Arkansas Football: Ranking Razorbacks' Top 10 Recruiting Targets for 2015
As bad as the last few years have been for the Arkansas Razorbacks, there's a lot to be excited about on the recruiting front. The Hogs are off to one of the best starts in the school's history for the 2015 class.
Head coach Bret Bielema has secured six commitments for next year's class, with four 4-star prospects and two highly rated 3-stars. Yes, it's early, but Arkansas' hot start has the program ranked 10th in 247Sports' team recruiting rankings.
While it's great that the Hogs started the '15 class with a bang, there's still a lot of work to do before signing day next February.
The Razorbacks are in the mix for many more big-time recruits. Here, we take a look at Arkansas' top 10 targets on its board for the '15 class in ascending order to the biggest player on the wish list. It will be tough to land all of these guys, but even landing five of them would give the Hogs a stellar class for next February.
10. S Deshon Elliott
Arkansas has a long history of recruiting the Lone Star State, and that's going to continue for this year's class. One of the Hogs' top targets in Texas is safety Deshon Elliott, who has a long list of offers that include Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.
What immediately stands out about him is his frame, which is great for a safety. He's 6'1", 200 pounds and very physical. However, maybe his most important attribute to Arkansas is that he is a good tackler.
Tackling plagued the Razorbacks defense in 2013, especially in the secondary and linebackers. Elliott doesn't miss tackles often, and with some coaching at the college level, he could become a valuable asset for the Hogs.
The main issue is getting him out of Texas. His 247Sports' crystal-ball predictions have 93 percent picking him to go to the Longhorns and the other 7 percent to the Aggies.
Still, there is a lot that can happen up until next February, and the Hogs appear to be in the mix for the long haul.
9. WR Alex Ofodile
Another state that Arkansas has had success in on the recruiting trail is Missouri.
The Hogs stole away 4-star offensive tackle Brian Wallace, ranked the No. 1 player in the state, and highly rated, 3-star quarterback Rafe Peavey, the No. 4 player in Mo., giving the team two of the state's top five prospects for 2014.
Arkansas is after a few recruits in Mo., with the top one being 4-star wideout Alex Ofodile, who is ranked the No. 1 player in the state and No. 93 nationally. At 6'3", 185 pounds, he has good size but needs to get stronger. He also can turn on the burners, as evidenced by his 4.50 40-yard dash time.
In the eyes of Bielema and other college coaches, his best attribute is perhaps his ability to catch touchdown passes. Last season as a junior, he hauled in 14 touchdowns on an impressive 92 catches and 1,293 yards for Rock Bridge High School. Ofodile's red-zone presence makes him stand out from the average receivers around the country.
There's no doubt he would be a major get for the Hogs and a potential game-changer. However, like Elliott, it could be hard to lure him away from his home state. Ofodile lives in Columbia, and if you know college football, then you also know that the Missouri Tigers are located in the same city.
His crystal-ball predictions have 89 percent of the experts saying he'll choose the hometown Tigers, with the other 11 percent siding with Kentucky.
The experts are right more times than not, but anything can happen on the recruiting trail. There have been plenty of times when they were wrong, such as with 4-star defensive tackle and '15 commit Hjalte Froholdt, who was predicted to choose either Michigan (78 percent) or Ohio State (22 percent).
The Razorbacks are going to have plenty of time and opportunities to get Odofile to take a serious look at their program.
8. DT Darrion Daniels
When you talk about some of the best raw prospects in the country, 4-star defensive tackle Darrion Daniels has to be in the conversation.
A big reason for his 4-star status is his vast potential. Standing 6'3" and weighing in at 290 pounds, he has gotten by at the high school level with his sheer size and athleticism. However, to fulfill his potential, he will have to make major strides in a number of areas.
Daniels is average at the point of attack, and his explosiveness leaves much to be desired. Being good at the point of attack and explosiveness are especially important for interior D-linemen, who are often trying to shed blocks, clog lanes and take down running backs before they can get going.
He also has to get much better with his hand quickness, first step and strength. One of the most important qualities for a defensive tackle is his motor, and Daniels' is in need of a tune-up.
While he has a good motor when he's fresh, it begins to fall off as the game wears on. The main culprit for that is conditioning, which college coaches can fix pretty fast. Once he gets coaching at the next level and fine-tunes his game, Daniels could be a fierce force in the middle.
Baylor is listed as the favorite right now for his services, with all 11 predictions saying he'll choose the Bears. However, Daniels' former teammate at Bishop Dunne Catholic, Jovan Pruitt, an upper-end 3-star offensive tackle, signed with the Hogs in February, so he could play a factor in getting Daniels to enroll on The Hill.
It also helps that the Razorbacks offered him early in the process back in October of last year.
7. WR Deon Stewart
This is one of the deepest classes in recent memory for the Natural State. Arkansas is usually not overflowing with D-I prospects, but the '15 class has a lot of talent.
