New Hog Ja’Quinden Jackson Did What Was Hoped for New Red Wolf Hornsby

Malik Hornsby, Ja'Quinden Jackson, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Nick Wenger / Utah Athletics

Arkansas football dipped into the transfer portal to add a veteran presence to its running back room, landing Ja’Quinden Jackson from Utah.

A converted quarterback who began his career at Texas, Jackson was the Utes’ leading rusher — and one of the top 10 in the Pac-12 — in 2023 despite it being his first full season at the position.

Rated as a four-star transfer by 247Sports, he is also ranked as the sixth-best running back and No. 113 overall player in the portal by On3.

Interestingly, one of his cousins – Kelvontay Dixon from Carthage, Texas – was once committed to Arkansas in the 2020 class, but de-committed following the firing of Chad Morris and ended up signing with Texas alongside Jackson.

Part of a deluge of portal commitments for the Razorbacks on Friday, Jackson’s announcement followed South Alabama cornerback Marquise Robinson and came before Albany defensive end Anton Juncaj. They’re now up to 12 transfers this cycle.

Ja’Quinden Jackson in College

Coming out of Texas powerhouse Duncanville High in the Class of 2020, Ja’Quinden Jackson was a four-star dual-threat quarterback pursued by Power Five programs across the country.

Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas A&M and several other schools extended offers, but the top-50 overall prospect (No. 34 on ESPN, No. 46 on 247Sports) signed with Texas.

Jackson lasted just one year with the Longhorns, though, redshirting and not appearing in a game in 2020. He hit the transfer portal after that season and ended up in the Pac-12, landing at Utah.

Despite being a heralded recruit, Jackson played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2021. He got just 14 offensive snaps.

Slated to be a backup again the following year, he got some quarterback action early on before converting to running back in Week 4 of 2022. It was a good move, as he finished with 531 yards and nine touchdowns on just 78 carries. The 6-2, 228-pounder averaged 6.8 yards per carry and posted a very good 91.7 Pro Football Focus grade.

A big chunk of his production came in the final three games of the season, as he ended the regular-season with a 117-yard performance at Colorado and then ran for 105 yards against USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game and 81 yards against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Over that stretch, he averaged an impressive 8.4 yards per carry.

Taking over as the Utes’ starting running back this past season, Jackson ran for a team-high 797 yards — a total that also ranked ninth in the Pac-12 — and four touchdowns on 161 carries. That earned him an 82.0 PFF grade.

He had three 100-yard games in 2023, including a career-high 129 yards on 19 carries at Baylor. He also eclipsed the century mark against USC and Arizona State.

Over the last two seasons at Utah, Jackson played a combined 538 snaps while running for 1,328 yards and 13 touchdowns on 239 carries — an average of 5.6 yards per carry.

What it Means for Arkansas Football

More than a decade has passed since the likes of Robert Johnson and Brandon Mitchell enjoyed limited success as quarterbacks-turned-wide receivers for Arkansas football.

In recent years, the Razorbacks have tried a few similar moves, only for them to fail and enter the transfer portal.

After two seasons as a quarterback, Daulton Hyatt spent a year at wide receiver before dropping down to the Division II level at West Alabama. Landon Rogers, the former LR Parkview quarterback, was almost immediately moved to tight end before converting to wide receiver and eventually transferring to UNLV.

The most notable example, and the one that showed most promise, was Malik Hornsby. In 2022 the Razorbacks tried to get his elite speed on the field by using the dual-threat QB as a wide receiver, but that experiment lasted only a couple of games before he moved back to quarterback and transferred to Texas State.

Hornsby didn’t win the quarterback job with the Bobcats and there was talk of him playing some running back during the season as he racked up nearly three times more rushing yards than passing yards. He hit the transfer portal again this offseason and landed at Arkansas State, where he’s expected to fully convert to slot receiver.

Although it won’t get to benefit from that transition, Arkansas will finally have a converted quarterback in its offense thanks to the transfer portal.

Ja’Quinden Jackson isn’t the same type of player as Hornsby, though, so it isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison. While Hornsby was a dual-threat quarterback known for his elite speed, Jackson is 38 pounds heavier and known more for his shiftiness, physicality and vision. That makes him better suited for running back.

It’s also worth noting that Jackson was more explosive when he shared the running back duties than as the starter. He averaged 6.81 yards per carry in 2022, when he was fourth on Utah in snaps among running backs and then averaged 4.95 yards per carry this season as the top ball carrier.

Luckily for Arkansas, Jackson is walking into a situation more similar to Utah’s 2022 running back room than this past season. With Rashod Dubinion, Isaiah Augustave, Braylen Russell and Dominique Johnson also in the fold, he likely won’t be asked to take the bulk of the carries.

He can give the Hogs more veteran leadership too, as he’ll be a fifth-year senior with two years of eligibility remaining.

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