HawgBeat Roundtable: Prediction Check
Many weeks ago, HawgBeat writers Nikki Chavanelle and Andrew Hutchinson made preseason predictions for who would lead Arkansas in receptions, touchdowns, sacks, tackles and more.
Now, five games in, we revisit the predictions...
1. Which Arkansas receiver finishes the season with the most receptions, touchdowns and yards this season?
Hutch: "With three top-end guys, I could see this being a year when three different players lead the three separate categories. Treylon Burks - receiving yards. Trey Knox - touchdowns. Mike Woods - receptions."
Nikki: “I think Treylon Burks will be such a mismatch for opponents that Kendal Briles will make him the team’s number one target.”
Hutch: I felt really good about the Razorbacks’ top three receivers heading into the year - so much so that I predicted Treylon Burks, Trey Knox and Mike Woods to each lead one of the three major categories. At the halfway point, that just simply isn’t the case. Woods has been pretty consistent, but Burks is the clear leader and Knox has fallen down the depth chart.
Credit to Nikki for her pick. She couldn’t have been more right. Despite missing almost two entire games, Burks leads the team with 26 receptions, 366 yards and four touchdowns. The guy neither of us mentioned but is probably the biggest threat to take at least one of those categories is De’Vion Warren, who has 12 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns. No one else on the team has multiple touchdown catches and Woods is second in receptions with 18 - eight behind Burks.
2. Hogs lost their leading tackler and sack creator from 2019 in De’Jon Harris and McTelvin Agim, who takes those titles in 2020?
Hutch: “Coates certainly looks the part and I’m not sure I have enough confidence in anyone else to take that title. As far as tackles are concerned, linebackers typically lead that category. Before Harris, it was Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight. That would seemingly make Bumper Pool or Grant Morgan the best bet to make the most tackles in 2020, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in them. When it isn’t a linebacker, it’s typically a safety. While I think Jalen Catalon will be the better overall player, I could see Joe Foucha racking up a ton of tackles.”
Nikki: “I'm going to go with Dorian Gerald. Coates may draw some double teams and Gerald's speed will be tough for large offensive linemen to keep in front of them.”
Nikki: Incredibly, despite his injury that sidelined him for four games, Dorian Gerald does lead the Arkansas defense (with Eric Gregory) with 1.5 sacks. Julius Coates will likely overtake both as he’s showing progress lately but so far, light numbers for everyone across the sack board and no clear frontrunner. If you look closure at pressures, Jonathan Marshall ranks second in the SEC with 22.
I apparently completely forgot to pick my tackles leader but if I remember correctly, I was heavily leaning towards Bumper Pool. Due to his injury causing him to miss the Ole Miss game, he’s currently behind Grant Morgan by eight tackles. Hutch clearly had a hard time selecting out of Pool, Morgan, Jalen Catalon and Joe Foucha but he landed on the wrong one (through five games at least). Foucha is fourth in tackles with 24 compared to 58, 50 and 46 for Morgan, Pool and Catalon, respectively.
3. Which assistant coach takes the crown for most improved unit?
Hutch: "(It would be easy to pick Brad Davis or Kendall Briles but) I’m going with the other side of the ball and saying Derrick LeBlanc with the defensive line. Coupled with the leadership of defensive coordinator Barry Odom, I feel like they’ll be able to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall is a guy I could see having a breakout season similar to what we saw with Armon Watts two years ago."
Nikki: "With the talent he has in his group and just overall in the secondary, I really like the young coach Sam Carter to step his corners' games up a few notches."
Hutch: Nikk-adamus struck again when she picked cornerbacks coach Sam Carter to have the most improved unit. At least at the halfway point of the season, he seems to be the leader in the clubhouse. The Texas A&M game went poorly for pretty much everyone on defense, but before then, the Razorbacks were very solid at corner. Montaric Brown was playing at a high level when he got hurt against Mississippi State and all that happened after that was redshirt freshman Hudson Clark burst onto the national scene with a three-interception performance against Ole Miss. Jerry Jacobs - who has since opted out - got hurt and two-star true freshman Khari Johnson filled in nicely. Considering the teams Arkansas played, it could have been disastrous. Instead, cornerback has been one of the team’s strengths.
My pick was Derrick LaBlanc with the defensive line. I feel like he’s done a fine job and I correctly predicted Jonathan Marshall would have a breakout season.
4. No Razorback had more than two picks last season. Which Hog leads the board in INTs?
Hutch: "The two guys I’m leaning toward are cornerback Montaric Brown and safety Jalen Catalon. I feel like one of them will have four interceptions, which would be the most by any Arkansas player since safety Tramain Thomas had five in 2011. If I had to choose one or the other, I’ll go with Brown."
Nikki: "I also choose Montaric a.k.a. Busta Brown. Brown has always been a solid corner and I think they'll have him going up against the offenses' best players, putting him in a position to make big plays."
Nikki: You could've asked this question in 100 different simulations and none of them would've projected the current leader in interceptions. Because Montaric Brown got injured, and Jarques McClellion opted out, walk-on Hudson Clark has had the reps he's needed to grab three team-leading interceptions. Brown and Catalon actually trail Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr. midway through the season as well, so there's work to be done if our predictions are going to prove correct.
5. Which new starter earns our breakout performance of the year award?
Hutch: "Jalen Catalon. Even if he doesn’t get four interceptions like I mentioned as a possibility in the previous question, I could see him having multiple picks and just being a general playmaker on the defense."
Nikki: "I'm going to go with the large human from East Texas, Beaux Limmer. With PFF stats, it'll be easy to see just how good he's become since playing minimal snaps and redshirting in 2019."
Hutch: Finally, I seem to have nailed a prediction. I’ve been a big fan of Jalen Catalon since he signed and thought he should have played more as a true freshman. Finally getting a chance to play, he’s racked up 46 tackles - including a team-high 30 solo - and has two pass breakups, one interception (which he returned for a touchdown), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus gives him a 70.7 grade, which is third on the defense. (Jonathan Marshall and Grant Morgan are ahead of him and could also make a case for this “award” as first-time starters.)
Nikki’s pick was on the other side of the ball, going with right guard Beaux Limmer. The redshirt freshman’s shear strength made him an intriguing pick, but he probably hasn’t played well enough to deserve this recognition. Pro Football Focus gives him just a 57.6 grade and senior Ty Clary has been pushing him for playing time recently.
6. Besides Feleipe Franks, which graduate transfer has the biggest impact on the 2020 season?
Hutch: "The best choice is kicker A.J. Reed from Duke. He’s the unquestioned starter at his position and will be counted on to make some big kicks this season, especially if the Razorbacks are going to snap their 19-game SEC losing streak."
Nikki: "Like Franks and Reed, Jerry Jacobs has come in and won his spot outright after missing much of his 2019 season due to injury. Since Kelly is splitting reps with Isaiah Nichols (or so it sounds like) and Levi Draper isn't in the starting group, I think Jacobs' contributions in the secondary will win him this award."
Nikki: Well, Hutch and I were both right not to put too much hope on Kelly or Draper but my Jacobs pick was obviously wrong and that won't change now that he's opted out of the season. Hutch's pick is now correct by default. Reed is five of seven and his two misses were from 48 and 49 yards out. He had no touchbacks on four kickoffs. We hadn't considered George Caratan as a contender at the beginning of the season but since learning he has a scholarship, he is now. Caratan does lead the four punters Arkansas has used this season in yards per punt but he's had an equal number of punts downed inside the 20 as Reid Bauer and he had two punts blocked, one for a score. He didn't travel for the A&M game and didn't participate against Ole Miss either.