Razorbacks’ 3rd Recent Add from Cincinnati Leads to No. 1 SEC Ranking

Jaheim Thomas, Cincinnati football, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Nick Wenger

Sam Pittman can check another position off his transfer portal wish list, as linebacker Jaheim Thomas announced his commitment to Arkansas football on Monday.

The former four-star recruit spent three seasons at Cincinnati before deciding to leave right after spring ball. Just a couple weeks later, he chose the Razorbacks over Auburn and Wisconsin.

It was yet another win for Pittman in the portal because Thomas had most recently visited the Tigers, who also have a need at linebacker, and some thought he’d follow former head coach Luke Fickell and play for the Badgers.

Instead, Thomas became the second linebacker to transfer to Arkansas this cycle, joining Antonio Grier from South Florida. They join a unit that is replacing Bumper Pool and Drew Sanders, but also retaining promising youngsters in Chris Paul Jr., Jordan Crook and others.

Rivals is particularly high on Thomas, rating him as a four-star transfer and ranking him as the 127th-best overall. He is a high three-star prospect and top-300 transfer on 247Sports (No. 286) and On3 (No. 226).

Arkansas has now landed 14 scholarship transfers since the end of the 2022 regular season and the group is widely considered one of the best in the country. It checks in at No. 9 in 247Sports’ transfer rankings, which trails only LSU (No. 3), Auburn (No. 4) and Ole Miss (No. 8) in the SEC.

According to On3, which weighs the gains against the losses to determine how overall team talent was impacted, the Razorbacks have been the best SEC team in the transfer portal this offseason. They are No. 4 overall, trailing a trio of Pac-12 programs: USC, Colorado and UCLA.

Jaheim Thomas at Cincinnati

A two-sport standout at Princeton High in Cincinnati, Jaheim Thomas once led his conference in rebounding and, as a sophomore, played alongside future NBA first-round pick Darius Bazley.

However, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound athlete’s future was on the gridiron.

ESPN and 247Sports tabbed him a high three-star recruit, but Rivals – much like it was when he entered the transfer portal – viewed him in a much better light. Not only was he a four-star recruit, but Thomas was ranked 167th overall in the Rivals250 for the Class of 2020.

He was pursued by schools across the Power Five and there was speculation that he might be a package deal with high school teammate and five-star offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr., who ultimately signed with Ohio State and was just taken sixth overall in the NFL Draft.

That didn’t come to fruition, though. Instead, Thomas took official visits to LSU and Michigan State, which – along with Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland and Tennessee – were among his finalists. The process was expected to drag into his senior year, but he made a surprise commitment that summer by announcing he’d stay in his hometown to play at Cincinnati, becoming the Bearcats’ most heralded defensive recruit in the modern era.

His impact wasn’t immediately felt on an extremely talented Cincinnati team. He appeared in only four games and redshirted in 2020, when the Bearcats nearly knocked off Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The next year, Thomas rotated some on defense and played special teams as Cincinnati reached the College Football Playoff.

It wasn’t until this past season that Thomas finally broke out. He never started a game, but rotated with the first-team defense and finished third on the team with 70 tackles and second with 6.5 tackles for loss, which included two sacks. That earned him a solid 74.7 Pro Football Focus grade on 443 defensive snaps.

Although his announcement about entering the transfer portal said he has two years of eligibility remaining, Thomas technically also has a redshirt available. He redshirted by appearing in only four games in 2020, but that was essentially a free season because of the eligibility relief granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic. While he can only play two fulls seasons with the Razorbacks, Thomas has three years to do so.

An Unlikely Arkansas-to-Cincinnati Connection

Sam Pittman took a page out of Eric Musselman’s playbook by going into the transfer portal and landing a player whom he saw up close and in person last season.

Jaheim Thomas played just 33 of 73 defensive snaps in the Sept. 3 matchup between Arkansas and Cincinnati at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but still managed to make seven tackles, including half of a tackle for loss, and earn a 64.8 PFF grade.

Pittman also followed the lead of Musselman by bringing in a transfer from Cincinnati, as the Arkansas basketball team already secured a commitment from Jeremiah Davenport.

That’s not the only Cincinnati-to-Arkansas connection via the transfer portal this offseason, though. Both Thomas and Davenport are homegrown Cincinnati products – as is Anthony “Tank” Booker Jr., the defensive tackle out of Maryland who announced his commitment last month.

Interestingly enough, Booker was part of the same graduating class – the Class of 2019 – at Winton Woods High School as Jiair Thomas, the older brother of Jaheim Thomas. The elder Thomas played basketball in high school, but walked on to the Cincinnati football team to play with his brother. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jiair is expected to stay with the Bearcats.

It doesn’t appear that the younger Thomas’ Princeton High team ever faced Booker’s Winton Woods’ team – or that the older Thomas’ Winton Woods basketball team ever faced Davenport’s Moeller High basketball team – but it’s probably not a stretch that the newest Razorbacks were at least aware of each other as top prep athletes in Cincinnati close in age.

It’s also worth noting that sophomore linebacker Mani Powell is originally from the Buckeye State, as well, playing in Canton, Ohio, before transferring to Fayetteville for his senior year.

What Landing Thomas Means for Arkansas Football

Jaheim Thomas likely shores up the Razorbacks’ linebacker room, as Sam Pittman had openly discussed needing to add one more for depth purposes.

He gives Arkansas a pretty solid quartet of linebackers, as Chris Paul Jr., Antonio Grier and Jordan Crook has separated themselves as the top three players at the position during spring ball.

Unlike Grier, the transfer from South Florida, Thomas has multiple years left and could team up with Paul and Crook for two seasons. That’d allow second-year linebackers Mani Powell and Kaden Henley, plus freshmen Carson Dean, Brad Spence and Alex Sanford, to develop before being thrust into action.

From an overall team perspective, the Razorbacks are now at 79 scholarships for 2023, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ unofficial tracker.

That means Pittman has six more spots to fill, with defensive back, defensive tackle, interior offensive line and wide receiver believed to be the main remaining targets.


More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…

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