A few days before the post-spring transfer window opens, Arkansas football has landed a top transfer portal target in defensive tackle Anthony Booker Jr. from Maryland.
Nicknamed “Tank” and listed at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he plays a major position of need for the Razorbacks and they were able to hold off the likes of Ohio State, Purdue, South Carolina and Texas A&M to land his commitment Wednesday.
Booker will be a fifth-year senior in 2023, but technically has two years of eligibility remaining because of the extra year granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic.
He was able to get a jump on the transfer process, announcing his decision to enter the portal on March 6, because he is a graduate transfer. That used to guarantee immediate eligibility at a player’s next school, but that is already universally allowed for first-year transfers.
Instead, Booker’s status as a graduate transfer allowed him to enter the transfer portal outside one of the two windows in place for all other players. He didn’t enter in the first one, which closed Jan. 18, and didn’t have to wait until the second one that opens Saturday.
At Arkansas, he’ll reunite with offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Although they were on opposite sides of the ball, the pair were together at Maryland the last two seasons and likely had a relationship of some sort.
Tank Booker at Maryland
A mid-tier three-star recruit at Cincinnati’s Winton Woods High School in the Class of 2019, Tank Booker signed with Maryland over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and several MAC programs.
He redshirted his first season with the Terrapins by appearing in only three games, but has been part of their defensive line rotation the last three seasons despite making just two starts.
According to Pro Football Focus, the last two seasons have been his best. Booker earned a 76.1 overall grade on 105 snaps in 2021 and managed to increase that to 77.1 while playing more than twice as many snaps (234) last year.
Playing in the run-heavy Big Ten, he’s been particularly stout against the run, posting 78-plus run defense grades those two years and notching 20 “stops” — tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense, as defined by PFF — last year. For a comparison, Arkansas’ top two defensive tackles last year, Isaiah Nichols and Terry Hampton, combined for 23 “stops” on 826 snaps.
Officially, Booker has made 47 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and two sacks, while forcing two fumbles and breaking up one pass in his career. Most of that production came last season.
Despite playing only 234 snaps, he racked up 27 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in 2022. Here’s how those numbers stack up to Arkansas’ top defensive tackles from last year:
- Isaiah Nichols: 422 snaps — 16 tackles, 1 TFL
- Terry Hampton: 404 snaps — 25 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks
- Cameron Ball: 341 snaps — 31 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Last offseason, the Razorbacks went hard after a couple of coveted defensive tackles in the transfer portal with whom they seemingly had strong connections.
However, Missouri’s Mekhi Wingo picked LSU and Tulsa’s Jaxon Player picked Baylor. Those misses likely contributed to Sam Pittman’s decision to move on from defensive line coach Jermial Ashley, a former Tulsa assistant, and forced Arkansas to shift their focus to other defensive tackles.
The Hogs ultimately landed Terry Hampton from Arkansas State and Taylor Lewis from the JUCO ranks — the latter of which didn’t even make it to the season before entering the transfer portal.
With Hampton out of eligibility and Isaiah Nichols joining Lewis in the portal, the Razorbacks once again found themselves in need desperate need of additional defensive tackles this offseason.
Arkansas football signed three-star Ian Geffrard out of high school, but he is a summer enrollee and it wasn’t able to bring in any midyear transfers, so the Hogs have gone through spring ball with only five scholarship defensive tackles — a higher number than it actually feels.
New defensive coordinator Travis Williams has implemented a four-man front, which requires two defensive tackles instead of the one needed for former defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s primarily three-man front.
Taurean Carter returned from a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of last season and Cameron Ball is back as a redshirt sophomore, plus Eric Gregory has seemingly permanently moved inside after splitting time between end and tackle much of his first four years.
Beyond those three guys, though, it’s pretty thin. The other two scholarship defensive tackles are Marcus Miller, a veteran reserve who hasn’t played much, and redshirt freshman JJ Hollingsworth, another converted defensive end.
It’s been even thinner at various times throughout the spring because of injuries. Carter was initially held out of team periods as he worked his way back, Gregory has been limited at times because of a knee procedure he had following the regular season and Ball has missed the last couple of weeks because of a high ankle sprain.
Assuming all three of those guys are healthy, they create a very solid core of defensive tackles for Arkansas. However, as was the case for the secondary last year, injuries can throw a wrench into what appears to be good depth.
Adding a player with Tank Booker’s experience will, at the very least, provide the Razorbacks with a safety net at the position. At best, he’ll build on his breakout 2022 campaign to reach even greater heights in Fayetteville.
Arkansas Not Done in Transfer Portal
The addition of Tank Booker brings Arkansas up to 78 scholarships for 2023, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ unofficial tracker. That means the Razorbacks have seven spots available before reaching the 85-man limit.
Those are expected to be filled with transfers, so Arkansas is far from done with the portal. In fact, that number of available spots could grow if any current players decide to leave during the April 15-30 transfer portal window.
Sam Pittman has mentioned several positions he plans to target and defensive tackle was chief among them. Even after landing Tank Booker, the Razorbacks might still go after another one.
One known candidate is Minnesota transfer defensive tackle Trill Carter, who made an official visit last weekend. He has also visited Illinois and Texas.
Tight end, linebacker and defensive back – especially safety – are expected to be priorities in the transfer portal for Arkansas, as well.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…