FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas lost the best tight end in the country from last year’s team. Hunter Henry — winner of the 2015 John Mackey Award — is now playing for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.
But the guy returning atop the depth chart still should excite Razorbacks fans.
Senior Jeremy Sprinkle’s six touchdown receptions led all SEC tight ends in 2015, and all of those scores came during the final seven games of the season.
Sprinkle is No. 3 on SEC Country’s list of the most important Arkansas football players entering 2016.
A reminder — as if you still need one by now — these rankings don’t reflect our take on the best players on Arkansas’ roster, but the most important in determining the Razorbacks’ success in 2016.
3. Jeremy Sprinkle, Sr., TE
Jersey number: 83
2015 stats: 27 receptions, 389 yards, six touchdowns
Career appearances/starts: 38/9
Sprinkle will be tremendously important to Arkansas in multiple ways this year.
First, good tight ends can be extremely valuable security blankets for quarterbacks. With a new starter behind center in Austin Allen, Sprinkle becomes even more valuable in this regard.
But even if Brandon Allen somehow had been granted a fifth year of eligibility, Sprinkle would remain an integral part of Arkansas’ offense. Few coaches value tight ends quite like Bret Bielema.
Barring injury, Sprinkle should be in line for a big season statistically now that he’s atop the depth chart. Heck, Sprinkle could even give the Razorbacks consecutive Mackey winners if things work out right.
The biggest question for Arkansas in the tight end department is this: Who will step up and replace Sprinkle as the No. 2 guy?
Bielema loves to use two-tight sets, but entering fall camp, there is no clear answer as to who will be the second tight end in Arkansas’ 2016 offense. Sophomore Jack Kraus and redshirt freshmen Will Gragg, C.J. O’Grady, Austin Cantrell and Jamario Bell are all options.
And therein lies Sprinkle’s true value to Arkansas’ offense, and the reason he’s ranked so high on this list: If something happens that forces him to miss time, who will be the guy to step in and replace him?
Editor’s note: Arkansas beat writers Jason Kersey and Trent Shadid are counting down the most important Arkansas football players for the 2016 season. The countdown will continue over the next four days, with each remaining player getting his own post.