The Razorbacks’ Wide Receiver Options
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 28, 2012
Arkansas may be the third-best team in the SEC West. Arkansas may also be the third-best team in the entire country. That’s life for the Razorbacks, who have come to inhabit the upper crust of the F.B.S. while still lagging behind the two frontrunners in their own division. The hope in Fayetteville is that this changes in 2012: Arkansas may be poised to take a slight step forward as Alabama and L.S.U. take a slight step back. If this scenario comes to pass, all will meet in the middle — but still among the top five teams in the nation — with Arkansas’ home dates with the Crimson Tide and Tigers a potential deciding factor in the West division and B.C.S. hunt.
But the Razorbacks have issues, just as Alabama and L.S.U. have issues. Alabama will need to overhaul its defense and find a steady replacement for Trent Richardson at running back. L.S.U. has its own losses to consider — wide receiver, cornerback and along the offensive line.
Arkansas’ personnel issues lie on the offensive side of the ball, which is surprising. It’s on offense that the Razorbacks seem to have no issues, at least in the big picture: Arkansas moves the ball better than any team in the SEC, and after two slightly sluggish seasons in 2008 and 2009 have fully grasped Bobby Petrino’s very much un-SEC-like philosophy.
Petrino has been blessed throughout his four-year tenure in Fayetteville with a wonderful trio of standout receivers: Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. All this threesome did over their careers was combine for 465 receptions and 56 touchdowns; this sort of production isn’t easily replaced, obviously.
So as Arkansas continues plugging away during spring ball — the team’s third practice takes place today — Petrino and his offensive staff are keeping a close eye on receiver, where only one returning contributor, senior Cobi Hamilton, brings extensive game experience into the coming season.
Pencil Hamilton in for a starting role, and pencil him in for a monster senior campaign. Tyler Wilson will rely heavily on Hamilton throughout the season, as his only proven target, and especially so in the early going. While the Razorbacks open with two easy wins — Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe — Alabama awaits on Sept. 15. Who are the contenders to replace the departed trio’s production?
Cobi Hamilton, senior The receiver corps’ only experienced hand. Hamilton has quietly served his time behind Adams, Wright and Childs, making 66 grabs for 1,172 yards over the last two seasons as a third and fourth option. He’s earned this chance; look for Hamilton to take the reins as Arkansas’ top receiving options.
Julian Horton, junior The only other returning receiver with a career start under his belt. But it’s only one start for Horton, back in 2010, and not a tremendous amount of production: 8 grabs for 85 yards a year ago. Horton held a starting role as Arkansas opened spring ball.
Javontee Herndon, junior The third starter on the pre-spring depth chart. Herndon’s a bit of a puzzle: he earned some snaps during Arkansas’ easy stretch in September, returned to the bench for much of SEC play but came on to make 4 catches for 40 yards in a 44-17 win over Mississippi State in November. Arkansas loves Herndon’s penchant for the big play, but that’s an ability he’s flashed only on the practice field, not in game situations.
Quinta Funderburk, redshirt freshman Funderburk’s an intriguing option for one reason: On a depth chart full of thinner, lankier receivers, his 6’4, 200-pound frame stands out. Will that be enough for him to crack into the rotation? Perhaps, if only in certain packages. But Funderburk will need to work on the little things — route running, simple consistency — before claiming a starting role.
Marquel Wade, sophomore The highest-ranked receiver in Arkansas’ 2011 recruiting class, Wade is Adams’ likely replacement in the return game. If Wade has the sort of explosiveness to make people miss as a returner, why can’t that translate into a prime role in the passing game?
Keante Minor, sophomore Like Wade, Minor entered the spring second on the depth chart; in Minor’s case, he’s right behind Herndon. The spring is key for both sophomores: two-deeps are solidified in August, but these March and April practices are when up-and-coming youngsters need to develop a trust level with their quarterback and coaching staff.
The newcomers Arkansas signed five receivers in February. All five will arrive over the summer, which should increase the level of competition when the Razorbacks return to the practice field in August. Could a true freshmen move into the rotation? If there is ever going to be a chance for a rookie to do so in this offense, it’ll be in 2012.
Chris Gragg, senior Not a receiver, true. But Gragg, Arkansas’ starting tight end, will play as vital a role in the passing game as any receiver on the roster. While tight end was a bit of a concern heading into last fall — the Razorbacks needed to replace all-American D.J. Williams — Gragg stepped into the void nicely, making 41 catches for 518 yards and 2 touchdowns. While the Razorbacks need to fill a two-deep at receiver, tight end is in good hands.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Bobby Petrino, Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton, Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton, Keante Minor, L.S.U., Marquel Wade, Quinta Funderburk
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