One of the most important parts of success on the recruiting trail is keeping the best in-state prospects at home. The Hogs have done a great job of that so far, with four of the state's top 10 recruits already committed to Arkansas.
There are still a number of guys within Arkansas that the Razorbacks are recruiting hard, and one of them is 3-star wide receiver Deon Stewart.
Listed at 6'1", 165 pounds, he obviously doesn't have great size, but what he lacks in stature, he makes up for with good speed and hands. Yes, he can stand to get faster and better at catching the ball, but for a guy who is still raw, he catches most balls that are thrown his way and can beat corners with his feet.
The key word, though, is raw.
You'd expect a guy his size to be making defenders miss after the catch like DeSean Jackson. However, Stewart is average at getting yards after the catch. He also is an average route-runner. Those two things could be what define whether he becomes an impact receiver or just another guy who doesn't live up to his potential.
Bielema extended an offer on March 1 during junior day, and Stewart was very pleased, according to Otis Kirk of Hawgs247. Arkansas looks to be in the driver's seat for his services.
6. TE C.J. O'Grady
One of the biggest needs for the '15 class is the tight end position, and luckily for the Razorbacks, they can address it without even going outside of Arkansas' borders.
The first of the two top in-state tight ends is 3-star C.J. O'Grady. While targets below him have more talent, the Hogs' need for tight ends puts him higher on this list.
O'Grady proved to be a huge red-zone threat for Fayetteville High last year as a junior, hauling in 14 touchdowns on 45 receptions for 884 yards. His big year resulted in programs from across the country, such as Oklahoma, Louisville, Ole Miss and Virginia, extending offers.
He has great size at 6'4", though he needs to add some weight and muscle, as he's listed at 230 pounds. His height and good speed create mismatches and make it hard for linebackers to cover him.
His catch radius is also excellent for a tight end, which could make him a prime target around the end zone at the college level. O'Grady has a knack for finding holes in coverage and exploiting them for large chunks of yards, which is seen by his 19.6 yards-per-catch average.
This is a big comparison, and it doesn't mean that he'll be that great of a player, but O'Grady reminds me of D.J. Williams in the way he plays and in physical stature.
The Hogs offered O'Grady at junior day on Feb. 22. Because he lives down the street from campus, he is more familiar with the program than just about every prospect on the Razorbacks' board. He already had two unofficial visits in 2013 and attended both junior days this year.
A big thing for recruits is finding a school that makes them feel at home. The Hogs' proximity to O'Grady gives them a distinct advantage in his recruitment, as his family and friends would be able to see him play every home game.
If his recruitment ended now, O'Grady would most likely stay home and play for Arkansas. However, Oklahoma and Texas, which hasn't offered but is showing major interest, will be making runs at him.
5. OLB Justin Hilliard
If you're wondering whether 5-star outside linebacker Justin Hilliard has any selfies at Razorback Stadium, the answer is no. Don't get down just yet, though, because the Hogs are going to be doing everything they can to get him on campus this year for a visit.
He is rated the No. 2 OLB and No. 26 player overall in the country. So yes, it kind of goes without saying that he would be a game-changing player for any program he chooses.
He doesn't have a real, glaring weakness. If you had to pick out something that he could improve upon the most, it would be his lateral movement, which is still much better than the majority of linebacker prospects.
What stands out the most when watching him is his relentlessness in pursuit of quarterbacks, running backs and even wideouts. Hilliard makes plays all over the field and can create chaos in the backfield or track down ball-carriers and wideouts after they make the catch.
A big reason why he's so good in pursuit is because of his great instincts and reactive quickness. He's also a physical tackler with a mean streak about him. He is at his best when he's playing in space, which allows him to use his instincts and reactive quickness to the fullest.
Arkansas has to be happy to be in his top-seven list, according to his profile on 247Sports. Hilliard could very well be No. 1 on this list, but he falls in the middle because right now the Hogs are somewhere in the fifth to seventh range of his favorites.
The favorite in his crystal-ball predictions is Ohio State, which has been picked by 33 percent of the experts.
That doesn't mean the Hogs can't put themselves in prime position for his services later down the road. Hilliard might be considered a long shot at this point for Arkansas, but Bielema and his staff will have opportunities to make him consider playing on The Hill.
4. WR K.J. Hill
A lot of prospects have the potential to make some serious movement up the rankings leading up to next Feb. One of those guys and yet another top in-state recruit is 3-star receiver K.J. Hill.
His stock has skyrocketed since completing his junior year for North Little Rock High, when he caught 83 passes for 1,210 yards and an impressive 20 touchdowns, as well as 230 yards and two scores on the ground. There's a very good chance he could end up being a 4-star recruit come signing day.
Hill is comparable to former standout receiver Joe Adams. He doesn't have great size at 6'1", 175 pounds, but he can turn on the burners and has moves that can leave defenders checking out the bottom of his shoes. Hill is a big-play threat who can turn a minimal gain into a touchdown.
