The KJ Jefferson era at Arkansas has officially come to an end.
With Jefferson’s announcement that he will be entering the transfer portal, it marks the end of a storied five-year Razorback career – one that saw the Sardis, Miss., native take sole possession of six program records.
Jefferson will leave Fayetteville as an Arkansas football legend, regardless of where he plays his final collegiate season, and deserves praise for what he has done for the program. It’s tough to see someone as decorated and talented as Jefferson leave, though it was undoubtedly the best decision for both parties.
Given how the past two seasons have ended and that Arkansas’ offense will now be orchestrated by Bobby Petrino, the time was right for a fresh face under center next fall. The decision hardly comes as a surprise as both Jefferson and Pittman alluded to 2023 being their final year together a handful of times. Jefferson even walked for Senior Day before the Missouri game last month.
Bobby Petrino Finds KJ Jefferson’s Replacement?
A move that still has most Arkansas fans buzzing was the addition of Boise State transfer quarterback Taylen Green. Bobby Petrino wasted no time finding a quarterback to start his second stint in Fayetteville as Green committed to the Hogs on Monday afternoon, five days before Jefferson’s announcement.
It’s been well-documented how quickly after Green’s official transfer announcement that reports began surfacing, linking the Hogs to Green. Fast forward to this past weekend, Green was in Fayetteville for an official visit which ended with his commitment.
It’s not hard to put two-and-two together and see that Arkansas’ staff, specifically Petrino, had their eyes on Green from the start, likely more foreshadowing of Jefferson’s impending departure. While Best of Arkansas Sports’ own Andrew Hutchinson points out that Green’s addition likely would’ve happened whether Jefferson returned or not, all signs point to him being Petrino’s hand-picked replacement.
Their connection goes back to Petrino’s stint as Missouri State’s head coach, where he tried to recruit Green out of high school. Green spoke about that connection on Wednesday morning’s edition of “The Morning Rush” with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft.
“It came full circle,” Green said. “It was definitely crazy. Crazy to think three years later I get to be coached by Coach Petrino. He recruited me in high school, so it definitely came full circle.”
It’s hard not to see what Petrino and his staff like with Green. Listed at 6-foot-6, 221 pounds, his highlight reel invokes the spirit of two legendary Razorback signal callers, Matt Jones and the late Ryan Mallett, baked into one incredible athlete.
Green is a dynamic dual threat who can extend plays with his elite mobility and keep defenses honest by stretching them vertically with an impressive deep ball. Former Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom got an up-close look in the Mountain West Championship game two weekends ago. Green put on quite the show, leading the Broncos to a convincing 44-20 win over Odom’s UNLV Rebels.
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He went 12 of 15 passing for 226 yards, a pair of touchdowns and just one interception while adding 90 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just eight carries, en route to being named the game’s Offensive MVP.
While there’s obviously areas in Green’s game which need improvement, like his accuracy in the short-to-medium ranges, his potential is very enticing. However, in that excitement, some might forget that Green is still very much a project and there’s another quarterback who’s been waiting several years for his chance to be a starter.
Quarterback Competition for Arkansas Football
When Jacolby Criswell transferred to Arkansas last offseason, it was expected that he would be KJ Jefferson’s backup for 2023 before taking over the starting job in 2024. Obviously a lot has changed, but there’s little doubt that Criswell still has eyes on the Razorbacks’ starting job despite the addition of Green.
Criswell, a Morrilton, Ark., native, spent three seasons as a backup at North Carolina. There, he sat behind two NFL-caliber talents in Sam Howell and Drake Maye and saw very little playing time. Despite not having broken through as a starter, Criswell’s talents are held in high-regard by his coaches.
This past season was the most action that Criswell has seen in his career thus far, and his stats were extremely respectable, considering the situations he was thrown into. He finished the year 17 of 27 passing for 143 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not bad behind for a quarterback with abysmal pass protection.
Like Taylen Green, Criswell is a threat to run as much as he is passing. Fans saw this when he ripped off a 60-yard run against Auburn earlier this season, so Criswell’s fit shouldn’t be questioned.
Behind Criswell, Arkansas has two other possibilities at quarterback, for now.
Malachi Singleton is another dual-threat quarterback who arrived at Arkansas as part of the 2023 recruiting class. He was a consensus four-star prospect out of high school and rated the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country.
While he has a lot of potential, he failed to see the field in 2023 and would likely struggle to beat out either Green or Criswell for the starting job next year. Given the fact that Singleton’s mother was vocal on social media about her frustration with his lack of playing time late in the year, he might not be in Fayetteville much longer.
Finally, there’s incoming freshman KJ Jackson, who’s expected to sign with the Hogs next week.
Jackson, a consensus four-star prospect, has been committed to the Hogs since April 9 of this year and is the No. 18 quarterback in the country. Similar to Singleton, Jackson has a ton of potential, but will lack the experience of a Green or Criswell.
It’s rare that a true freshman is given the reins to an offense at the FBS level, but even more rare in a head coach’s make-or-break season – as 2024 will be for Sam Pittman.
Predicting the Starting QB for 2024
When Arkansas takes the field against Arkansas-Pine Bluff next August, it will be the first time in three seasons that KJ Jefferson won’t be under center.
All signs are pointing towards Taylen Green being the starter for the Razorbacks next year, but Jacolby Criswell could make things really interesting. The connection between Green and Petrino is too strong for one to believe that he isn’t looked at as “the guy.”
During his Dec. 13 appearance on “The Morning Rush,” Green sounded like a quarterback who understands the possible competition, but is also confident he can lead the Razorback offense.
“I would say I’m not scared to compete, competition brings out the best in everybody,” Green said. “I’m excited to accept the challenge and go full head-of-steam.
“I’m definitely going to apply what I’ve learned the last two, three years, especially last year, to this upcoming season. Being that leader that people can lean on, that’s been through a lot, that’s been through the ringer, battle-tested.”
Where Will KJ Jefferson Go Next?
SEC Mike weighs in on KJ Jefferson’s next stop in the below video by bringing up the possibility he could land with Sam Pittman’s old boss at Georgia and play for for Kirby Smart next season if Carson Beck declares for the NFL Draft.
“I think if Carson Beck goes pro, you pick up that phone [after] they’ve already tried to get someone like Maalik Murphy there at Texas,” SEC Mike says. “KJ would be an instant upgrade over anything they got at Georgia and they’d be the favorites to win the national championship with KJ Jefferson.”
“So he’s got options. Other teams that I threw into the mix, and this is just SEC obviously, but LSU, Tennessee, A&M and Auburn. If KJ went to any of those teams, I think they’re playoff contenders next season.”
See the whole segment starting at :50 here:
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