Arkansas Football: Who Is Replacing Former Razorbacks Taken in 2014 NFL Draft
Despite a very rough 2013 season for the Arkansas Razorbacks in head coach Bret Bielema's first year, the Hogs did very well in the 2014 NFL draft.
Overall, Arkansas had four players drafted in the seven rounds, which included kicker Zach Hocker, fullback Kiero Small, defensive end Chris Smith and center Travis Swanson. Considering the Hogs didn't win a single game in SEC play and finished 3-9, having four players taken in the draft was a win for the program.
However, as awesome as it is for these guys who got to hear their names called, it leaves Bielema and his staff with the task of replacing these starters without seeing a big drop-off in production.
Here, we'll go over who will replace each of the former Razorbacks now in the NFL.
Kicker Cole Hedlund
Before Hocker came along, it had been a while since Arkansas had a reliable kicker. For older fans, it has been harder to deal with, considering the Razorbacks used to have some of the best kickers in the country, such as Steve Little, who was an All-American and is still tied for the longest field goal in NCAA history at 67 yards.
Now, it appears that the four-year run of having a reliable kicker will continue with freshman Cole Hedlund.
Hedlund stood out while at Argyle High School in Texas. Not to overexcite any of you Hogs fans, but this kid could very well end up being better than Hocker and a four-year starter himself. He has that type of leg and talent.
Rated the No. 2 kicker recruit nationally, via 247Sports, the 3-star prospect not only has the leg to make the long kicks, but he's also deadly accurate. From 2011 to 2013, Hedlund connected on 56 of 66 (84.8 percent) attempts. As a senior in 2013, he made 24 of 26 (92.3 percent), a percentage that would have ranked him in the top 10 among NFL kickers last season.
His marvelous senior campaign earned him national recognition, as he was named an All-American by well-respected media outlets such as USA Today, Parade and MaxPreps.
As skilled as Hedlund is, he still will have to beat out junior John Henson, who has seen minimal action during his career. However, Hedlund is much better than Henson from top to bottom, and he hasn't even stepped on the field yet.
When it comes time for the season to start, expect him to be the guy Bielema chooses to replace Hocker. Hedlund has a chance to be a very special player for the Razorbacks.
Center Luke Charpentier
One of the most solid positions for the Razorbacks the last decade has been center.
From 2004 to 2008, there was Jonathan Luigs, who was a Consensus All-American and won the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center, as a redshirt junior. After the 2009 season where Wade Grayson held the starting job, Swanson stepped in as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and started 50 straight games, tying the school record.
With Swanson being taken by the Detroit Lions with the 76th overall pick in the third round, the Hogs are looking to keep the recent success at the position going with his replacement.
Redshirt senior Luke Charpentier looks to be that guy.
Though he will have only one season to be the starter, he has a lot of experience and has been a key contributor on the offensive line the past few seasons. Charpentier has appeared in 24 games during his career, including nine last year while backing up Swanson.
Redshirt sophomore Cordale Boyd is his main competition, but Charpentier is more advanced in his skill set and his experience is a huge plus. Though he may not be as good as Luigs or Swanson, Charpentier is a very capable blocker and is good enough that there shouldn't be any noticeable drop-off at the position.
Fullback Kody Walker
Out of the four guys drafted, replacing Small at fullback might be the toughest. Though his last name is Small, he payed anything but that, dishing out bone-crushing blocks and opening up running lanes for Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Small was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round, 227th overall. The Seahawks' gain of a hard-working, old-school fullback is also Arkansas' loss.
Right now, redshirt junior Kody Walker is the clear choice to replace Small. He has the size at 6'2", 247 pounds. He was a running back in high school and was recruited to Arkansas as a tailback, but he eventually made the transition to fullback.
His experience as a running back and athleticism make him a threat to do damage running the ball, something Small wasn't particularly good at. He's became a much better blocker since making the switch, though he isn't on the level Small was.
The problem is that neither Walker nor his main competitor, Patrick Arinze, really showed a lot this spring. In fact, according to HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy (subscription required), Bielema said, "He is not thrilled about the play of the fullbacks at this time and could explore having two running backs in the game more often."
So, Walker isn't just fighting to be the starter—he's fighting to even have a fullback on the field.
Defensive End Deatrich Wise
It hurts to lose a pass-rushing end like Smith, but Arkansas has an All-SEC-caliber replacement in redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise.
At 6'6", 267 pounds, Wise has the frame and length you look for in a defensive end. He made contributions in his first season on the field in 2013, recording 17 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
He had a great spring and was a constant disruption in the backfield during scrimmages. His performance in the Red-White spring game showed just how special he could be. By the end of it, Wise had racked up eight tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
Basically, he was unblockable.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Lewis has been pushing Wise and had a good spring himself. However, Wise is blossoming into a great player and is headed for a breakout year.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.