Arkansas had arguably the best 1-2 punch at running back in the nation last year in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. However, this week the Hogs learned that Williams will miss the season. So could Collins now be a legitimate Heisman contender?
Tough Break For Williams
Williams, now a senior, suffered a foot injury in Saturday's scrimmage for the Razorbacks. He was hurt on a run over the right side of the line when a couple of defensive linemen landed on his foot. Williams will have surgery to place a screw in his foot. Williams could opt for a redshirt season but he might want to head to the NFL -- he considered it after last season.
"There are short- and long-term impacts of how he proceeds and we want to make sure he does what's best for him and his family, and his career beyond Arkansas,” Coach Bret Bielema said in a statement.
Bielema said Williams had taken out insurance through the university under a "loss of value" claim rather than the type of claim covered by a catastrophic injury. Williams was projected as a third-round pick last year. Bielema said he spoke with some NFL people and admitted it probably would be best for Williams to enter the 2016 draft.
Few teams rely on the run more than the Razorbacks as Bielema brought his ground-and-pound offensive scheme with him from Wisconsin. Last season, Williams rushed 211 times for 1,190 yards (both team and career highs) for 12 touchdowns. The only three backs to rush for more yards in the SEC last season were Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Mississippi State's Josh Robinson. Only Chubb returns and he's a top Heisman candidate. Williams had five 100-yard games, including 105 yards and a touchdown in a 31-7 win over Texas in the Texas Bowl to close the season. He had been +12500 on 5Dimes Heisman odds for 2015. Williams was second-team All-SEC and is the school's 10th-leading rusher all-time, with 2,321 yards.
You're Up Alex!
So now Collins, a junior, should be a huge beneficiary of this injury because Bielema isn't going to alter his scheme. While Williams is a bruiser, Collins is shifty and quick at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds. He is nine pounds lighter than he was in spring football and more than 10 pounds lighter than he was much of the 2014 season.
"His endurance is so much better than it was a year ago," returning starter QB Brandon Allen said of Collins. "He's in there every play now."
Collins rushed 204 times for 1,110 yards and 12 scores last year. Williams and Collins were the only FBS teammates to each rush for 1,000-plus yards. They also became the first Arkansas running back pair to collect 10-plus rushing touchdowns since Darren McFadden (16) and Felix Jones (11) in 2007. Both those guys would go on to become first-round picks in the NFL but also largely busts.
Arkansas also has junior Kody Walker and true freshman Rawleigh Williams III for potential reps. Walkers is a monster at 6-foot-2, 256 pounds and had 31 carries for 149 yards and a TD last season.
The Hogs have one of the SEC's weakest receiving groups, although tight end Hunter Henry (37 catches, 513 yards, two TDs) is one of the conference's best at his position. Arkansas attempted only 359 passes last season or 27.6 per game. Some teams like Baylor throw that much in a half.
So Collins will get his touches, maybe as many as 300. There are currently no Heisman odds on him but that should change with this injury. Would he be good long-shot value? The Razorbacks have a good offensive line as well and they do appear to be a team on the rise. But the Hogs also obviously face some terrific defenses in the SEC. Collins should put up big numbers the first four weeks against weak defenses: vs. UTEP, Toledo (game in Little Rock), Texas Tech and Texas A&M (that game in Arlington).
But trips to Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU are going to be rough and those defenses will stack the box and dare Allen to beat them. All three were among the nation's top defenses against the run in 2014 and should be again this year. The Tide might have the best front seven in the nation.
NCAAF Free Pick: I don't think Collins does enough to earn a trip to New York with the defenses the Razorbacks will see in conference play.