Arkansas Team News

Change of Williams: Freshman Maleek must replace Rawleigh in Arkansas backfield

COURTESY OF 247SPORTS.COM

Arkansas fans want to know: Who is Maleek Williams? Now that Rawleigh Williams III is stepping away from the game, the freshman has big shoes to fill in 2017.

With the reigning SEC rushing champion forced to give up football due to a second serious neck injury, Maleek Williams now becomes a key man in the Razorbacks’ offensive plans.

RELATED: Arkansas star RB Rawleigh Williams gives up football: ‘I’ve dodged the bullet twice’

Devwah Whaley is expected to take over as the starter, but coach Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks no longer have the luxury of keeping Williams deep on the bench to wait his turn. They need production this year.

Fortunately, based on early indications, they might get it.

Last month, Bielema said that Maleek Williams had been “very impressive” in spring practice.

“He’s tough, probably a little bit thicker running back,” Bielema said in April, when the Razorbacks were entering their final practice. “He’s had a really nice spring as well.”

At 6 feet and 230 pounds, Maleek Williams brings slightly more bulk than the 216-pound Whaley and should enable Arkansas to take some of the burden in the ground game off the sophomore’s shoulders.

Williams came to Arkansas as an early enrollee from Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte. A three-star prospect, he didn’t attract offers from the Sunshine State’s traditional Big Three of Florida, Florida State and Miami, although he did receive offers from SEC programs Kentucky and Tennessee.

But a sensational senior season – 1,294 yards, 24 touchdowns and a trip to the state semifinal, plus a regional player of the year award from Suncoast Sports Now – justified the Razorbacks’ faith in Williams.

Bielema has demonstrated that he’s willing to give true freshmen a shot at running back.

For proof, fans need only look back at last year, when Whaley carried 110 times for 602 yards despite getting only part-time action. In 2013, Alex Collins was even better, gaining 1,026 yards in his first season in Fayetteville.

This year, Bielema likely has little choice. In addition to the loss of Rawleigh Williams III, reserve Kody Walker exhausted his eligibility and T.J. Hammonds moved to wide receiver. That’s 1,557 rushing yards that need replacing for Arkansas.

This year, Maleek Williams will be near the front of the line.

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