FAYETTEVILLE — The transfer portal officially opened up Monday and most of the action involving Arkansas football was expected, but it did get hit with a late surprise around dinner time.
Shortly after 6 p.m., multiple reports surfaced that wide receiver Ketron Jackson Jr. had entered the portal. The news comes after the sophomore had started the final eight games of the regular season.
It is easily the Razorbacks’ most surprising departure of the offseason so far and seemingly came out of nowhere. Barely 24 hours earlier, head coach Sam Pittman was on the Liberty Bowl teleconference and indicated Jackson might move into the slot because of Jadon Haselwood’s decision to opt out and focus on the NFL Draft.
“I think we want to move Ketron Jackson,” Pittman said. “We were going to move him anyway, so it’ll be a good time to move him into that slot position if that’s what we choose to do, and go from there.”
That comment, coupled with the fact that Pittman said all of his exit meetings with players were last week between Monday and Thursday, makes it appear as though Jackson’s decision to transfer was also a surprise to Arkansas’ third-year coach.
However, he’s been seemingly hit by surprise departures before, such as wide receiver Mike Woods bailing right after the conclusion of spring ball in 2021 to play at Oklahoma and then defensive backs Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha defecting to LSU last offseason following the Outback Bowl.
Pittman even hinted at the possibility of such a thing happening again when asked after the loss to Missouri if he had any concerns about other significant contributors transferring in the wake of Myles Slusher’s departure.
“Oh, I’m sure there is,” Pittman said. “Heck, I don’t know. I mean, a lot goes on in the transfer portal, guys. It’s more than just playing time or not playing time. There’s a lot (that) goes on with it. You know, somebody gets ahold of them… A lot goes on about the transfer portal.”
It’s unclear exactly what motivated Jackson to leave the Arkansas football program just before his role was about to expand even further. As of Monday night, he had yet to post anything on his social media accounts about his decision.
Other notable Razorbacks who’ve either entered the transfer portal and announced their intentions to do so include Slusher, wide receiver Warren Thompson, quarterback Malik Hornsby, defensive back Khari Johnson and punter Reid Bauer.
For a full rundown of players leaving the team, as well as an up-to-date look at the 2023 roster, click here.
Ketron Jackson Jr. with the Razorbacks
A four-star prospect coming out of Royce City, Texas, Ketron Jackson Jr. was the highest-rated signee in Arkansas’ 2021 recruiting class — which also featured the likes of Rocket Sanders and AJ Green.
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound receiver was an early enrollee, but he was dealing with a knee injury during spring ball and was slowed by the bulky knee brace he was required to wear.
Despite those early struggles, Jackson still managed to work his way into the wide receiver rotation as a true freshman. He played in every game and got 247 total offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, but caught only five passes for 97 yards and one touchdown.
More than half of those yards came on two receptions in the Razorbacks’ regular-season finale against Missouri, flashing his potential and giving hope for him to take on a bigger role in 2022.
As a sophomore, Jackson had a shot to earn a starting job from the jump, but lost a battle with Toledo transfer Matt Landers and began the year as Arkansas’ fourth wide receiver. By Week 5, though, he found himself in the starting lineup in place of Warren Thompson.
Although he had a reputation for being a sure handed receiver and solid blocker in the ground game, Jackson still caught only 16 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns despite playing the third-most wide receiver snaps (597) on the team this season. A big chunk of that production — 10 catches for 220 yards and two scores — came in a five-game stretch in the middle of the year.
After that, his production fell off quite a bit. Over the final five games of the season, Jackson made only five receptions for 50 yards and one touchdown.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Last season, the Razorbacks had to play the Outback Bowl without superstar wide receiver Treylon Burks. This year, heading into the Liberty Bowl, they’ll be without three of their top four receivers for much of the season — Jadon Haselwood, Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson.
Haselwood declared for the NFL Draft just a couple days after the end of the regular season, opting out of the bowl in doing so, while Thompson quit the team with two games remaining and has since entered the portal to use his final season of eligibility.
That leaves Matt Landers, the team leader in receiving yards (780) and touchdowns (7), as the quartet’s last man standing — and he’s a super senior, but more on that in a bit.
Assuming Landers doesn’t opt out, the Razorbacks will be breaking in two new starting wide receivers in Memphis on Dec. 28.
Jackson was going to get a look in the slot, but that will presumably be filled by redshirt freshman Bryce Stephens at this point, with true freshman Isaiah Sategna also getting reps.
Known more for his punt returns, Stephens has played just 188 career offensive snaps and caught 11 passes for 97 yards — most of which came on a 54-yard touchdown against Mississippi State. Excluding that pass, his other 10 receptions went for an average of only 4.3 yards. Sategna has played only six offensive snaps and his only reception was a 10-yard pop pass against Auburn.
The other starter on the outside will likely be redshirt freshman Jaedon Wilson, who has only one reception for 2 yards on his 82 career offensive snaps. Most of that action came this year, most notably against Alabama, BYU and Ole Miss.
Walk-on Harper Cole (9 snaps) is the only other wide receiver who saw the field on offense this season, but it’s worth mentioning that freshman Sam Mbake burned his redshirt by taking on a special teams role and he could perhaps get his first offensive action in the bowl.
Because Landers is a super senior and can’t return next year, the Razorbacks will once again be replacing nearly all of its wide receiver production this offseason. They are set to return only 10 receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown by receivers next year.
Reinforcements are on the way in the form of four-star commit Micah Tease and three-star commit Davion Dozier, but there’s also a very good chance Arkansas hits the portal much like it did last year, which it landed Haselwood and Landers to aid in the replacement of Burks.
The Razorbacks are already hosting Andrew Armstrong, an FCS transfer target from Texas A&M-Commerce, this coming weekend and they might not be done even if they land him. With Jackson leaving, Arkansas is projected to have only seven scholarship receivers on next year’s roster.
Another player to keep an eye on is freshman Quincey McAdoo. Originally a four-star wide receiver, he switched to defense midway through the season and eventually emerged as a starting cornerback.
It would be easy to see him sticking at that position, but Pittman has left the door open for a possible return to receiver. McAdoo has even expressed an interest in maybe trying to play both ways next year and Pittman hasn’t ruled it out.
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