Most of the excitement for Arkansas football happened before the early signing period, but it did get a surprise commitment from the transfer portal Wednesday morning.
Pittsburgh transfer defensive end John Morgan III has signed with the Razorbacks, the UA announced. It comes just a few days after he completed an official visit to Fayetteville.
“This is big-boy football,” Morgan said. “That’s what I’m looking for. I’m a big-time player and I want to play on the biggest stages. This gives me an opportunity to do that. You play against Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia — the big-time schools — 24/7. That’s what I want to do. I want to be that guy.”
Morgan will be a sixth-year super senior in 2023, using his extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all players in college during the pandemic-altered 2020 season.
Getting him on campus obviously showed that Morgan was interested in Arkansas, but the timing of his commitment was a bit of a surprise. He originally planned to wait until after the national championship to make his decision and he was looking at possibly visiting Tennessee and Colorado.
Making the commitment even sweeter for the Razorbacks was the fact his official visit was immediately after a trip to Columbia, Mo., to visit their “Battle Line” rival, Missouri.
He is the fourth addition from the transfer portal so far this offseason, as he follows offensive lineman Joshua Braun from Florida, quarterback Jacolby Criswell from North Carolina and wide receiver Andrew Armstrong from Texas A&M-Commerce. All four were announced by the UA on Wednesday.
John Morgan III at Pitt
A high three-star recruit in the 2018 class, John Morgan III is a product of Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic. While at the school, he played on the same defensive line as eventual No. 2 overall pick and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, who was a year older.
He wasn’t as heralded as the Ohio State standout, but Morgan still garnered plenty of college attention and signed with Pittsburgh over offers from the likes of Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and others.
After appearing in only three games as a true freshman in 2018, preserving his redshirt, Morgan was a significant contributor on the Panthers’ defensive line the next four years.
Even though he started only eight total games, all in the past two seasons, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive end has played more than 1,300 career defensive snaps — including exactly 450 in 2021 and 2022.
Morgan has used that playing time to get after the passer, racking up 14 sacks during his time at Pitt. He also had 23 tackles for loss among his 73 career tackles. His best individual season came in 2021, when he had 5.5 sacks.
Those numbers don’t paint the entire picture, though. According to Pro Football Focus, he generated a whopping 29 total pressures in 2021 and had 36 this season, even though his more traditional statistics dropped. That helped him earn a career-high 77.5 PFF grade in 2022.
For perspective, Morgan’s 36 pressures would have ranked second on Arkansas this season, behind only All-American linebacker Drew Sanders’ 39. The most pressures by a defensive end for the Razorbacks in 2022 was 23 from Zach Williams.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Speaking of Drew Sanders, his name came up in the Razorbacks’ pitch to John Morgan III. Even though he played a different position, he was an example of what is possible — even in only one year — at Arkansas.
Sanders not only led the team with 103 tackles, a feat that probably isn’t possible from the defensive end position, but he also finished second in the SEC with 9.5 sacks. That is something Morgan would like to replicate.
“They talked about Drew Sanders coming from Alabama and being that guy,” Morgan said. “That was big for them. They see me stepping in that role and being that same type of player for them.”
Morgan joins what is shaping up to be arguably the strongest position on Arkansas’ defense next season.
Another ACC transfer — Jordan Domineck from Georgia Tech — made an immediate impact for the Razorbacks this season with 6.5 sacks and has already announced he’s returning for his super senior season.
Arkansas is also returning Landon Jackson and Jashaud Stewart, who made six and five starts this season, respectively, and Zach Williams — who made six starts — could potentially come back as a super senior, but has yet to announce his decision.
Having a large number of potential pass rushers will be vital for the Razorbacks next season because new defensive coordinator Travis Williams runs a very aggressive system.
In fact, one thing Pittman said he was hoping to find in the transfer portal was a “premier pass rusher” and it seems like he’s found that in Morgan.
“He told me they want me to be an integral part of the defense,” Morgan said. “They want me to play the jack position and get after the quarterback and really change the program around.”
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