That brings us to his recruitment, which as stated, is taking off.
Since Feb. 1, he has received 11 new scholarship offers from D-I programs, including Alabama, Georgia, Penn State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and South Carolina.
The consensus right now is that Arkansas and Auburn are the top two schools vying for his services, with 71 percent of the experts predicting he'll choose the Hogs. The Tigers were the first to offer Hill last summer in July, followed by the Razorbacks on Sept. 7.
It's huge that he is from the Natural State because it has allowed him to learn about Arkansas' program. Hill has already made seven unofficial visits to Fayetteville, as well as attending the camp last summer and junior day at the beginning of March. Additionally, he has had multiple visits from Arkansas coaches.
The Hogs have a leg up on Hill, but he's still going to weigh all of his options before making his final decision.
3. OT Keaton Sutherland
Since offensive line coach Sam Pittman joined the Razorbacks staff, the Hogs have reeled in some of the best line prospects nationally.
Though Arkansas has built some great depth on the O-line in the last two recruiting cycles, you can expect it to keep stockpiling talent for the unit. The Hogs' top prospect for the O-line is 4-star offensive tackle Keaton Sutherland from Flower Mound, Texas.
He isn't lacking in size at 6'5", 280 pounds. He is a very good run-blocker, but like many tackle prospects once they enter the collegiate level, he will have to work on getting better at pass blocking.
He isn't a great athlete and doesn't have the quickest feet, which could cause him problems against the athletic and quick rush ends he will face in college. However, Pittman isn't considered one of the best O-line coaches around for nothing. With some one-on-one time with Pittman, Sutherland can improve his quickness off the snap and footwork to become a bona fide pass-blocker.
The Hogs did themselves a huge service by being one of the first teams to start recruiting the Texas native. They were the second to offer him, extending it last July after TCU gave him his first offer in June.
Since then, Sutherland has racked up offers from top schools across the U.S. However, it looks like he is Arkansas' to lose. The Razorbacks have been on him for a while, and an overwhelming 100 percent of the experts have him calling the Hogs.
2. DE Jashon Cornell
One of the biggest steals for the '14 class was 4-star offensive tackle Frank Ragnow from Minnesota, who many considered to be a strong lean to the Gophers. Bielema's time at Wisconsin opened up doors in recruiting for the Hogs to northern states like Minn.
Arkansas is looking to continue that success up north by stealing the state's top player and No. 30 player nationally: 5-star defensive end Jashon Cornell.
In just two seasons at the varsity level, he has amassed 122 tackles, 46 tackles for loss and 29 sacks. He has great size for an end at 6'4", 270 pounds and is an elite athlete. His explosiveness off the line and quick hands make him a nightmare for O-linemen to handle.
Landing Cornell would be a massive victory for the program. He has the skills to immediately step in and make an impact.
He made an unofficial visit to Fayetteville on Nov. 2, and Arkansas looks to be in good shape to get him on campus for another visit during the 2014 season. If you had to make a top four based on where the experts have him going, then it would include the Hogs, along with Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State.
While 4 percent have him calling the Hogs right now, consider it a good thing that they are serious contenders for one of the top defensive ends in the country.
1. TE Will Gragg
If the Hogs have to peg one prospect as a must-get, it would be Arkansas native and 4-star tight end Will Gragg. Not just because the Razorbacks are in need of tight ends, but also because they can't afford to lose out on another top-three prospect in their own backyard.
Guess who's considered to be Arkansas' biggest threat to lure away Gragg? Yep, he's definitely not a gimme for the Hogs.
You can take one look at his frame (6'4", 245 pounds) and tell that he's a specimen. For a guy his size, he has very good speed and agility, which causes all sorts of problems for linebackers who have the daunting task of covering him.
Gragg's hands are what have college coaches drooling.
He catches just about every pass that is thrown his way. Once in a blue moon, he'll drop a pass. His catch radius is what you would expect from a guy with great hands and long arms. It provides a real luxury for the quarterback because he can throw the ball away from defenders but within Gragg's vicinity, and he'll go up and grab it.
Back to what really matters regarding Gragg, though: where his recruitment stands.
He trimmed his list at the beginning of Feb. to five schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisville, LSU and Ole Miss. On his 247Sports profile, only three schools—Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss—are listed in the warm territory.
The Hogs appear to have a leg up in the battle for Gragg. It's no secret that his brother Chris played for Arkansas from 2008 to 2012 and had a very good career. That fact could be a huge determining factor in his decision and works in the Razorbacks' favor.
His crystal-ball predictions further the notion that the Hogs are the team to beat for his services, with 73 percent predicting he'll choose Arkansas. He originally was going to make his decision on his birthday, Sept. 23, but he moved it back to Nov. 18 to better weigh his options, according to Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports.com.
It's going to be a long and painful wait for the staff and fans, but it will be worth it if he elects to stay home and run through the A on Saturdays.
All player rankings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.