Arkansas football has not been where it stands now in a decade. Freshmen who will join the team the next time the Razorbacks play a regular-season game would have been in kindergarten, or younger, the last time Arkansas was a national power.
The Hogs, regardless of the outcome in the Outback Bowl on January 1, have had a season that exceeded even the homers’ expectations. How much it continues into 2022 depends on a number of factors, including potential player and coach exits in the offseason.
For now, we don’t want to focus on such matters. Instead, let’s consider the players who are assured to be back, barring catastrophe.
In this series, Next Hogs Up, we take a shot at projecting Arkansas’ depth chart, position by position for the 2022 season. Take note, however, as certain positions will be kept broad, as opposed to specific. And we’re skipping quarterback because it’s KJ Jefferson No. 1 and Malik Hornsby No. 2 and there is no doubt about it.
We started with running backs, followed with wide receivers and tight ends and most recently looked at the offensive line. Now, we go opposite with the defensive line.
Note: This doesn’t include defensive tackle John Ridgeway, who has a year of eligibility remaining, but has not decided whether or not to use it.
Defensive end No. 1 - Zach Williams, senior
Sep 26, 2020; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Zach Williams (56) sacks Georgia Bulldogs quarterback D’Wan Mathis (2) during the fourth quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Georgia won 37-10. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Williams is the most completely pure end returning to the team in 2022. He can get to quarterbacks and stop running backs. It’s likely Arkansas doesn’t have a prototype No. 1 end on the roster, but Williams is close.
Defensive end No. 2 - Jashaud Stewart, junior
Oct 16, 2021; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Jashaud Stewart (58) forces a fumble while tackling Auburn Tigers running back Jarquez Hunter (27) at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Stewart has real potential as a pass-rush specialist. He is on the thin side a bit at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, which makes him ideal as a speed rusher. But he can also track down ball carriers. Curious to see whether Arkansas’ strength team attempts to bulk him up in the offseason or try to make him even faster.
Defensive end No. 3 - Mataio Soli, senior
Dec 5, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) scrambles from Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Mataio Soli (11) during the second half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Soli will almost certainly not be the third defensive end next year. But for now, that’s where we are slotting him simply because of experience. He was a starter in 2019 but playing time dropped significantly under coach Sam Pittman. Soli had six tackles this year playing largely as a fifth end.
Defensive tackle No. 1 - Taurean Carter, junior
Sep 11, 2021; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Casey Thompson (11) rushes as Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Taurean Carter (91) defends in the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas won 40-21. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
The surprise player of the year on the defensive line was Taurean Carter. He was fair as a freshman in spot duty, but borderline excellent next to John Ridgeway this year. He can plug gaps and get behind the line of scrimmage both and could have a Ridgeway-like season in 2022.
Defensive tackle No. 2 - Isaiah Nichols, senior
Arkansas defender Isaiah Nichols against Tennessee during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Nichols has been in the rotation for a few years now, registering double-digit tackles each of the last three years. If Arkansas moves into a four-man front more often, he will likely set career highs across the board next year. That being said, some of it depends on whether John Ridgeway returns or not.
Defensive tackle No. 3 - Marcus Miller, junior
LSU linemen Austin Deculus (76) and Chasen Hines (57) block Arkansas defender Marcus Miller (90) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Miller played in only a couple games in 2021 and is the likeliest among all seven players to not crack the rotation. But Arkansas has more defensive ends than stop-up options on the interior, suggesting, too, that the team will stick with three linemen more of than not.
Wildcard - Eric Gregory, junior
Oct 16, 2021; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) loos to pass in the first quarter as Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Eric Gregory (50) defends at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Gregory is likely a starter next year. The question is where. That’s why he’s listed as a wildcard. He trailed only John Ridgeway, Tre Williams and Carter in tackles among defensive linemen. His three quarterback hurries tied for second among the unit, too. Gregory is a ‘tweener at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, probably a bit better on the interior. Regardless, he will be on the field even more in 2022.