FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Few teams in college football have the depth at tight end as Arkansas.
Bret Bielema-coached teams always, seemingly, have a tight end who can make noise at the Division I level. Bielema, since his days at Wisconsin, has run two tight-end sets. At Arkansas, it has largely been Hunter Henry, A.J. Derby and Jeremy Sprinkle. But none are Razorbacks anymore, allowing for new players to take control.
SEC Country’s complete roster breakdown continues with a look at Arkansas’ tight ends, which should be a strength of the team in 2017.
1. Austin Cantrell – sophomore
Perhaps the least heralded of the three tight ends in the Class of 2015, Cantrell has established himself (so far) as the best of the group. At 265 pounds, he is a haul for defenses, whether he’s blocking or heading out for a pass.
Cantrell is the No. 1 on here almost by default. He is, undoubtedly, the top option, but he isn’t going to be like Henry or Sprinkle. Cantrell isn’t a receiver. He can go on routes and catch passes, but it isn’t his forte. He’s more of a blocker and will spend occasional time as a fullback. It doesn’t mean Cantrell can’t catch passes, but it is one of the things tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said was one of the primary goals this fall to improve.
What tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said in the spring
“He’s big and we were able to play him a lot last year. He still needs to work on some things. … We feel good about Austin. He plays hard.”
2. Jeremy Patton – junior
How quickly the junior college transfer hits the field is going to be determined by how ready he is. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but Patton was scheduled to be on campus a few months ago. Instead, he’s just arriving. It’s going to take some time to learn Hoganese, as coach Bret Bielema calls it, and the Arkansas offense.
But make no mistake, Patton is the most skilled tight end on the roster. At least, based on his pedigree. He’s the top JUCO tight end recruit in the country. If he lives up to his billing, he’ll fit into Sprinkle’s pass-catching spot. But a late arrival to Fayetteville may hinder that. We’ll learn a lot in fall camp
What Lunney said
“Jeremy can be option for us this year.”
3. Cheyenne O’Grady – sophomore
O’Grady has the physique, but the question is with his work ethic. He spent a lot of his first year-and-a-half in Bielema’s doghouse. At 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, O’Grady has the size and speed to play havoc with opposing linebackers and safeties. He had 3 catches in five games last year, showing his worth as a receiver. It’s a matter of focus and adjusting to the college game. If O’Grady can up that quotient, he’s in line for double-digit catches and regular playing time this year.
What Lunney said
“He had some moments last year. CJ is built well and he can make catches for us. For him, it’s about leaning how to be a Division I football player and everything that comes with that.”
4. Will Gragg – sophomore
It’s a bit unfair to compare Gragg to his brother, Chris, who was an Arkansas wide receiver-turned-tight end who spent time in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. But that’s what has happened.
Will Gragg has yet to have much of an impact at Arkansas, but part of that is playing behind Henry and Sprinkle. This could be his year to make a name for himself. Will Gragg is bigger than Chris, and more of a natural tight end. With him, it’s more about adjusting to the sport at the college level and all that entails. As often as Arkansas runs dual tight end sets, Gragg should see significant time this season.
What Lunney said
“Some guys take longer to develop. Will has come a long way, especially this spring.”
5. Jack Kraus – junior
Kraus may not overtake the four listed in front of him, but he’s also had more playing time than every one of them except Cantrell. He doesn’t have the upside of the three recruited in the 2015 class (Cantrell, O’Grady and Gragg), but he has shown he can be a competent SEC tight end.
Mostly, Kraus will serve as a secondary option. But he can both block and catch passes.
6. Greyson Gunter – sophomore*
Gunter worked his way in front of O’Grady, Gragg and Kraus last year. He picked up his first — and only — catch against Mississippi State, but his coaches, especially Lunney, raved about his potential. How recovered he is from shoulder surgery will play into how large his role is this season. If he’s healthy, expect him to get more action than would be expected from his slotting here.
7. Blake Kern – redshirt freshman
Kern is a practice squad player from Lamar (Ark.) High who could be an emergency option.