FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas makes its appearance at SEC Media Days next Wednesday, July 13, and fall practices begin a couple weeks later.
Before you know it, the Razorbacks will be kicking off the 2016 season Sept. 3 against Louisiana Tech.
During the next eight days, SEC Country will present its rankings of the top-25 most important Arkansas players for the 2016 season. Compiled by Arkansas beat writers Jason Kersey and Trent Shadid, these rankings aren’t of the best players on the team, but of the most important in determining the Hogs’ 2016 success.
We begin today with the Nos. 16 through 25 most-important players, and will continue Wednesday and Thursday with the Nos. 15-11 and 10-6 players, respectively, before counting down the top-five most important Razorbacks in individual posts each day from Friday through Tuesday.
25. Toby Baker, Sr., P
Jersey No.: 37
2015 stats: 43 punts, 1,772 yards (41.2 average)
Career appearances/starts: 15/0
Baker could play a very important role for Arkansas this season — especially early in the schedule — because of the inexperienced offense, which will feature a new quarterback, a new primary ball carrier and a lot of new linemen. Baker ranked eighth in the SEC in punting average last season, so that number probably needs to improve in 2016.
24. Jake Raulerson, Jr., OL
Jersey No.: 50
2015 stats: N/A
Career appearances/starts: 23/5 (at Texas)
Raulerson was a 4-star prospect out of Celina, Texas, in the 2013 recruiting class. He redshirted as a true freshman and then appeared headed for bigger things. He started five games during his redshirt freshman season — including in the Texas Bowl against Arkansas — but then began to see his playing time diminish.
In 2015, he appeared in 11 games but didn’t have any starts, and chose to graduate and transfer with two seasons of immediate eligibility. With Arkansas needing to replace three offensive linemen, Raulerson absolutely should be part of the rotation with a good chance to start at guard. Four of his starts two years ago came at center, although Frank Ragnow seemingly has that spot locked down after playing there all spring. Arkansas coaches wouldn’t have taken Raulerson if they didn’t think he could contribute right away, so we expect he’ll have every opportunity to do so.
23. Rawleigh Williams III, So., RB
Jersey No.: 22
2015 stats: 56 carries, 254 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 receptions, 26 yards
Career appearances/starts: 7/0
With Alex Collins’ record-breaking college career over, the Razorbacks will need to find their next 1,000-yard running back, and Williams is certainly a candidate to fill that role. He played some as a true freshman last year before suffering a scary neck injury in a late-October win over Auburn, but returned to practice during the spring.
He’ll be competing against Kody Walker and incoming freshman Devwah Whaley to carry the load for the Razorbacks.
22. JaMichael Winston, Sr., DE
Jersey No.: 6
2015 stats: 21 tackles, one TFL, three quarterback hurries
Career appearances/starts: 38/18
Winston, a returning team captain, started 12 games two seasons ago, but saw his playing time diminish as last season wore on and other players surpassed him on the depth chart. After starting the first three games of the season, he made just two starts the rest of the way.
Still, with Tevin Beanum having missed most of the spring and true freshman McTelvin Agim expected to make an immediate impact — see below — Winston will be relied upon for his leadership if nothing else. He will also undoubtedly remain a key part of the rotation, whether he’s starting or not.
21. Randy Ramsey, So., LB
Jersey No.: 10
2015 stats: None
Career appearances/starts: 7/1
Ramsey returns to the Razorbacks this season after missing all of last year for academic reasons. Even though the Hogs return Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw — the team’s two leading tacklers in 2015 — at linebacker this year, Ramsey is talented and versatile enough to make an impact if he keeps his head on straight. He made seven appearances with one start as a true freshman in 2014.
20. Keon Hatcher, Sr., WR
Jersey No.: 4
2015 stats: 13 receptions, 198 yards, two touchdowns (played in two games before a season-ending injury)
Career appearances/starts: 35/20
Hatcher appeared headed for the best season of his career in 2015 before suffering a season-ending foot injury during the second game. Throughout his time in Fayetteville, Hatcher has caught 86 passes for 1,123 yards and 11 scores.
With all the depth Arkansas returns at wide receiver, he might have a hard time being the No. 1 guy in 2016, although if the Razorbacks play with three and four wide more often than Bret Bielema has in the past, that could mean good things for all the Arkansas wideouts.
19. Jared Collins, Sr., CB
Jersey No.: 29
2015 stats: 44 tackles, one interception, nine pass breakups, one forced fumble
Career appearances/starts: 37/27
Collins’ numbers dipped a bit last season, but there’s no reason at all to believe he won’t retain his starting position his senior season. The Arkansas secondary returns loads of experience, but also ranked 116th in the country with its 275.2 passing yards allowed per game.
Collins, DJ Dean and Henre’ Toliver will be the Razorbacks’ three main cornerbacks in 2016, and all of them bring significant experience as starters to the mix. But if Arkansas is going to improve on that 116 ranking in 2016, Collins will have to be better than he was a year ago.
18. Jeremiah Ledbetter, Sr., DT
Jersey No.: 55
2015 stats: 55 tackles, 7.5 TFL, two sacks, one pass breakup, three quarterback hurries
Career appearances/starts: 13/12
Ledbetter transitioned to a defensive tackle spot this spring after playing defensive end, and the change seems to have the potential to work out quite well in 2016. He played well at tackle throughout spring practices — recording two sacks in the spring game — although that was also against an inexperienced Arkansas offensive line.
Ledbetter is a tad undersized for an interior defensive lineman, but if the switch works out this fall, the Razorbacks’ defensive line could be among the best in the conference considering all the talent on the ends.
17. Will Gragg, RFr., TE
Jersey No.: 11
2015 stats: None
Career appearances/starts: 0/0
This spot could just as easily be occupied by Jack Kraus, Jamario Bell, Austin Cantrell or C.J. O’Grady. Gragg was a 4-star signee in the Hogs’ 2015 recruiting class and ranked by 247Sports as the 205th-best prospect in the country. Last season, Hunter Henry was the country’s best tight end and Jeremy Sprinkle led SEC tight ends with six touchdown receptions.
If the trend of Bret Bielema offenses having multiple tight end threats is to continue, Gragg — or someone else — will have to assume that No. 2 role behind Sprinkle in 2016.
16. McTelvin Agim, Fr., DE
Jersey No.: 3
2015 stats: None
Career appearances/starts: 0/0
Agim is one of the most ballyhooed recruits to sign with Arkansas in quite some time. A 5-star prospect and the No. 18 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class — according to the 247 Composite rankings — Agim enrolled early and went through spring drills.
Arkansas is stacked with talented players at defensive end, so there won’t be a ton of pressure on Agim to be a star right out of the gate. But he’s so talented that he just might anyway.