Jason Ivester

Possible 'Junior Jumpers' for the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2017

For Arkansas to take the next step, these juniors-to-be need to make a big jump in 2017.

Every year, there seems to be a few players across the country who played as sophomores, but explode as juniors.

They have plenty of experience under their belts and everything starts to slow down for them, leading to huge strides between their sophomore and junior seasons - or jumping their play up a notch.

Arkansas is no different and will rely on several of these "Junior Jumpers."

For our purposes, we are leaving running back Rawleigh Williams III out of this conversation because he is already one of the premier backs in the SEC and it would be hard to improve a ton on last season, especially considering Devwah Whaley will likely get increased reps. We are also not considering guys like Michael Taylor II and Armon Watts, players who either have not played at all or played very little.

These are players fans are already well aware of because of their performances on Saturdays, but could jump up and become significant or star players in 2017.

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Inside linebacker Dre Greenlaw

If he can get healthy and stay healthy, there is no doubt Dre Greenlaw could make a huge jump in 2017. He showed promise when he was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman and he looked good last season before breaking his foot. With Brooks Ellis gone, it will be Greenlaw's defense to lead and there's really no where but up for the Razorbacks' defense.

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Cornerback Ryan Pulley

Ryan Pulley had a pretty good sophomore season and was arguably Arkansas' top defensive back in 2016. His 13 pass breakups are the most in the SEC among returning players. If he continues to progress, Pulley could be a legitimate shutdown defender this season. For what it's worth, Pulley and Greenlaw were among the three third-year players head coach Bret Bielema allowed NFL teams to measure during Arkansas' Pro Day, along with running back Rawleigh Williams III. Schools can choose up to five.

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Outside linebacker Randy Ramsey

From showing glimpses of talent in practice to being removed from the team to returning as a walk-on and finally to re-earning his scholarship, Randy Ramsey's story is well-documented. He is uber-talented and if he gets a chance - which it seems is likely in the 3-4 scheme Arkansas is converting to this offseason - Ramsey could become a really good pass-rusher for the Razorbacks. Even in limited time last season, he finished with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. An increase in playing time will likely lead to an increase in that production.

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Strong safety Santos Ramirez

By now you should start noticing a trend: Arkansas' defense is littered with young players who are becoming older and should help the unit be better in 2017. Another one of those guys is strong safety Santos Ramirez. Everyone knows he is capable of taking your head off, but if he can become more dependable in the passing game and more consistent as a wrap-up tackler, Ramirez could be a very good player in the Razorbacks' secondary.

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Kicker Cole Hedlund

Ever since Zach Hocker graduated, kicker has been a worrisome position for Arkansas. The Razorbacks thought they had their answer with Cole Hedlund, a highly touted recruit from Texas, but he has struggled during his two seasons in Fayetteville. He is perfect on 83 extra-point attempts, but is only 14 of 22 (63.6 percent) on field goals. Other kickers - such as Adam McFain and Connor Limpert - have battled him for the spot despite being walk-ons. If Hedlund is going to become a solid kicker for Arkansas, it's now or never.

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Offensive linemen Hjalte FroholdtJohnny Gibson and Brian Wallace

When last season ended, Arkansas had a trio of sophomores starting on the offensive line: left guard Hjalte Froholdt, right guard Johnny Gibson and right tackle Brian Wallace. All three of them struggled at times, but also showed potential. Froholdt, a Denmark native, has played football for only five years and was in his first as an offensive lineman. Gibson is a former walk-on, while Wallace was a highly-touted recruit. They may have vastly different backgrounds, but for the Razorbacks to protect quarterback Austin Allen and open up holes for Williams and Whaley in 2017, they need to take another step in their development.


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