Seniors move on. It’s an undeniable truth of college football, one that coaches face every year.
But that truth hit the Arkansas Razorbacks’ wide receiver position very hard in the spring. Wide receiver coach Michael Smith said goodbye to four of his top five receivers last December when Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, Dominique Reed and Cody Hollister matriculated out of the program.
The lone returner from his top five receivers is a good one, though, in Jared Cornelius. Known as J-Red by his teammates, Cornelius is a proven commodity. Last season he made 32 catches for 515 yards for a 16.1 yard-per-catch average with 4 touchdown catches. He was fourth on the team in catches, third on the team in yardage, second in yards-per-catch, and tied for second for most touchdowns.
“Jared is a tremendously talented player,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said at SEC Media Days. “I think we did a postseason study that showed he was one of the most productive slot receivers in all of college football last year with the number of receptions he had and the number of snaps he took. He’s a very, very confident young man. I think he’ll have his best year going into the senior year.”
If he does, that will be a great season. Cornelius, who was recently named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List that recognizes the most versatile college football player, was the only Razorback in the last 20 years to post three 100-yard games in a row when he did it last season against Texas A&M, Alcorn State and Alabama. He also made 22 first downs among his 32 catches last season.
Razorback starting quarterback Austin Allen will, no doubt, miss throwing to steady hands like Morgan and Hatcher in particular, but after spring football and summer workouts, he is feeling more confident in Arkansas’ wide receivers.
“We had a lot of good football players last year leave us so this time next year, y’all will be talking about how the quarterback taking over has a stacked wide receiver group,” Allen said at SEC Media Days. “I think a lot of those young guys could have a really big year.”
Bielema and Smith knew they would have to replenish the receiver’s room this season with incoming talent.
“At wide receiver, we signed two junior college players I feel really have adopted the game well that we brought in, and have made a nice impact on us,” Bielema said at SEC Media Days.”
Those two players are Brandon Martin (6-4,219) and Jonathan Nance (6-0, 182). Both came to Arkansas from Mississippi Gulfport Community College. Martin, who was labeled as the top junior college wide receiver recruit in the nation, is a sophomore, while Nance is a junior.
Martin has excellent size and is very athletic. Martin made 23 catches for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns in his lone junior college season. Nance has good hand and speed. He struggled last year with a shoulder injury but still made 13 receptions for 153 yards. His freshman season he made 31 catches for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Bielema believes several younger receivers that have been on the roster will step forward this season.
“We have a couple younger players in our program like sophomores Deon Stewart, and La’Michael Pettway plus some other guys that I think can step up into a role that’s pretty significant,” Bielema said. “They’ve been working really hard. I know [Arkansas strength and conditioning coach] Ben Herbert in the weight room has felt pretty good about what they’re doing, and we’re excited to get them out there.”
In the spring, Cornelius finished as the starter at the slot position with Nance and red-shirt freshman Kofi Boateng (6-1, 190) behind him.
Pettway (6-2, 220) and red-shirt freshman Jordan Jones (6-1, 185) were battling it out at split end, with Martin behind them.
Stewart (5-11, 162) forged ahead of promising sophomore T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 195) at the flanker. Junior River Warnock (5-11, 190) was behind them.
At such an inexperienced position, the depth chart could change greatly over the course of Arkansas’ 29 preseason practice opportunities, which begin on July 27.
True freshman receivers Maleek Barkley (5-10, 175), Jarrod Barnes (5-11, 172), De’Shawn Gulledge (5-9, 175), Koilan Jackson (6-2, 214), Tyson Morris (6-1, 199), and De’vion Warren are also on the roster, and will have an opportunity to work themselves into the mix, if they are good enough.