Arkansas’ 2014 season was an encouraging one as the Razorbacks made a bowl game, delivered a statement in that bowl (a 31-7 thrashing of Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl) and saw growth at a number of areas across the field. Make no mistake, this is a team that lives on power football. Balance is important, too, however, and we saw quarterback Brandon Allen take forward strides as did the receivers and tight ends in 2014. Taking even more steps forward in the passing game will be key to offensive improvement in 2015 as we continue our look at teams across the conference and what positions need improvement:
Position to improve: Receiver
Why it was a problem: The Razorbacks simply need more production from the position. Only two teams in the conference (Kentucky and Vanderbilt) had a team-leading receiver with fewer yards in 2014 than the Hogs (558). That’s partially by design because Arkansas is such a run-heavy team and teams have to focus on their strengths, which, for the Razorbacks, is their running backs and offensive line. Still, having a good passing game with productive receivers is important even for run-first teams because the threat of play-action passing down the field keeps opposing defenses honest and can help prevent them from stacking the box to stop the run. Arkansas heavily uses tight ends in its passing game and quite effectively: two of the three leading pass catchers in 2014 were tight ends. Still, the Razorbacks could use more quality depth at receiver.
How it can be fixed: Having leading receiver Keon Hatcher return for his senior season is important. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior is a talented weapon and led the team in receptions (43), receiving yards (558) and touchdown catches (six). Those numbers should only improve next season. Tight end Hunter Henry is one of the SEC’s best at his position and he returns next season as well to improve on his 37-catch, 513-yard season. If those two take strides forward (as well as quarterback Allen, who made a big improvement from 2013 to 2014) the passing game could be in good shape. As for the rest of the receivers, only one on the two-deep depth chart was a senior (Demetrius Wilson) meaning the Hogs return four of the five: Hatcher, sophomores Drew Morgan and Cody Hollister and freshman Jared Cornelius, who all caught passes last season. Kendrick Edwards, a 6-foot-6 freshman who caught four passes last season, also returns. Someone from that group of youngsters needs to step up and emerge into a more consistent, dependable target for Allen.
Early 2015 outlook: With Hatcher and Henry returning, things are looking up for the Arkansas receivers and tight ends. Hatcher is entering his senior season, while Henry will be a junior. Both have plenty of big-game experience under their belts. Hatcher made a jump from 27 catches in 2013 to 43 in 2014. Another similar statistical jump would be huge for the Hogs. If one of those other young returning receivers steps up, it will be a big help. At tight end, a position that has a key role in the passing game at Arkansas, Jeremy Sprinkle returns while the Hogs lose A.J. Derby. Arkansas has two ESPN 300 tight ends in its current recruiting class: C.J. O’Grady and Will Gragg. Gragg is a mid-year enrollee, so that gives him a chance to contribute quickly. Four-star receiver LaMichael Pettway and three-star receiver Deon Stewart comprise the Hogs’ receiver recruiting class for 2015, so more talent is on the way. The 2014 receiving corps (not including tight ends) accounted for 106 catches after accounting for just 30 in 2013, so significant improvement occurred. If it continues, it bodes well for Arkansas' passing game in 2015.