National Signing Day has come and gone. After a grueling two months for Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris and his staff, which wasn’t even filled until just over a month ago, I look at how the new Head Hog has spent the past 60-plus days by evaluating Chad Morris’ first recruiting class at Arkansas.
Starting behind the eight-ball
The past couple of months for the Arkansas coaching staff has consisted of seven-day work weeks, hotels, in-home visits and tons of traveling, including 17,977 miles and 15 states according to Morris himself. This is Morris’ first class at the University of Arkansas, a class which is largely made up of players recruited by Morris and his new staff with only four of the signees being committed prior to Morris’ arrival on the Hill. As the day came to an end, Arkansas saw fewer players sign letters of intent to be Razorbacks than any other school in the Southeastern Conference. Once the final numbers came in, according to 24/7 Sports, the Hogs had the 55th overall class in the nation and the bottom class in the SEC.
Looking at the numbers can be extremely discouraging for Razorbacks fans on how things will look for Morris as he heads into his first year at the helm, but I am here to shine some light on how the rankings can be misleading.
Beyond the rankings
First off, as mentioned earlier, this is a relatively small class with only 16 players signing to come to Fayetteville. Part of this can be attributed to the brief amount of time Morris and his staff had to work with and the lack of commitments from the previous regime. The main factor, however, was that Arkansas simply did not have the scholarships to hand out.
Morris announced Wednesday that he would be honoring scholarships promised by the previous staff to three players that were already on his roster – Ty Clary, Gary Gross, and Hayden Henry. Two of the three, Clary and Henry, both contributed as true freshmen and look to have prominent roles moving forward. This, coupled with the fact that Arkansas only had 12 scholarship seniors graduating, left little room for additional signees this year. Morris knew he wouldn’t have room to bring in a large class and saw it as a positive for them to be able to address and target specific positional needs saying, “I see it as a positive because we can be selective and choosy.” In fact, with 16 recruits coming in, Morris will have to cut four more scholarships players or have them transfer in order to get under the NCAA allowed 85 scholarship players.
Secondly, all these recruiting services have a ranking system that penalizes teams with fewer signees in a major way. The way these sites work, for better or worse, is every team gets ranked on how they filled their 25 possible scholarships. Once signing day ends the various sites will add up the ‘stars’ of all the recruits, or the value/ranking given to each player, then get an average. The issue is when a school has an empty spot or nine in the Razorbacks’ case, those get ranked as automatic zeroes, basically penalizing schools who are unable to use all of their scholarships. This skews the ranking of Morris’ class, which was limited from the start to signing fewer players. If you were to fill those nine zero star recruits with even two-stars (Arkansas’ class consisted of 2 four-stars and 14 three-stars total) then the Hogs recruiting class would jump near the top 25 in the rankings.
With all of that being said, Morris was able to address some needs for Arkansas and has some guys coming in this year that will have the opportunity to make an impact sooner rather than later.
Addressing the defense
When Chad Morris brought John Chavis on board as the defensive coordinator it meant there would be a switch to the defensive scheme for a second straight year. The main difference would be from three down linemen to four. Thus the staff put an emphasis on the big boys up front with four defensive linemen in the current class and one more possible addition. Among the four, are three-star Arkansas kids Isaiah Nichols, a 6-foot-4 275-pound Springdale-native, and Billy Ferrell, a 330-pound interior lineman.
Then, with the signing of Joseph Foucha and Myles Mason Arkansas was able to get the highest rated duo of safeties the program has signed since the ratings started in 2002 according to Rivals’ Trey Biddy. Morris was able to get Mason, the highest rated safety from the state of Alabama, to flip his commitment from Mississippi State after then-head coach Dan Mullen left to take the Florida job. Joseph Foucha, on the other hand, was a player Chavis targeted as soon as he got to Arkansas. While Arkansas and Ole Miss were the two finalists for Foucha, the versatile defensive back also had offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, and Oklahoma.
Another addition to the defensive backfield was LaDarius Bishop, a three-star recruit from Ashdown, AR. Bishop was a player Morris pushed hard for after taking the Arkansas job and got him to flip from Mississippi State. Bishop brings much needed speed and athleticism to the defensive side of the ball.
The biggest question mark heading into signing day for the Hogs was three-star linebacker Andrew Parker. Parker, a player who did not have an offer from a Power 5 school before receiving one from John Chavis at Arkansas, committed to the Razorbacks two weeks ago. Then, he received offers from Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Ole Miss before getting a hard push from Texas, who brought the New Orleans-native on campus for an official visit in Austin last weekend. This resulted in many experts believing the Longhorns to be the favorites to land the linebacker.
After a two-hour delay, Parker decided to stick with his initial commitment and become Hog, joining four-star Texas-native Bumper Pool as the only linebackers in the class. Coach Morris and his staff also beat out Texas for three-star defensive end Courtre Alexander.
The headliner may be quarterback John Stephen Jones, due to his grandfather being Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones. However, the three-star quarterback showed that he possesses more than a famous family, as he led an exciting offense at Highland Park High School in Dallas. Jones threw for 4,911 yards and 61 touchdowns, to go along with only four interceptions, and adding 10 touchdowns on the ground as his team won the 5A Division I state championship this past season.
Morris was also able to get commitments from two skill players that could see action as early as next year with running back Rakeem Boyd and wide receiver Michael Woods. The latter was a player Morris had been recruiting since he was at SMU. Once Morris made his decision to take the Arkansas job Woods announced he was flipping from SMU to Arkansas soon after.
Boyd, however, was the No. 3 junior college running back nationally out of Independence (Kan.) Community College, according to 247 Sports and a four-star recruit. The running back spent his freshman year at Texas A&M before taking the JUCO route, choosing the Aggies over Arizona State, Michigan, Missouri, and Nebraska. Boyd will wear the number 5 as a Razorback so he will have some big shoes to fill.
Summing it all up
Chad Morris is going to say the same things that all coaches say post-National Signing Day, and tell the fans that he loves the players in this class and that things are on the rise in Fayetteville. Sure, it is not ideal to have the worst ranked class in the SEC and the 55th ranked class in the nation, but this class is not as bad as those numbers may suggest. Two months ago Chad Morris and this staff was presented with the task of making lemonade with a batch of rotten lemons and they have actually made a decent pitcher.
The Razorbacks have addressed needs on defense with speed in the back-end coupled with depth up front and some rotation players in what will be an experienced linebacking core. There is still one more domino to fall with JUCO defensive end Dorian Gerald set to announce his decision on Friday afternoon. Gerald, from College of the Canyons in California, is the top ranked JUCO defensive end in the nation. Along with Arkansas, Gerald is also considering Florida, Texas A&M, Louisville and Tennessee.
Offensively there wasn’t a need for a ton of skill players so getting a couple that can make an immediate impact was all this staff needed to do. The real goal was to add depth up front, which they did with three three-star linemen, and add a couple quarterbacks to Chad Morris’ QB-room with three-star Arkansas-native Connor Noland and John Steven Jones to boost competition. While Morris and his staff could have done better, this class is definitely one they can build on moving as we continue into 2019.