FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ bye week has arrived with the Hogs 5-3 overall and 1-3 in SEC play.
At SEC Country, we’re spending the week off assessing the performance of each position group through eight games.
Here’s our breakdown of how the Hogs have performed at tight end so far this season:
By the numbers
1: Winning touchdown catches for senior Jeremy Sprinkle.
4: Total touchdown catches for Sprinkle, second among SEC tight ends.
6: Sprinkle’s place among draft-eligible tight ends in 2017, which has him slotted to be selected in the third or fourth round.
20: The percentage of Sprinkle’s catches that have gone for touchdowns.
Sprinkle is putting together one of the most complete seasons of any tight end in the country. Part of that is because few other programs ask the position to do as many things as a Bret Bielema squad does.
At times Sprinkle will spend almost an entire game blocking as an extension of the offensive line, especially considering that unit’s struggles, and then be asked to suddenly split out and become a receiving threat. He’s competent at both, though his strength is still as a receiving threat with four touchdowns and 20 catches this season. He’s a sure-fire NFL pick that continues to climb up draft boards as he polishes his overall skill set. It should also be noted he hasn’t missed a game or many snaps despite an ankle injury that at times forced him to wear a protective boot and miss practice.
Redshirt freshman Austin Cantrell seized the opportunity to become the No. 2 tight end behind Sprinkle early this season and has improved each week. He’s become an exceptional blocker on the line and, at times, from the backfield. He’s also been a surprisingly decent option as a pass catcher, mostly off play-action, with nine receptions for 75 yards. It’ll be interesting to see how his role evolves once Sprinkle is gone.
Overall grade: B+
The only criticisms for this group are nitpicking. Sprinkle has at times struggled blocking, but he’s being asked to take on a bigger role in that area with the offensive line playing so poorly. Cantrell’s emergence has been a pleasant surprise and his future is bright.
Other than those two, the Hogs are still waiting for a potential contributor to emerge. The coaches are high on true freshman Grayson Gunter and sophomore Jack Kraus. Both should get their chance to seize regular playing time next season.