HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions: Where do grad transfers fit?
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The status of the 2020 college football season remains perilous as we inch closer to - at least what is scheduled to be - Week 1.
As of this moment, Arkansas is still set to open the Sam Pittman era against Nevada on Sept. 5 in Fayetteville. That could change if the SEC follows the Big Ten’s lead and shifts to a conference-only schedule.
However, for the time being, HawgBeat is treating it as everything is moving forward as planned. That includes the start of NFL-style OTAs - which are essentially walk-through practices - for the Razorbacks on Friday.
Leading up to that date, we are revealing our 10 “burning questions” surrounding Arkansas as it prepares for what everyone hopes to be a fall football season. Next up…
Where will the graduate transfers fit on the depth chart?
In his first signing class as Arkansas’ head coach, Sam Pittman took a page out of Eric Musselman’s playbook. Needing immediate help at several spots, he hit the transfer portal hard and came out with five graduate transfers.
All five are expected to have roles for the Razorbacks in 2020, but exactly what those roles look like and where they’ll start the season on the depth chart remains to be seen. Here is a rundown of each one and the situation at their position…
Despite being a former four-star recruit and part of three Oklahoma defenses that ranked 64th or worse in scoring, Draper was mostly limited to playing special teams. Considering linebacker is a position of need, especially with De’Jon Harris graduating, the Razorbacks are hoping he’ll show why he was so heralded coming out of high school.
Other than Bumper Pool, most of Arkansas’ linebacker corps is unproven. Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry both began their careers as non-scholarship players and have been career backups, but will likely be listed ahead of Draper at the start of preseason camp. Players like Deon Edwards, Zach Zimos and Andrew Parker have only played a handful of snaps.
How quickly Draper can assert himself as a starter or at least a contributor could have a major impact on the success of the defense this year.
The highest profile graduate transfer in the group, Franks comes to Arkansas after making 24 starts at Florida. That includes a 10-win season in 2018. He is also the only top-100 recruit on the Razorbacks’ roster this year, as he was a 6.0 four-star prospect coming out of high school.
Assuming his ankle has fully recovered from last year’s season-ending injury, which everyone says it has, Franks is the frontrunner to be Arkansas’ starting quarterback this season. He’ll have to beat out redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson and hold off true freshman Malik Hornsby to do so, but fans are hopeful he’ll finally end the quarterback carousel that has featured eight different starters the last two years.
If he can supply just competent quarterback play this year, Franks will be an upgrade at the position.
Perhaps the most intriguing graduate transfer, Jacobs is a versatile defensive back who the Razorbacks are going to try at cornerback and nickel to start out, but he could potential play safety, too.
The only non-Power Five transfer of the group, he comes to Arkansas from the other corner of the state, where he starred at cornerback for Arkansas State. In 2018, he racked up four interceptions and 12 pass breakups, earning an 80.6 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Where Jacobs ends up playing for the Razorbacks could depend on how the returning starters and talented young players look. Will Jarques McClellion and Montaric Brown hang on to their starting jobs at cornerback or will they be replaced by Jacobs? Will Greg Brooks Jr. make a huge jump forward or will Jacobs be the starting nickel to allow him more time to develop?
Clemson has become a dynasty over the last several years and a major key to its success has been a loaded defensive line. Kelly played behind a pair of first-round defensive tackles most of his career with the Tigers, but he still managed to play 256 snaps in 28 total games over the past three seasons.
Regardless of whether the Razorbacks use a three- or four-man front with new defensive coordinator Barry Odom, Kelly figures to be a strong contender for a starting job. Jonathan Marshall, considered the strongest player on last year’s team, will also push for a starting role and could be primed for a breakout season.
Beyond those two, there is Isaiah Nichols and several young, inexperienced players. Defensive tackle is a position that usually sees a decent amount of rotation, so Kelly will have to play well to hold off the likes of Marcus Miller, Taurean Carter and Enoch Jackson Jr.
The most likely starter among the graduate transfers, Reed is the replacement for Connor Limpert, the most accurate field goal kicker in UA history. He had a tremendous season for Duke after struggling his first couple of years with the Blue Devils, making 15 of 18 field goals with a pair from 50-plus yards out.
No one else on Arkansas’ roster has attempted a field goal or extra point in a college game. Matthew Phillips has been the Razorbacks’ backup kicker and punter, but has been inconsistent in limited portions of practice seen by the media. The only other kicker on the roster is Vito Calvaruso, a true freshman.
This is Reed’s job to lose.
HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions
6. Where will the graduate transfers fit on the depth chart?