The transfer portal officially opened Monday and the first surprise for the Arkansas football program is the departure of Devon Manuel.
An offensive lineman from Louisiana, he was the projected starting left tackle for the Razorbacks this season, his third in the program, but was severely limited by various injuries.
Manuel will be the seventh Arkansas football player to enter the transfer portal and the second who announced his intentions Monday, following defensive tackle Taurean Carter.
The other departures were previously known, even though they didn’t officially enter the portal until it opened to all players. Prior to Monday, it was only open to graduate transfers and players on teams that experienced a head coaching change.
Defensive back Jaylen Lewis announced he was leaving the week of the Missouri game, but wide receiver Sam Mbake was actually dismissed from the team before that. The others were a trio of linebackers who waited until after the season — Chris Paul Jr., Jordan Crook and Mani Powell.
Among that group, Paul (514 snaps) and Manuel (417 snaps) played the most and are the Razorbacks’ most significant transfer portal entries so far this offseason.
Devon Manuel with the Razorbacks
A low three-star prospect coming out of Beau Chene High School in Arnaudville, La., Devon Manuel was pretty lightly recruited. His only other Power Five offers were from Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas and Michigan State.
When he arrived on campus, it was clear he’d be a project because he weighed about 390 pounds — with now-former offensive line coach Cody Kennedy telling reporters this fall that he might have actually eclipsed 400.
That led to Manuel not playing at all as a freshman, but he got down to a much more manageable 334 pounds as a redshirt freshman and served as Luke Jones’ backup at left tackle. His only action came in the Auburn blowout, though, and it was just six snaps.
With Jones opting not to return as a super senior and Dalton Wagner out of eligibility, though, the Razorbacks had big holes to fill at the two tackle spots in 2023 and Pittman almost immediately singled out Manuel as someone who needed to come on strong as a redshirt sophomore.
Now listed at 6-foot-9, 310 pounds, he quickly asserted himself as the top left tackle during the spring and entered the preseason atop the depth chart until being sidelined with an undisclosed injury halfway through camp.
That opened the door for redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee, who ended up splitting time with Manuel throughout the season. He started eight of the first nine games before Manuel — who also battled a stinger during the season — finally took over as the starter for the final three games.
Manuel actually replaced Chamblee during the Florida game and was a key to the Razorbacks’ offensive success, posting a 68.4 Pro Football Focus grade on 47 snaps. He followed that up with a 70.5 grade on 35 snaps against Auburn and 72.2 grade on 79 snaps against FIU before ending the year with a 56.3 grade on 65 snaps against Missouri.
Despite the rough end to the season, Manuel still earned a 68.4 grade on 417 total offensive snaps this season — much higher than Chamblee’s 51.5 grade on 405 snaps.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Sam Pittman was not shy about the need to overhaul the Razorbacks’ offensive line this offseason.
That included a change at the top, with offensive line coach Cody Kennedy leaving to take the same job at Mississippi State and being replaced by another Pittman protege in Eric Mateos, who has built solid units at both BYU and Baylor.
What got things started was actually a transfer portal commitment from Keyshawn Blackstock from Michigan State. He was a heralded JUCO prospect in the 2023 class, but appeared in only four games for the Spartans before leaving in the wake of Mel Tucker’s firing.
At Michigan State, Blackstock was the backup left tackle and played 74 total snaps at that spot. That is where Manuel projected to compete for a starting job in 2024, assuming he could stay healthy.
In fact, Pittman sounded really confident in Manuel before his injury in fall camp and routinely brought up the fact that him being hurt was the reason Andrew Chamblee ended up starting most of the games.
Chamblee is capable of playing either tackle spot and could flip to the right side if Patrick Kutas ultimately slides inside, which has been mentioned as a possibility, or he could stick at left tackle and battle with Blackstock — or any other potential newcomer — for the starting job next season.
Even though Chamblee struggled mightily this season, he may have been thrown into the fire before he was ready. After all, he was just a redshirt freshman. It’s not a stretch to think he can be developed under Pittman and Mateos and be a solid offensive tackle.
The departure of Manuel places a much larger importance on that happening sooner rather than later, or relies on Blackstock or another transfer coming in and being an immediate contributor at the vital position.
Arkansas Football Players in the Transfer Portal
Here’s a list of Arkansas football players currently in the transfer portal, ordered alphabetically…
- DT Taurean Carter
- LB Jordan Crook
- DB Jaylen Lewis
- OL Devon Manuel
- WR Sam Mbake
- LB Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr.
- LB Mani Powell
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…