Jacolby Criswell is coming home.
Less than a week after entering the transfer portal, the former North Carolina quarterback and Morrilton native announced his commitment to Arkansas football while on an official visit Saturday evening.
A former four-star recruit, Criswell immediately bolsters a quarterback room that severely lacks depth behind standout starter KJ Jefferson. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
“It felt right, just go with your gut and that is what I did,” Criswell said about his decision. “I wanted to come back. It’s my home state. It wasn’t that good a year and I felt like I could be a difference maker in upcoming years.”
He is the second transfer commitment of the offseason for the Razorbacks, joining former Florida offensive lineman Josh Braun.
They aren’t done, either. Wide receivers Andrew Armstrong from Texas A&M-Commerce and Arland Bruce IV from Iowa are also in Fayetteville this weekend on official visits, plus Arkansas has offered numerous other players in the portal.
Arkansas certainly has room for several transfers. Even if the eight potential super seniors who’ve yet to announce a decision for next season all return, the Razorbacks are still set to have only 82 players on scholarship in 2023, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ unofficial roster projection. That leaves at least three — and likely more — spots to fill via the transfer portal.
Jacolby Criswell at North Carolina
With a .9070 rating in the 247Sports Composite, Jacolby Criswell is the highest-rated quarterback from Arkansas over the five-year span from 2019-23.
However, most of the Razorbacks’ recruiting efforts in the 2020 were spent on Chandler Morris, the son of then-head coach Chad Morris. That led to Criswell committing to North Carolina over offers from Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, Purdue and several other programs.
When Morris was fired and replaced by Sam Pittman, Arkansas made a push to flip him from the Tar Heels, but it was too late for such a move.
“It was bad timing for him,” Criswell said. “My coach at North Carolina ended up coming down. Bad timing for (Pittman). We didn’t get to talk much. But I was really excited. I figured he would go for a late push. The type of person I am, I’m loyal so I told him I just couldn’t do it.
In his first two seasons at North Carolina, Criswell served as the backup to All-ACC quarterback Sam Howell. He appeared in six games as a true freshman and then redshirted in 2021 by playing in just four games — including a start against Wofford.
There was a quarterback battle heading into this season, but Criswell lost the job to Drake Maye and was once again the Tar Heels’ backup. Maye had a tremendous season that included winning ACC Player of the Year and finishing 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting. He’s viewed as a Heisman frontrunner next season, so Criswell entered the transfer portal to continue his career elsewhere.
Over three seasons at North Carolina, Criswell completed 18 of 31 passes (58.1%) for 204 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, while also rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 116 offensive snaps for the Tar Heels.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
The Razorbacks got some great news earlier this month when KJ Jefferson announced he’d return to school as a fifth-year senior. He has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country the last two years and might be the best returning starter in the SEC.
However, Malik Hornsby entered the transfer portal following the regular season, leaving Arkansas with only one scholarship quarterback — Jefferson — for the Liberty Bowl.
With four-star prospect Malachi Singleton the only one in the Razorbacks’ 2023 recruiting class, they were set to have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster next season. They do have two walk-ons who began their careers on scholarship at Power Five programs, but Kade Renfro has torn his ACL twice in the past year and Cade Fortin hasn’t announced if he’ll use his extra year of eligibility.
That made landing a quality quarterback from the transfer portal a priority for Arkansas this offseason and Jacolby Criswell made a lot of sense considering his ties to the state. A true dual-threat quarterback who averaged 6.7 yards per carry at North Carolina, he also fits the style of quarterback Sam Pittman and Kendal Briles have shown to want.
Criswell is particularly excited about the opportunity to learn from Briles this season, as most signs point to him returning for a fourth season at the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator.
“Great guy, people’s person, down to earth, cares for his players – quarterbacks especially,” Criswell said. “Great coach. I like the scheme and everything he does. Pretty similar to where I came from at North Carolina. So I’m just excited to get to work with him.”
Jefferson will almost certainly be the starting quarterback next season, but his physical style of play leaves him open to getting hurt. He missed two games this season with separate injuries and played in a third when he clearly wasn’t 100%.
The Razorbacks relied on Hornsby and Fortin in Jefferson’s absence and — while they both flashed — neither played particularly well. They combined to complete only 27 of 56 passes (48.2%) for 403 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with another 189 yards on the ground.
The hope is that Criswell will be a far more competent backup for Jefferson next year, allowing Singleton to develop and learn the ropes during his freshman season. Assuming that is Jefferson’s final season — he could technically return — that would then set up a battle between Criswell and Singleton for the starting job in 2024.
If he wins the job, Criswell could also return as the starter in 2025 if he chooses to use the extra year of eligibility granted to all players in college in the pandemic-altered 2020 season.
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