Arkansas bulks up on offensive playmakers in 2019 class

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Pulaski Academy receiver Hudson Henry runs for extra yards against Springdale Har-Ber on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, during a game at Wildcat Stadium in Springdale.
Photo by Ben Goff
Pulaski Academy receiver Hudson Henry runs for extra yards against Springdale Har-Ber on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, during a game at Wildcat Stadium in Springdale.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas fielded one of the least-explosive offenses in the Southeastern Conference in 2018.

Razorbacks coach Chad Morris, in his introductory speech to his players in December 2017, said one of his primary objectives was to be dynamic and light up the scoreboard by way of a fun and entertaining offense. It didn't quite work out that way last fall.

But help, it seems, is on the way in what is considered by recruiting services and various analysts to be one of the best groups of receivers and skill players in the country. In all, Arkansas gained the signatures of four four-star receivers as well as Pulaski Academy star Hudson Henry, another four-star prospect who signed his letter of intent Wednesday morning.

Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock battled through a shaky season offensively and watched Arkansas finish next to last in the league in percentage of possessions that resulted in a 20-plus yard score (7.14). The receivers room then took a blow on Jan. 15 when La'Michael Pettway, the team's leading receiver in 2018, announced his intention to leave the program and pursue a graduate transfer.

Following Pettway's announcement, the Razorbacks were without their top pass catcher from the previous two seasons and in a bit of limbo with tight end Cheyenne O'Grady and receiver Mike Woods as the only players on the roster with 200-plus receiving yards.

Treylon Burks is the highest-rated receiver in the group, the No. 11 wide receiver and No. 82 overall prospect in the class, according to ESPN. The Warren star, though, did not play for the Lumberjacks following Week 5 of the 2018 season due to an ACL injury.

Morris said Wednesday that he and his staff expect Burks to be "full throttle and ready" when he arrives on campus in June. At the latest, Burks will be ready for fall camp, he said.

"He's a big receiver/linebacker at 6-3, 225. Just been a fantastic player," Morris said. "Obviously he suffered an injury this year, but a great young man. He loves the Hogs and that excites me."

As a junior, Burks caught 45 passes for 1,090 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 936 yards. He totaled 57 catches for 1,354 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore, and 41 receptions for 815 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Burks is the only freshman to start for longtime Warren coach Bo Hembree.

Henry, who committed to Arkansas on Oct. 11 over Clemson, Alabama, Penn State, Stanford, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, signed Wednesday to become the fifth member of his family to play for the Razorbacks. He was a first-team USA Today and MaxPreps All-American, catching 94 passes for 1,309 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall.

"We know, obviously, his family and the legacy that they have," Morris said. "I feel like he’s going to come in and make a major impact watching him and the success that he’s had."

Arkansas rounds out its impressive cast of playmakers with TQ Jackson, Shamar Nash and Trey Knox, who, along with receivers coach Justin Stepp, lead a group titled the "Snag Crew."

Knox chose the Razorbacks over Auburn, Tennessee, Ohio State, Clemson and others. He caught 141 passes for 1,894 yards and 19 touchdowns in his high school career, using his 4.6 speed as a weapon. Stepp recalled when Knox visited Arkansas in March of 2018 that he doubted the staff would ever see him again. Already holding a gaudy list of offers, landing Knox seemed unlikely.

“Then we started building that relationship with him and me and him just kind of hit it off," Stepp said. "We just clicked and it ended up working out.

“His shoulders are broad and this kid is going to be special," he added. "He reminds me a lot of the Mike Williams kid we had at Clemson. He’s a huge red-zone target. He’s huge. He’s got a great frame, great length and has a huge catch radius. He’s just such a physical kid. He ain’t looking to get down or get out of bounds. He’s looking to run somebody over."

Then there are the two speediest receivers in the class in Stepp's mind. Nash initially put the Arkansas staff aside in the early stages of his recruitment, but was credited by Stepp as the player who kickstarted the Razorbacks landing the talented cast of receivers. Nash signed with Arkansas over offers from Missouri, Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida.

"He’s another dynamic player with the ball in his hands," Stepp said. "He’s an unselfish kid and blocked for two of the best running backs in the country … It’s hard to find receivers that are OK with doing that. He just wants to win, and that’s what I love about him.

“He’s been committed to us the longest and he started this whole thing. Every week I just said, ‘Hang in there with us,’ and he said, 'I know it’s going to take some time to get it built and I’m going to be there to help.' He told me every Saturday help is on the way."

Jackson, a 6-4 receiver from Jefferson, Texas, picked the Razorbacks over TCU, Baylor, Arizona and Missouri offers, and finished his high school career with 119 catches for 2,834 yards (23.8 yards per catch) and 33 touchdowns. Stepp said Jackson has grown about 3 inches since visiting campus last January and fits what the coaching staff wants in a speedy receiver.

“He’s a kid that every time he touches the ball he has a chance to do something with it," Stepp said. "His potential is out of this world. He’s got a high ceiling as far as how much he can improve.”

In the coming years, Arkansas' 2019 class of playmakers could be looked back on as the group that revolutionized the offense in the Morris era, but Morris is keenly aware that you can't win games based on potential.

"This is our class," Morris said. "This is our team and we've got to develop the guys we have that are here and putting in the hard work and understand that now the next step is that we've got to continue to develop these guys."

Arkansas also added Pulaski Academy receiver John David White as a preferred walk-on. White caught 30 touchdown passes in 2018, which led all classifications in Arkansas.

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