Arkansas picked up its 15th commit of the 2016 class Saturday in Manvel, Texas, linebacker Jordan Carmouche, but also finds itself with some more room after recent developments.
Redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Colquitt left the team three weeks ago while wide receivers Jojo Robinson and Kendrick Edwards have both been dismissed from the team and given their release.
“This is a very small class,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “At the start of the year, it started at 13 and now with (injured senior wideout) K-Hatch, Keon (Hatcher), there is a chance he could come back for his (redshirt) senior year so that swings another one back into the junior class.
“There is a number of guys that we have had conversations with about where their status is.
“I thought this was going to be a class around 18, but it could get as high as around 22 or 23.
“I wasn’t planning on losing those two wide receivers and wasn’t planning on losing Tyler so it jumps you three more literally overnight, which is good because I think what we have shown with this staff…since we came here is that we recruit well.
“Next year’s class has probably got seven or eight juniors that project right now to be significant NFL draft guys. The more we can keep bringing them in, the better we are going to keep getting.”
Bielema noted that he would be looking for a minimum of four offensive lineman - Arkansas has one offensive lineman pledged now - as well as at least two running backs in the class.
He also noted the rest of the scholarships would likely be geared toward defense.
“Obviously I can't get into specifics, but I think defensively is going to be a huge point of emphasis in December,” Bielema said. “We have got a lot of guys we are going to bring on campus. Had a couple in this weekend.”
Bielema noted that he feels good about landing kids if he can just get them on campus at Arkansas.
“We are so efficient when we get guys on campus, unlike any place I have ever been, that you really have to prioritize who is coming in and when because as soon as somebody says yes, then that eats up a position for somebody else,” Bielema said.
Arkansas is likely to lose both injured senior tailback Jonathan Williams and junior Alex Collins to the NFL draft and is hoping that freshman Rawleigh Williams - who injured his neck - is able to come back next season and play.
The Razorbacks have one hybrid running back pledge in Pulaski Robinson’s T.J. Hammonds, who it intends to play as a slot receiver as well as a tailback.
“I knew I was going to sign one running back, but I think because if you lose J-Will and you lose Alex and obviously the situation with Rawleigh, you potentially lose your three best running backs,” Bielema said.
“It just shows you have got to sign two, if not two-and-half, you know what I mean, a guy that can play both.”
Bielema is looking forward to December and January recruiting.
“It is going to be a fun recruiting year,” Bielema said. “We already have great numbers and I really like it now because you are getting into the nitty gritty of it and you can really start to get to know these kids and make a difference in the process and see if they are a good fit for your program.”
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Bielema doesn’t intend to load up on junior college players as he did his first year at Arkansas.
“We don’t take many jucos,” Bielema said. “I took way too many my first year. I took seven and I think only one really played of any significance and he was a walk on named A.J. Derby. The rest of the guys didn’t really (play) until (linebacker) Martrell (Spaight), who was the one guy out of that class and really didn’t help us until his senior year.
“So we are not going to take many junior college kids. I see maybe a couple in the offensive line and maybe one or two on the defensive side of the ball.
“We just do so much more research on our guys and we are recruiting so much more efficiently like (defensive end Jeremiah) Ledbetter, like Dominique Reed.
“Now when we are going after a juco it is because we have a specific need at a specific position and we recruit a certain type of kid other than ‘aw, we always just need football players, let’s bring these guys in.’ So it is a lot more fun, too.”
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Bielema talked about the potential return of Hatcher, who had 13 catches for 198 yards before being injured in the second game of the season against Toledo.
Hatcher had 83 career catches for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns coming into the season.
“He is a kid that has dreamed of playing on the big stage and he was set to have a great big senior year and kind of put his mark on the table for the next level and he is just not going to have the chance to do that.
“So with that said, from the information that we have gathered from NFL scouts, from people around the league, if he could come back and have a senior year and put a little bit more on his resume, it would be a very beneficial thing for him.”
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Bielema believes he has almost a dozen players in his junior class who will have a chance to be drafted either this season or next.
One guy who has bust onto the NFL’s radar is Jeremy Sprinkle, who has 13 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns this season.
He said before the season that he thought he had at least seven in that class with tailback Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry, offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, linebacker Brooks Ellis and cornerbacks D.J. Dean and Jared Collins.
“I think Sprink is one that has kind of come the furthest,” Bielema said. “…I think Jeremy has emerged into that spot as well and Kody Walker fell back into that class so that gives you probably nine and a couple of guys that continue to play well - Dominique Reed, the junior college wide receiver - will jump into that as well.
“So you are talking about a dozen guys with NFL potential so it gives you a lot of hope for next year as well.”
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Bielema has already sat down with Collins and Henry and will have conversations with those two and others at the end of the season.
“The NFL lets you do five guys that can go in and ask their grades and I am probably going to have to be selective on who those five are and sit down with certain guys and sit down and make it real,” Bielema said.
“Obviously Alex has put up good numbers and he is a guy and I think a lot of people, when they are talking about Hunter, refer to him as one of the best in the country right now.
“Those kids have handled it so well, too. I sit down with Alex during the bye week, I sit down with Hunter and his parents during the bye week and going back to last summer when we had a great lunch together.
“Hunter just said, ‘hey, I am going to play football and get grades and that is all I am going to worry about’ and that is exactly what has happened.
“I encouraged his parents to talk to some people just to get information.”
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Bielema also talked about how he uses his style of offense in recruiting in terms of player safety.
“When we are recruiting an offensive player or a defensive player against a certain type of school, what we will point out is defensively you play this many more reps on average in a 12-game season than you do on our style of offense,” Bielema said.
“We try to stress to them the amount of exposure that gives them, amount of wear and tear on their body and it is just mathematical proof that is going to happen and how it is going change it.
“On the flip side, it limits us and keeps our guys hopefully a little bit fresher in the stretch and if you manage your time in practice and do certain things, that is going to be a point of emphasis for sure.”