher with 13 receptions for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. Entrenched as a regular entering the 2017 season, he’s also a favorite among the coaching staff.
Rawleigh Williams III, 3-star RB
Summer: After claiming the SEC’s regular-season rushing crown (1,326 yards), Williams’ career came to an end as a result of a scary neck injury during spring practice. The Razorbacks were at their best when he was, going 6-1 in games he rushed for at least 100 yards. He was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week three times, becoming the 13th running back to do so.
Williams is admired for his contributions on the field, as a teammate and now as a source of inspiration for the upcoming season. His career was a major success despite the premature end.
Colton Jackson, 3-star OT
Summary: Jackson has shown promise in practice as one of the most gifted offensive linemen on the roster. But he’s yet to show that on the field. He earned the starting job at right tackle to begin the season until a rough start pushed him into a reserve role after three games. He’s again expected to be a starter at tackle to begin the season. This time, whether he holds onto it or not may make or break his career.
Dominique Reed, 3-star WR
Summary: Reed had great moments in his two seasons as a Razorback after arriving from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Always a dangerous deep threat, he finished second in the SEC in yards per catch (19.1) as a junior. He also had 6 touchdown receptions that season and 535 receiving yards, most of which came in the second half of the season.
The late surge in 2015 had many believing big things were in store for his final season. After landing in Bielema’s doghouse before fall practice even began, Reed proved to be unreliable and disappointing throughout his senior season. He had 279 less receiving yards and 4 fewer touchdown catches than the previous campaign. He’s more known for what might have been at Arkansas than what he actually accomplished.
La’Michael Pettway, 3-star ATH
Summary: Four of Arkansas’ top five wide receivers from a season ago are gone, presenting Pettway with an opportunity to seize a starting role for the first time. He was adamant early in spring practice that he’s grown as a player and believes he’s ready to take on an increased role. Those words were proven correct, at least through the spring, as he projects to be in a starting role once fall camp begins next week.
Nate Dalton, 3-star CB
Summary: Dalton redshirted then played only on special teams last season. He doesn’t figure to be a contributor on the defense this season, either. It should be noted his only opportunity at playing time came last fall when Kevin Richardson was lost for most of the season with an injury. Ryan Pulley, who we’ll get to later, seized that opportunity first and never relinquished it. Other than that, he’s been buried behind more experienced players. The question now becomes whether or not he can remain ahead of the five freshmen in the pecking order at cornerback.
Daytrieon Dean, 3-star DT
Summary: Dean never played in two seasons at Arkansas and announced plans to transfer in the spring. He is now a defensive end at Abilene Christian, a FCS school in West Texas.
Deon Stewart, 3-star WR
Summary: Stewart is in the same boat as Pettway, though he gets a bump in grade because he’s played more to this point. Interestingly enough, Stewart’s 2 career catches for 34 yards are second-best among returning wide receivers.
Now that the opportunity is there for as much playing time as he can earn, Stewart has elevated his sense of urgency to be a starter. Through spring practice, he started in the slot with Jared Cornelius primarily playing outside. He may never become a starter if he’s passed up this season.
Dre Greenlaw, 3-star S
Summary: When he’s been healthy, Greenlaw has been an effective constant at linebacker. He was following up an outstanding freshman season with another strong campaign as a sophomore when a broken foot cost him the final six games of the regular season. He finished ninth on the team with 42 tackles despite missing half the season. The coaching staff even pointed to his absence as a reason for some of the poor play on defense, particularly against the run.
There may not be a defensive player who is relied upon more in the 2017 season than Greenlaw.
Derrick Graham, 3-star LB
Summary: Graham transferred ahead of last season after taking a redshirt as a freshman. Bielema stated his transfer was a result of seeing a better opportunity for playing time elsewhere. That place is apparently at Holmes Community College where he had 19 tackles in nine games last season.
Kendrick Jackson, 3-star LB
Summary: Jackson switched from linebacker to fullback midseason as a freshman, went back to linebacker in the spring of 2016 and then returned to fullback that August where he started twice and played in all 13 games. The moves to fullback came as a result of Arkansas being thin at the position in both cases. That sort of willingness to do what’s best for the team has endeared him to his coaches and teammates.
He’s shown promise as a lead blocker and pass protector, an essential part of the Hogs’ pro-style system. He was particularly good against Mississippi State last season when he started and Arkansas had 661 offensive yards.
Ryan Pulley, 3-star CB
Summary: Pulley entered last season mostly as an afterthought in the cornerback rotation. But when Kevin Richardson was lost for the year in the season opener, Pulley took over as a starter and excelled. He led the team with 13 pass breakups, which ranked second in the SEC and 12th nationally. Those breakups came as opponents continually tried to pick on him. They failed more often than not with only 44 percent of the passes thrown his way completed.
He’ll enter his junior season as a candidate to earn all-SEC honors in a league full of talented corners.
T.J. Smith, 3-star DE
Summary: Smith got on the field sparingly in 2016 with more experienced players entrenched in front of him. With some of those players departed, he was given an opportunity to earn more playing time in the spring and was exceptional. He consistently made plays in each of Arkansas’ spring scrimmages, presenting a strong case to start opposite McTevlin “Sosa” Agim this season.
Willie Sykes, 3-star CB
Summary: Sykes played in 12 games as a freshman, mostly on special teams, before leaving the program and transferring to Independence (Kan.) Community College.
Josh Allen, 3-star OG
Summary: Allen didn’t play as a freshman and was dismissed from the team in the spring of 2016. From Jacksonville, Fla., he was a major disappointment considering the Hogs got him as an early enrollee over offers from Florida State, Georgia, Miami (Fla.) and several other top programs.
Blake Johnson, 3-star P
Summary: At one point last season, Johnson was replaced as the backup punter on the depth chart by Austin Allen. That’s right, the starting quarterback was viewed as a better option to punt if needed. Johnson had a chance to get his career back on track as this spring as the presumed starter with Toby Baker out of eligibility. However, he found his way into the doghouse again when he was placed in “extreme timeout” by Bielema. He’s still the best option to earn the starting job in 2017, but his track record doesn’t suggest he’ll take advantage of it.
Overall Grade: B-minus
Obviously, there’s plenty to be determined with this class. Particularly with the 4-star talent that was was signed. Among the seven players with that distinction, only Ledbetter lived up to such billing. There’s time for most of the others, though.
This class is boosted considerably by the production of players who weren’t quite as highly touted, mainly Williams III, Greenlaw and Pulley.