FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — On Aug. 7, Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema deferred when asked how many of his true freshmen might play in 2016.
“I can see the number being a standard that I always say, five to 15,” Bielema said.
After nearly two weeks, the answer is becoming clearer.
Some will play on offense or defense. Others likely will be on special teams. Here is a list of Arkansas’ true freshmen on scholarship this season, ranked from most to least likely to contribute in 2016. This list could change depending on injuries and other circumstances.
1. Devwah Whaley, RB
- Whaley stood out in Arkansas’ first scrimmage over the weekend, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Rawleigh Williams III should be the starter in the Sept. 3 opener against Louisiana Tech, but Whaley will be a big part of the offense.
2. McTelvin Agim, DE
- The former 5-star prospect enrolled early and went through spring football. He is a clear-cut second-teamer and might start before the season ends. He’s too talented to keep off the field.
3. Hayden Johnson, FB
- Johnson — from Columbia, Mo. — is playing a vital position in Bielema’s offense. He’s received widespread praise from his teammates and coaches. Johnson is working extensively with the first team. With the news Monday morning that Kendrick Jackson is moving back to fullback from linebacker, Johnson might be on the field a little less than we thought as recently as a week ago, but I still expect he’ll be heavily involved.
4. De’jon Harris, LB
- Arkansas needs help at linebacker, and Harris is the most likely freshman to provide it. Harris has a lot to learn, though. With Jackson’s move to fullback, Harris is now second on the depth chart at middle linebacker. At the very least, he’ll be a strong special teams contributor when the season starts.
5. Jordan Jones, WR
- Like Hammonds, Jones missed the scrimmage. He was absent because of a fever. Bielema expects Jones to play as a true freshman even though Arkansas has an experienced receiver group.
6. Alexy Jean-Baptiste, LB
- Bielema probably would prefer to retain this year of eligibility for Jean-Baptiste, Dee Walker and Giovanni LaFrance. There is a lack of depth at linebacker, so the freshmen might have to play.
7. Dee Walker, LB
- See directly above.
8. Briston Guidry, DT
- Guidry is a 3-technique — a playmaking defensive tackle — behind Jeremiah Ledbetter. Guidry made a nice play during the scrimmage on Saturday. The Arkansas defensive line is a team strength, but Guidry’s position isn’t as deep.
9. T.J. Hammonds, RB/WR
- Hammonds had knee surgery Monday morning and is expected to miss two to three weeks, although Bielema said Hammonds might have redshirted this season anyway. There is still a chance he contributes, but if this list had been compiled early last week, he probably would have been in the top five. It was disappointing that he couldn’t participate in the scrimmage Saturday.
10. Giovanni LaFrance, LB
- LaFrance might be higher on the list if he were practicing, but he’s been out with a broken hand. LaFrance’s cast is supposed to come off this week, a source said.
11. Jake Heinrich, OL
- Heinrich likely will redshirt this year. He’s elevated on this list because of Arkansas’ continued shuffling of the first-team offensive line by position coach Kurt Anderson. Bielema isn’t afraid to play true-freshman linemen, though.
12. Austin Capps, DT
- Capps, a nose guard, is in a different position than Guidry. With Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson ahead of him on the depth chart, Capps likely will redshirt.
13. Jonathan Marshall, DE
- Marshall improved this summer. Seniors Deatrich Wise Jr. and JaMichael Winston are ahead of him on the depth chart, and a redshirt season might put Marshall in prime position for next year.
14. Deon Edwards, S
- Bielema singled out Edwards and fellow true-freshman safety Micahh Smith for praise last week, saying they “really get the game” and “understand it.” Both are expected to redshirt, though.
15. Micahh Smith, S
- See directly above.
16. Cole Kelley, QB
- A sophomore and two redshirt-freshman quarterbacks are behind starter Austin Allen. It seems unlikely that Kelley would rise to No. 2 on the depth chart. Kelley’s arm strength stood out during the scrimmage on Saturday, though. He was the third quarterback to see action after Allen and sophomore Rafe Peavey. Even if Kelley becomes the second-team QB, it probably would take a serious injury to Allen for Bielema to use Kelley’s redshirt.
17. Grayson Gunter, TE
- Gunter is behind many returning tight ends on the depth chart. He definitely will redshirt in 2016.
18. Kofi Boateng, WR
- Boateng probably was going to redshirt. His ACL tear last week at practice made that a certainty.