Coming off a 4-8 season in 2018, the Arkansas Razorbacks have a lot of room for improvement on the field. A new coaching staff has been brought in with head coach Chad Morris bringing his offensive mindset from SMU and hiring Joe Craddock as his offensive coordinator and John Chavis as his defensive mastermind.
Now the trio, along with the rest of the staff, must whip what is left on the roster into shape and find out which 2018 recruits can fit their schemes on both sides of the ball. With National Signing Day wrapped up, we take a look inside the 2018 class to see which newcomers could have the biggest impact on the field when Arkansas’ season kicks off on Sept. 1 against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois.
On paper, the top two newcomers are linebacker Bumper Pool and quarterback Connor Noland. Both were four-star recruits and both highly recruited. Once on campus, Pool and Noland will get to compete for playing time and a possible starting spot, but each comes to campus at a position with a little bit of depth.
One great sign for the Hogs’ fan base was seeing Morris allow Chavis to stockpile players during a year with a limited number of scholarships to offer. Instead of the usual 25, Arkansas signed a total of 17 players this cycle with 11 of those seemingly destined for defense.
After the Hogs finished ranked 101st out of 129 FBS teams in total defense in 2017, if an offensive-minded coach emphasizes the other side of the ball in his first recruiting class, chances are that is where the fan base will see the biggest impact.
Billy Ferrell, DT
Ferrell was a beast in the trenches for Fordyce High School throughout his career. The in-state product made a big impact as a sophomore, coming up with 65 tackles and 23 tackles for a loss. His senior season was highlighted with 63 stops, eight tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
His size (6-3, 331) and strength suggests he could be an immediate impact player at nose guard or defensive tackle In Chavis’ defense. The Hogs allowed 196 rushing yards per game last year. Ferrell’s addition up front could help in that respect right away.
Ferrell committed to Arkansas over offers from Alabama, Louisville, Wisconsin and Memphis.
Dorian Gerald, DE
Gerald was a late addition to the Razorbacks’ class, coming aboard on the Friday after National Signing Day. The wait for his faxed letter of intent will be worth it, however. Gerald was the top-ranked JUCO defensive end in the nation after coming up with 42 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks during his sophomore season at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California. The Hogs only came up with 19 sacks last season, which tied them for 102nd in the FBS. Any live body that can put pressure on and/or get to the quarterback is needed.
Gerald picked the Hogs over offers from Miami, Oregon, Texas A&M and Florida.
LaDarrius Bishop, CB
In a conference not necessarily known as a pass-happy one, the Razorbacks had a lot of trouble stopping teams through the air (242 ypg) last season. To make matters worse for 2018, the secondary graduated two starting corners in Henre’ Toliver and Kevin Richardson. If Bishop can show his cover skills early to the staff, he will be on the field as a true freshman. His size, quickness and closing speed should come in handy even if he’s used on special teams early on.
The Hogs were able to flip Bishop from Mississippi State, keeping the in-state product close to home. Other teams to offer Bishop included Florida, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Memphis.
Myles Mason, DB
Mason was the prototypical do-everything athlete in high school playing receiver, quarterback and running back while doubling as a defensive back. His overall athleticism can be a big boost to the Razorbacks’ secondary. His size (6-2, 205) will help bring down the SEC’s top running backs while allowing him to match up against just about any receiver going deep. His speed will make him effective against the run and the pass while helping cover a lot of ground across the field.
Another contributor in the 2018 class could be three-star safety Joseph Foucha. The New Orleans native comes in at a time of need across the board in Arkansas’ secondary.
Mason was another flip for the Hogs taken away from Mississippi State. Mason also had offers from Florida State, Alabama, Louisville, Tennessee and Auburn.
Rakeem Boyd, RB
Boyd was a big want and get for Chad Morris. The one-time Texas A&M signee was considered a top-25 running back coming out of Houston’s Stratford High in 2016. He redshirted his first season with the Aggies before eventually leaving the program and winding up at Independence (Kan.) Community College. Last season he ran for 1,211 yards and 14 scores and was considered a top-five JUCO prospect.
If there is one area the Hogs are loaded with talent on the roster, it is at running back. Devwah Whaley, Chase Hayden and T.J. Hammonds all saw meaningful snaps last season and return for the 2018 campaign. If Morris felt he needed Boyd so badly, expect him to play early and often.
Boyd picked the Hogs over an offer from Colorado. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.