Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly Arkansas recruiting mailbag with reporter Trent Shadid. In this edition, we discuss how the Razorbacks can improve in recruiting, a defensive lineman who won’t arrive on campus when expected, a future linebacker, and more.
If you could advise [Coach Bret Bielema] about what Arkansas can do to be more successful in recruiting, other than win more, what would you recommend? — Tucker Sayes
I think Bret Bielema and his staff do a pretty good job. His five recruiting classes at Arkansas all have finished between Nos. 20-30 nationally. When your recruiting finish is better than what you’re doing on the field, I typically consider it a job well done. The Hogs have done that each year under Bielema, to differing degrees.
That being said, I do like this question and I’ve definitely thought about what I’d do differently. My approach would revolve around tapping into some prime areas where the Hogs have seemed to be lacking — Memphis and Kansas City.
Arkansas has done a great job becoming a known commodity to recruits in talent-rich areas such as New Orleans (thanks to wide receivers coach Michael Smith) and St. Louis. It seems like recruits from those areas are at least visiting and/or seriously considering the Hogs. But I think there are a couple areas, while not quite as talent heavy, where the Razorbacks have a chance to build a stronger reputation.
Memphis would be at the top of my list. Arkansas signed running back Chase Hayden from that area and he looks like one of the gems in the 2017 class. They also have a commitment from 2018 defensive tackle Emmit Gooden. Currently at Independence (Kan.) Community College, he’s one of the top junior college prospects in his class, but he’s from the Memphis area.
There are a handful of other top recruits from the area in the 2018 class who have visited and/or are considering the Hogs. So, maybe the coaching staff is making that area more of priority.
In Bielema’s first few years on campus, it seemed like the program had a minimal presence in Memphis. For instance, they didn’t offer Gooden out of high school when he was a 4-star recruit. I just think there is hay to be made, especially with nearby Ole Miss trending down in recruiting. Memphis is more of a Razorbacks town than many people realize.
I also see some opportunity in Kansas City. It’s not St. Louis from a talent standpoint, but it’s not bad and it’s closer to Fayetteville (230 miles). Of the top 10 Missouri recruits in the 2018 class, seven are from the St. Louis area and three are from Kansas City. But of those three from the Kansas City area, only one (defensive lineman Daniel Carson) has an offer from Arkansas. Five of the seven top St. Louis prospects have offers.
I’m just wondering why prioritize one and not the other, especially considering there likely is more of a chance for success in Kansas City.
How badly do you think not having Melvin Johnson is going to hurt the defense this season? — Alex (Ethan) Hunt
Riverside (Calif.) Community College defensive lineman Melvin Johnson not making it due to academic issues doesn’t significantly impact this season. At most, I think he would’ve averaged one series each game.
However, it could become an issue if the Hogs have some injuries on the defensive line. Depth within that unit can be paramount in the SEC. It’s been a key to success for a lot of teams in the league. Alabama, for instance, always has great defensive line depth. Auburn had depth when it made a run to the 2013 national title game. Missouri, when it won the East in 2013 and 2014, did so with exceptional talent and depth at that position group.
If Arkansas has aspirations of making a surprise run in the West, I’m betting it will need great defensive line play. That starts with depth while navigating an always-difficult schedule. The Hogs should have depth with a reliable seven- or eight-player rotation and some potential All-SEC talent (McTelvin “Sosa” Agim). But if a couple players go down with injuries, Johnson’s absence could make a difference.
Is Bumper Pool in the Class of ’17? If so, will he start? — Sam Melson
Linebacker commit Bumper Pool is in the 2018 class. He’s expected to arrive on campus for the 2018 spring semester. While he obviously won’t be a starter in 2017, he’ll have a good chance at being a contributor in 2018 as a freshman.
Pool is extremely talented. I’ve seen him in person and he lives up to his 4-star billing. Arkansas should be fine at middle linebacker in 2018 with Dre Greenlaw and De’Jon Harris likely still on the roster. Beyond those two, Pool might be the next option. And if he’s good enough, someone could move outside to get Pool on the field. His early enrollment significantly helps his case to play right away.
Any updates on Dante Lang? — benthehog
I did hear recently that defensive line target Dante Lang from Boca Raton, Fla., remains interested in Arkansas. I also heard he was planning on possibly taking an official visit to Fayetteville in the fall.
I’m not sure the Hogs will have a spot open on the defensive line. They could make an exception if they like him enough and scramble to make the scholarship numbers work. Right now, I think they are waiting to see what happens with Georgia target Nicholas Fulwider. He’s expected to announce his commitment in the next few weeks and could take the Hogs’ third and final defensive line spot in the class.
Getting back to Lang, Arkansas was his second offer (December 2016) and first from a Power 5 school. I think identifying him as an SEC talent before other schools has been important. He’s added offers from Florida, LSU, Kentucky and Pitt. Those are his other top choices. For now, Florida appears to be the front-runner, particularly because they’ve offered him as a tight end. That appears to be the position he’s leaning toward playing at the next level.
Now that tight end Luke Ford has de-committed from Arkansas, I’m wondering if the Hogs may push for Lang to fill that spot.
What makes a TE choose a school that uses TEs less, puts fewer in NFL, has a lesser QB, like Alabama over Arkansas? Not facilities, academics. — Jaime
Obviously this question directly relates to Ford de-committing and listing Alabama as his leader. I believe he is really high on the Crimson Tide for two reasons.
First, winning championships is a major selling point. He probably sees Alabama as a chance to play for a national championship, and doesn’t see that opportunity at Arkansas. He’s a polite kid, so he wouldn’t state it that way publicly.
But, as you stated, winning doesn’t mean his position will be developed and used adequately. That’s where a guy such as O.J. Howard makes a difference. He was the first tight end selected in the 2017 NFL Draft (No. 19 overall) after a successful career at Alabama. He was the offensive MVP of the national title game as a junior with 5 catches for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns in a win over Clemson.
Despite all that success, Alabama coach Nick Saban said after last season that Howard was underutilized. That comment makes me think the Crimson Tide are moving in a direction of using tight ends more often. Maybe that was part of the obvious rift between Saban and former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll spent the last three seasons as Rob Gronkowski’s position coach with the New England Patriots, a team that uses tight ends with remarkable efficiency. All these things probably are what they’re selling to Ford. Basically saying, “Look what we did with Howard, and now we’re going to be using our tight ends more often and more efficiently.”
I think you’re right about academics and facilities. Arkansas can at least hold its own with Alabama in both categories. The Hogs also can say they’ve produced their fair share of NFL tight ends.
All that being said, Ford wants to see what his top teams do this fall at tight end. We know Arkansas will use the position often and likely with success. But if Daboll does the same at Alabama, I think the Crimson Tide will be nearly impossible to beat in this recruiting battle.
To submit a question for recruiting mailbags, email Shadid13@gmail.com or send a message to @Shadid13 on Twitter.