FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas Razorbacks were dealt some terrible news Monday, when junior running back Rawleigh Williams III announced his retirement from football after a second scary neck injury.
All things considered, it was definitely the right call. Williams should not risk his non-football future in pursuit of a football career. And knowing what we know about Williams as a person, he’ll be just fine.
But now the Razorbacks must move forward without one of the most important pieces of their offense. Williams, who led the SEC in rushing yardage during the 2016 regular season, was one of the reasons many believed Arkansas would be in good shape on offense in 2017.
So what do the Hogs now have to work with in the backfield? Here’s a quick look:
Devwah Whaley, sophomore
Devwah Whaley absolutely has the talent to be a No. 1 back in the SEC. And it’s a good thing, because that’s exactly what he’ll be.
He rushed for 602 yards and 3 touchdowns last season as a true freshman. Before the season, many — including myself — believed he might end up as Arkansas’ No. 1 back in 2016 because of his immense talent. That didn’t happen, but only because of how well Williams ended up playing.
One of the big reasons it took Whaley a little longer than expected to be a major contributor was because it took him time to adjust to the pass blocking Bret Bielema requires of his backs.
Bielema has had at least one 1,000-yard rusher in every single one of his seasons leading a program. This year, that 1,000-yard rusher is — in all likelihood — going to be Whaley.
It hurts to know that I can't play by your side anymore, but thank you for taking me under your wing, and being a great leader Love you bro. https://t.co/7UH6sHBOIZ
— Devwah Whaley (@devwah_whaley) May 8, 2017
Maleek Williams, true freshman
Maleek Williams enrolled early and has been with the team throughout the spring and has impressed coaches. Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell even said that Maleek was going to “force us to have to play him,” whether that’s on special teams or on offense.
Maleek worked throughout the spring as the No. 3 back behind Rawleigh Williams and Whaley. Once Chase Hayden (see below) arrives on campus, it will be interesting to see if Maleek can maintain his place in the pecking order. If he does, Maleek could be in line for at least 100 carries as a true freshman.
Juan Day, junior
Juan Day — from North Little Rock, Ark. — has been bitten by the injury bug a lot during his career with the Razorbacks. He earned 4 carries for 17 yards against Tennessee-Martin as a redshirt freshman in 2015. That’s all the game action he’s seen with the Hogs.
It seems unlikely that Day would be considered a better option than either of the true freshmen, but with a good summer and fall, who knows?
Chase Hayden, true freshman
Chase Hayden was a 4-star prospect and chose the Hogs over an impressive offer list. The only thing that might put him behind Maleek Williams — at least initially — is the fact that he didn’t enroll early. Still, Hayden has a strong skill set that includes the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Hayden told SEC Country last month that his particular skill set might allow him to avoid redshirting as a true freshman. If that’s true, it’s even truer now that Rawleigh Williams chose to retire.
T.J. Hammonds, sophomore
T.J. Hammonds spent his true freshman season as a running back but rarely played. Bielema and the coaching staff worked him at wide receiver during the spring and he appeared to be adapting to that position.
Hammonds worked some at running back during the “spring game,” but now that Rawleigh Williams’ career is over, will Hammonds return to his old position full-time?
Let’s be honest: Arkansas probably needs help at receiver. And Hammonds’ special skill set might make him more valuable there.
Still, if Maleek Williams and/or Hayden aren’t quite ready to play in 2017, moving Hammonds back to running back might be his best chance to get on the field.
Bottom line: Hammonds is far too talented to sit another season mostly on the sideline. Arkansas coaches need him on the field, no matter which position.
— T.J. Hammonds (@Just_Theron) May 8, 2017