The Arkansas linebacker spot should be a good spot for the Razorbacks in 2023.
But heading into the team’s opener on Saturday against FCS Western Carolina, the unit looks perhaps least like it was expected among all the positional groups. One projected starter is all but out and the other is iffy, though coach Sam Pittman has been somewhat vague on the latter’s status.
When Chris Paul Jr., Antonio Grier, Jordan Crook and Jaheim Thomas are all healthy, Arkansas can roll a combination of near-stars, established talent and future all-league players among its first four.
Grier and Paul could be iffy for the opener, but that may be a blessing in disguise. Thomas and Crook have experience and will get plenty of reps, but the players behind them have almost no idea what it’s like to play college football. A game against the Catamounts will help make that a thing of the past.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Arkansas linebackers stack up, or rather, how we expect them to stack up by the end of the season.
1. Chris Paul Jr.
Paul is expected to be the unquestioned leader at linebacker this year. He has to be fully healthy first, of course. But as he stepped into the role as No. 3 linebacker last year, he can now team that experience with his talent as No. 1.
2. Antonio Grier
Grier was a staple at South Florida in the middle of the Bulls defense the last couple seasons, although last year he played in just four games. The year before Grier had 92 tackles. He isn’t likely to play in Arkansas’ opener, unfortunately.
3. Jordan Crook
Grier’s injury has opened the door for Crook, whose ceiling may even exceed Paul’s. And the way Arkansas’ defense has been for most of the last decade, even the third linebacker gets plenty of run. If Crook is good enough, he could be above that.
4. Jaheim Thomas
Arkansas, when fully healthy at linebacker, should roll four linebackers on the regular instead of the usual three. That’s because Thomas has the goods. He had 70 tackles, including 6 1/2 for-loss last year at Cincinnati.
5. Brad Spence
22 is LB Brad Spence, a true freshman. Dude laid a hit on Rocket at 0:07.
Coaches have been high on Spence throughout camp. pic.twitter.com/LEQefYic4q
— Jacob Davis (@JacobScottDavis) August 21, 2023
Brad Spence, a freshman, has found himself in the two-deep for the season opener. That’s no small feat, even if it’s largely because of injuries in front of him. It suggests, too, he’s top of the heap among everyone outside the top four.
6. Brooks Both
— Brooks Both (@brooks_both) February 3, 2020
Brooks Both is a walk-on from Harrison. But, like Spence, he finds himself in the two-deep for the opener. That’s impressive. Who knows what the future holds, but it appears to be trending up.
7. Mani Powell
Mani Powell has been in the Arkansas system more than anyone ranked below him. Between that and his status as a three-star linebacker, he gets the No. 7 spot.
8. Carson Dean
“He’s a playmaker. He’s athletic. He’s fast. He’s big. He’s tough. He’s fearless.”
— WholeHogSports.com (@wholehogsports) August 12, 2023
Coaches and teammates speak highly of Dean, a freshman from Frisco. In a perfect world, he keeps his redshirt and Pittman has a future rotational player at linebacker.
9. Alex Sanford
Let’s go fellas.. we wanna see snot bubbles https://t.co/cDB67XhQ0h
— Alex Sanford Sr (@AyeSanford) August 22, 2023
Sanford is in the same boat as Dean, only he’s Mississippi. They’re of similar builds, even. They could represent the future of the position for the Hogs.
10. The rest: Kaden Henley, Mason Schueck, Donovan Whitten
Kaden Henley in full pads last week
— TuskTalk (@TuskTalkTy) August 13, 2023
Henley, Schuek and Whitten will make up a bulk of the scout team and could see plenty of action on special teams.