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Arkansas’ offense took a significant hit Tuesday morning when wide receiver Mike Woods announced his decision to enter the transfer portal.
In three seasons with the Razorbacks, he caught 83 passes for 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns and got better each year. Heading into his senior season, Woods was expected to team up with Treylon Burks to form arguably the best wide receiver duo in the SEC.
Although Burks is the All-America candidate, Woods figured to take some of the defense’s focus away from him as a legitimate deep threat, as he ranked second in the conference in yards per reception (19.3) last year.
Instead, just three days after wrapping up spring practice with the annual Red-White game, in which Woods caught a touchdown, the Razorbacks are left searching for a new No. 2 receiver to pair with Burks.
The most obvious option to fill his shoes from a production standpoint is Trey Knox. A former four-star recruit, he was actually ranked higher than Burks in the Rivals250 for the 2019 class and had a very good freshman season.
However, most of his 28 receptions – which totaled 385 yards and three touchdowns – in 2019 came within the first four games of the season. He caught a combined 21 passes for 299 yards against Portland State, Ole Miss, Colorado State and San Jose State.
Injuries that year and a new system last season were factors, but in the 17 games he’s appeared in since then, he’s made just 14 receptions for 156 yards. His playing time decreased throughout last season, as former walk-on Tyson Morris got more reps.
Knox told reporters earlier this month that he has really started understanding offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ playbook, though, and he could be due for a bounce back junior season.
At 6-foot-5, 209 pounds, Knox is a much different style of receiver than Woods (6-1, 198). He is the kind of guy who can go up and catch a jump ball – like he did against Hudson Clark in the spring game – because of his size, while Woods used his speed to run by people.
It’s also worth noting that Knox was already working with the first-team offense before Woods’ departure, but that may have been because Morris was out with an injury. Those two split time this spring, much like they did in 2020.
Morris is a sixth-year senior who took advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility relief to return for another season in Fayetteville. Over three seasons with the Razorbacks, he’s caught 24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
The backup behind Woods on the depth chart is redshirt sophomore John David White, a record-breaking receiver out of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock. Although a walk-on, White has made some noise this spring and Pittman said after the spring game – in which he caught five passes for 87 yards and a score – that he’d definitely have a role on the offense this year, even before news broke about Woods.
However, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver has played only 71 career offensive snaps and has just two catches for 27 yards to his name.
Another option for the Razorbacks could be to move Burks outside and use either De’Vion Warren or Jaquayln Crawford in the slot. A couple of smaller, quicker receivers, they fit the mold of that position.
In fact, after Warren had back-to-back big games against Mississippi State and Auburn while Burks was out with an injury last year, that’s exactly what Arkansas did in order to get its top three receivers on the field at the same time.
Unfortunately, Warren’s season was cut short when he suffered a torn ACL against Florida. He is still recovering from the injury and missed all of spring practice. That allowed the Razorbacks to get an extended look at Crawford, a former four-star recruit who began his career at Oklahoma before transferring to Arkansas and sitting out last season.
Primarily a kickoff return his first three seasons, Warren had just eight career receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown before last season and then caught 15 passes for 278 yards and three scores in 2020 – with a big chunk of that (9 rec., 195 yds., 3 TD) coming in the two games Burks was hurt. Crawford has never caught a pass in college.
There will undoubtedly be calls for younger players like freshmen Darin Turner (a redshirt), Ketron Jackson Jr. and Jaedon Wilson to get more run after Woods’ decision, but based on the spring game, all three appear to be further down the depth chart.
Turner didn’t get on the field at all last season and seems to be behind Kendall Catalon, while Jackson and Wilson didn’t play in the Red-White game until the second half when the Razorbacks started rotating in other quarterbacks.
Briles is on record saying that he typically likes to use only five or six receivers and that’s what he did last year. Woods, Burks, Morris, Warren and Knox each played 200-plus snaps, while White contributed 50.
Barring another unforeseen transfer, injury or development, it seems like the Razorbacks’ top receivers in 2021 will come from that group, with Crawford also joining the mix now that he’s eligible.