Jason Ivester

Spring Countdown: Tight ends

With the Razorbacks closing in on spring football, HawgsDaily is breaking down who we believe Arkansas' starters are at all 22 positions. We'll reveal two each day through March 28, when the Razorbacks begin practice.

Depending on formation, Arkansas could have one or two tight ends on the field at any given time. For the purpose of this exercise, we'll write about the top two tight ends, the first of which is more of a traditional blocking tight end, while the second is more of a pass-catching tight end.

Tight endAustin Cantrell

R-Soph. | 6-4 | 269 | Roland (Okla.)

2016 stats: 13 games (5 starts), 13 receptions, 120 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

Why he'll start in 2017: Cantrell emerged as the Razorbacks' top tight end from their 2015 class last season, despite being the lowest rated of the three tight end signees. He is a physical specimen who usually requires two, three or four defenders to bring down. Although he's not as much of a threat in the passing game as Hunter Henry or Jeremy Sprinkle, Cantrell has reliable hands. With Sprinkle gone, he should get more chances, too.

Why this spring is important: Head coach Bret Bielema said Cantrell will cross-train as a fullback this spring. His physicality is perfect for the position and it will allow him to stay on the field more when Arkansas uses different offensive formations. It will also be an important time for him to develop more chemistry with quarterback Austin Allen.

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Tight endC.J. O'Grady

R-Soph. | 6-4 | 251 | Fayetteville (Ark.)

2016 stats: 8 games (o starts), 3 receptions, 63 yards, 1 touchdown

Why he'll start in 2017: Talent has never been an issue for O'Grady. He was a 247Sports Composite four-star prospect who was recruited by programs like Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Texas because of his size and soft hands. However, once he arrived on campus, O'Grady found himself immediately in head coach Bret Bielema's doghouse because of a DWI arrest in August of his redshirt season. He was still there early in the 2016 season and was even relegated to the practice squad at one point. O'Grady worked his way back into the mix, though, and caught all three of his passes over the final three games of the year.

Why this spring is important: O'Grady will have a lot of competition at the tight end spot. In addition to Austin Cantrell, the front-runner for one starting position, he'll have to hold off Jeremy Patton, the No. 1 junior-college tight end in the 2016 class. There is also Grayson Gunter, who played as a true freshman last season, and Will Gragg, who has yet to make his Arkansas debut but was a four-star recruit in the same class as O'Grady. That is a loaded position group, but he'll have a leg up on Patton - his presumed top competitor - because he won't arrive on campus until the summer. O'Grady needs to use these practices to prove he can be dependable on and off the field so Bielema will trust him as a weapon in the passing game.

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Here are links to our previous breakdowns, in case you missed any of them:

Quarterback/running back

Wide receivers


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