Arkansas football is losing another linebacker to the transfer portal, as Jordan Crook announced his intentions Tuesday morning.
The news comes less than 24 hours after the surprising decision of Chris Paul Jr. to also leave the team and pursue opportunities elsewhere.
The Razorbacks are up to three players who plan to enter the transfer portal, which opens to all players next Monday and is currently only open to graduate transfers and players on teams who’ve experienced a head coaching change.
All three of them are on the defensive side of the ball, with reserve defensive back Jaylen Lewis leaving the team before the Missouri game. Paul and Crook waited until after the regular-season finale. It’s also worth noting that wide receiver Sam Mbake was dismissed from the team late in the season.
Crook, Mbake and Lewis each came to Fayetteville in the 2022 class. Their departures mean one-third of the Razorbacks’ 21-man group that year are no longer with the program, as tight end Dax Courtney, defensive tackle Taylor Lewis, running back James Jointer Jr. and defensive back Anthony Brown were gone by last offseason.
So far, the Razorbacks have landed just one player from the transfer portal: offensive lineman Keyshawn Blackstock from Michigan State.
Jordan Crook with the Razorbacks
Even though he was just a high three-star recruit, landing Jordan Crook was a nice recruiting win for the Razorbacks in the 2022 class.
They not only flipped him from Oklahoma State, where he had been committed for a few months, but they also beat out the likes of Michigan, Nebraska, USC and Washington to land his services. They also seemingly opened a pipeline into Texas powerhouse Duncanville High School, the same school that produced Anthony Black for the basketball team.
Almost as soon as he arrived in Fayetteville, Crook was identified as someone who could play early on and, to an extent, that came to fruition. He appeared in all 13 games and actually played 122 snaps on defense in addition to being a significant special teams contributor.
Nearly half of those snaps came in the Liberty Bowl. The Razorbacks were without both Drew Sanders (opt out) and Bumper Pool (injury), so Crook started alongside Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. and made seven tackles.
That gave him 12 tackles for the season and seemingly put him in line for even more playing time as a sophomore. Instead, the Razorbacks brought in a pair of linebackers — Antonio Grier (South Florida) and Jaheim Thomas (Cincinnati) — from the transfer portal over the offseason and they ended up surpassing him on the depth chart.
Despite getting the start against Western Carolina in the opener, Crook played only 25 snaps and then hardly played at all the next few weeks, totaling six total defensive snaps against Kent State, BYU and LSU.
His playing time eventually ticked up a little bit, but he still played only 142 defensive snaps to go along with 237 special teams snaps across five units. Officially, he finished with 28 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.
Jordan Crook has two years of eligibility remaining, plus still has a redshirt available.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
In the span of two days, Arkansas football has lost two of its top linebackers from the 2023 season. Jordan Crook and Pooh Paul ranked second and fourth, respectively, in terms of snaps at the position.
Making matters worse for the Razorbacks, they are also losing the linebacker who was third in snaps, as Antonio Grier was a super senior who has no remaining eligibility, and the snap count leader, Jaheim Thomas, posted — and promptly deleted — a cryptic tweet shortly after the Missouri game that may have indicated some disgruntled feelings about his playing time down the stretch.
Despite being the team’s leading tackler by a wide margin, Thomas lost his starting spot the final two weeks of the season and played only 31 combined snaps against FIU and Missouri after averaging nearly 50 over the first 10 games.
“He obviously had some tackling problems, things of that nature,” Pittman said when asked about his lack of playing time following the Missouri game. “Not (un)like anybody else, but to be perfectly honest with you, I think Grier just played a little bit better when he was in there and he played better in practice when he was there. Jaheim’s got a strong future here. It wasn’t injuries or anything like that. It was just I think we felt like Grier was playing a little bit better.”
Players who’ve already transferred once are required, with few exceptions, to sit out a year if they transfer again, but there is a loophole for graduates. It’s unclear how close Thomas is to getting his degree, but if he does, that’d open the door for him to leave with no penalty.
Regardless of his decision, though, the departure of Crook is still notable because, for about 12 hours, he was a projected starter with Paul on his way out. Now, the door is wide open for another Texas native who made a splash as a true freshman, Brad Spence.
The Houston product scored on an 85-yard pick-six in the opener and even started the following week, but ended up playing only 94 defensive snaps and 62 special teams snaps. Spence finished 16 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and also recovered a fumble.
Beyond him, the depth gets pretty thin. The coaching staff seems to be pretty high on freshman Alex Sanford, who burned his redshirt by contributing on multiple special teams units this season. Fellow freshman Carson Dean got a lot of praise in the spring, but didn’t develop as much as the staff had hoped over the summer and in the fall, leading to him appearing in only two games and maintaining his redshirt.
A pair of second-year players, Mani Powell and Kaden Henley, are the only other scholarship linebackers currently on the roster. They’ve played a combined three defensive snaps in their careers — all by Powell.
The Razorbacks are set to bring in a pair of four-star linebackers in Justin Logan and Julius Pope, plus heralded in-state linebacker Wyatt Simmons, in the 2024 class, but it remains to be seen if any of them will be able to contribute as true freshman.
Potential Transfer Portal Targets at LB
What’s more likely is that Arkansas football coaches do what they have done the last couple of years and hit the transfer portal for immediate help at linebacker.
The Razorbacks landed an All-American in Drew Sanders from Alabama two years ago and then signed the aforementioned Antonio Grier and Jaheim Thomas last offseason.
It’s probably too early to identify potential transfer targets for Arkansas this cycle because the portal hasn’t even opened up yet, but there is a decent amount of linebackers already available.
For example, news came out Monday that South Carolina linebacker Donovan Westmoreland was expected to enter the transfer portal. Even though he played sparingly for the Gamecocks, the Griffin, Ga., native was a heralded four-star recruit in the 2022 class and originally committed to Georgia. Perhaps the Razorbacks, given the coaches on their staff with ties to the Peach State, pursue him.
- J.R. Walker — Virginia Tech
- Brandon George — Pitt
- Jared Casey — Indiana
- Darius Snow — Michigan State
- Shitta Sillah — Boston College
- Ozzie Nicholas — Princeton
- Sam Brumfield — Middle Tennessee
- Joseph Vaughn — Yale
- Liam Johnson — Princeton
- Myles Jackson — Indiana
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…