It's too early to pick the season. I'm no fun. I wait until August so I can see who makes it to campus and who is healthy before I want to give a forecast.
But I do have enough information to put a value on the personnel at Arkansas. Bret Bielema doesn't have the talent and overall depth needed for the kind of schedule he's been assigned by the SEC office. But there is some cream at the top.
I was asked to list the top 10 players on the Arkansas staff by an editor at Fox Sports for a project that Scout.com will publish at some point this summer. It was an interesting request and worth expanding in this space.
The tough part of the task is coming up with a definition for what makes a top player. Is it value to the team? Or, would it be from the eyes of an NFL scout? Experience comes into play, but I gave myself the ability to pick a young player who might bring extreme value to the team.
For instance, Brandon Allen doesn't have a lot of SEC snaps under his belt, but he's got to be considered one of the top 10 players on this team. As the starting quarterback, his worth is considerable. How Allen plays -- specifically how well he limits mistakes -- will likely determine how the Hogs play.
But there are some obvious bell cows. The top four on my list have both talent and experience and are easy choices at the top of the list. They are likely to be captains and coveted by NFL teams. In order, my top 10:
1. Travis Swanson, senior center - One of the vocal and by-example leader of this team, along with Small. He'll be a four-year starter and may be better than Jonathan Luigs, the Rimington Award winner as the nation's top center five years ago.
2. Kiero Small, senior fullback - Back for a second try of his senior season, perhaps the most missed of those on the injury list in 2012. He might have been worth two more victories. With the installation of a downhill running game under Bielema, he became one of the favorite players of the new staff. He's the perfect fit for the new offense and could have the ball in his hands more than most suspect. Along with Swanson, he gives the Hogs strength of the middle like a good baseball team.
3. Chris Smith, senior defensive end - The poster child for strength coach Ben Herbert's system, he's now pushing 270 pounds without a lost step. He had 9.5 sacks last season and part of one of the SEC's best end tandems. Quick and fast, he was asked to become more vocal as a leader under new line coach Charlie Partridge. He might be the most coveted by NFL scouts in this senior class.
4. Byran Jones, senior defensive tackle - Bielema fell in love with his inquisitive nature as far as system, technique and leadership ideas in December and January. Poised to start for the fourth season, Jones is in the process of adding the footwork and technique to go with his brutish strength and is the anchor point for the strength of this Arkansas team.
5. Trey Flowers, junior defensive end - He's come a long way since he had to jump in the starting lineup as a true freshman against Alabama. Texas A&M ran right at him the following week. No one does that any more. He's a fine run stopper who may blossom as a pass rusher this season. He's got the wing span of a condor.
6. Robert Thomas, senior defensive tackle - If you say he's the fourth best player in the defensive front, that might be misleading. He was solid in the spring and one of the best players on the defense. He was impressive in the spring after adding 15 pounds to his frame in Herbert's winter program.
7. Brandon Allen, sophomore quarterback - Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney thinks his quarterback can make all of the throws and emerged as a leader in the third week of spring drills. Chaney said learning the details of the position came first, then taking charge followed in a progression that is natural for the position.
8. Tevin Mitchel, junior cornerback - The best cover man in the secondary, ready for a break-out season after fighting through a concussion and gall bladder surgery early last year. He's got the length and ability to play the toughest position in the SEC. He'll get the top receivers in the SEC, a big assignment. Is he all the way back from that tough 2012. It will be a big key to the season.
9. Rohan Gaines, sophomore strong safety - Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the former quarterback blossomed as a "great player" in the spring after a tough season as a redshirt freshman. A solid tackler and playmaker, Ash said assignment errors were hard to find over the course of 15 practices.
10. Jonathan Williams, sophomore running back - The Kentucky game with two big plays showcased his talent as an SEC back. New assistant Joel Thomas tightened ball security during the spring, pushing him to a more physical style as a downhill runner. Still elusive and a cutback specialist, he took to the inside running drills with passion.
That's the best 10. Next we'll go over the 10 Razorbacks who need to have break out seasons. Don't just love top 10 lists?
State of the Hogs: Best 10
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