FAYETTEVILLE — Barring injury it seems Sam Pittman will live up to his promise making Rakeem Boyd a better 2021 NFL draft prospect than had Boyd turned pro in 2020.
Boyd already seemed a solid NFL prospect as the junior Arkansas running back netting 1,133 rushing yards in 2019.
He did so despite playing for the second consecutively miserable 2-10 Razorbacks team under the Chad Morris regime.
However, after talking to new Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and new running backs coach Jimmy Smith, Boyd withdrew from NFL draft consideration to return for his senior year.
Even with another preseason practice week to go before opening game week and the Sept. 26 season opener against Georgia, Boyd believes he’s better already with Smith’s help.
“My running back coach is taking my game to another level,” Boyd recently posted on Twitter.
Pittman isn’t surprised by Boyd praising Smith.
As the Georgia Bulldogs’ offensive line coach and previously recruiting in Georgia while on staffs at North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, Pittman from recruiting knew Smith well. Smith coached 12 years, the last five as head coach, at Cedar Grove High in Atlanta.
Last season, Smith coached running backs for the Georgia State team that led by 1,453 yards running back Tra Barnette, the No. 2 Sun Belt Conference rusher, opened 2019 upsetting Tennessee.
“Jimmy has been a great coach for a long time and I think he (Boyd) relates to him,” Pittman said. “Jimmy is very knowledgeable, but just because you’re knowledgeable doesn’t mean you can get it across to your player. To be a great coach you have to be a really quality teacher and that’s what I think he’s doing with Rakeem. Rakeem trusts him. And so they are working well together along with the other running backs, too.”
To Boyd, Smith, Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles have stressed what NFL 2020 draft evaluations told them needed to be stressed.
Pass protection and pass receiving even with Boyd as a sophomore junior college transfer catching 23 Razorbacks passes for 165 yards in 2018 and 19 for 160 yards last season.
“I got the report back from the NFL scouting service, I just thought maybe he doesn’t have very good hands,” Pittman said. “That’s not the case. He catches the ball easily, and we just need to highlight that for our football team and of course for his NFL draft future.”
They discussed all that at length as Boyd pondered whether to return to the UA or turn pro.
“Some of the things that we talked about in the NFL that might take him down a round or something like that, we are putting him in position to be excellent at that,” Pittman said. “Our job is to win football games and to get our kids as good as they possibly can be on and off the field. If that means we can run him up a round or two up in the NFL draft that’s our job as well. So let’s get a little better at pass protection. Let’s be able to run some routes out of the backfield and catch the ball and things of that nature. “
Pittman says he sees the pass protection and pass receiving work under Smith paying off.
“Both of them are important, and certainly he’ll help us with catching the ball out of the backfield,” Pittman said. “He’s a natural at catching the football.”
Always wanting to return to the UA to square the unfinished business of playing for a Razorbacks team better than the successive 2-10, 2-10 overall/0-8, 0-8 in the SEC under the Morris regime, Boyd returns mutually committed, bettering himself and the Hogs.
“I’m really proud of Rakeem,” Pittman said. “I’m proud that he came back to be a part of our football team. I’m proud of the way he practices. He’s not the most vocal leader but he doesn’t have to be.”
Just doing what he does the way he does it suffices.
So says Trelon Smith, Boyd’s backup who had to redshirt at Arkansas last year transferring from Arizona State.
“Rakeem, that’s my big brother,” Trelon Smith said. “Ever since I got here Rakeem put me under his wing.”