Arkansas' hopes for a successful 2017 season took a big hit this spring when Rawleigh Williams III retired because of a neck injury. He was a returning All-SEC running back and primed to lead the Razorbacks' offense again this season.
Now Arkansas will have to figure out how to get by without him. Those are big shoes to fill, but many expect Devwah Whaley to do just that.
It got HawgsDaily thinking, though: What other players can Arkansas not afford to lose? In other words, who are the most irreplaceable Razorbacks?
Here is our top 10...
10. Santos Ramirez – S
Known as a hard-hitting safety, Ramirez forced a pair of fumbles and had a 24-yard pick-six against Florida last season. He seems to have a starting spot locked up alongside DeAndre Coley, but Josh Liddell is a senior who provides experienced depth at the safety position. Four-star signee Montaric Brown is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, as well.
9. Randy Ramsey – OLB
If he had more game tape, Ramsey would likely be higher on this list. Even after being away from the program for a year and getting limited reps as a defensive end last year, he had 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. With Arkansas shifting to a 3-4 scheme, Ramsey will play an important role as the starting “Razor” outside linebacker. Hawgs247 has seen enough of him in practice to believe he could have a breakout year in 2017.
8. Jared Cornelius – WR
The Razorbacks lost a ton of production from last year’s team with Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan graduating and moving on to the NFL. Cornelius is the only player on Arkansas’ roster with more than two career receptions and he’s coming off a 32-catch, 515-yard, four-touchdown season. Despite the lack of experience, the Razorbacks seem to have a lot of quality young players at the receiver position, resulting in Cornelius not being higher on this list.
7. Ryan Pulley – CB
No returning player in the SEC had more pass breakups than Ryan Pulley, who had 13, last season. He didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage until the bowl game and 10 of his pass breakups came against Power Five opponents. The Razorbacks do have more depth at cornerback in 2017, but it is largely unproven.
5b. De'jon Harris – ILB
Harris was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2016 when Dre Greenlaw went down with a broken foot midway through the season. Although he didn’t start any of the game, he did receive significant reps and played well enough to be named to the SEC coaches’ All-Freshman team. Arkansas has had depth issues at linebacker for several years and that will be put to the test this year with the switch to a 3-4, meaning an extra linebacker will be on the field.
5a. Dre Greenlaw – ILB
The depth issues that make Harris irreplaceable make Greenlaw equally important. The Razorbacks’ defense suffered when he went down with his foot injury. He returned for the Belk Bowl, but another setback forced him to miss spring practice. The options behind Harris and Greenlaw are mostly walk-ons and true freshmen.
4. Frank Ragnow – C
If this were a list of the top players on Arkansas’ roster, Ragnow would likely be at No. 1. He was the best offensive lineman in the country last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and multiple publications have named him a preseason All-American. Ragnow anchors an offensive line that the Razorbacks are counting on being much more improved since last year. There is no denying the talent drop off behind him, but Zach Rogers is solid backup with Jake Raulerson and Dylan Hays as other possibilities.
3. McTelvin Agim – DE
Most of Arkansas’ defensive linemen from last season are no longer on the team, making Agim – a true sophomore – the most experienced player on the unit. He is also a former five-star recruit and will be playing a more natural position this year as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. Hawgs247 believes he is the only lock to start on the defensive line at this point, with the second defensive end spot still up in the air. Losing Agim would be a huge blow to the Razorbacks as they transition to the 3-4.
2. Devwah Whaley – RB
When Rawleigh Williams III was forced to retire because of neck injuries, Whaley shot up this list. Arkansas went from having one of the top 1-2 punches at running back in the SEC to having just one featured back. Coming off a 602-yard season, Whaley will see his workload increased quite a bit. If he goes down, the Razorbacks would have to rely on T.J. Hammonds (who they hope to play at slot receiver), a pair of true freshmen (Chase Hayden and Maleek Williams) or David Williams (a graduate transfer from South Carolina).
1. Austin Allen – QB
It’s cliché, but also true – the most important position in football is quarterback. Arkansas has a very good one in Allen. A fifth-year senior, he is expected to be among the best in the SEC after leading the conference with 3,430 passing yards last season. There are definitely things he needs to work on, such as cutting down his SEC-high 15 interceptions, but there is no arguing that he is the Razorbacks’ best option at the position. In fact, neither Ty Storey, last year’s backup, nor Cole Kelley, a highly touted redshirt freshman, has separated himself as the No. 2 quarterback. If one of them were forced into action, it would likely be a tough year for Arkansas.