Now that the inevitable has happened, the floodgates may soon open for Auburn football players entering the transfer portal.
It took about 24 hours for the first domino to fall and it involves a name that may be familiar to Arkansas football fans, as wide receiver Ze’Vian Capers announced his intention to leave the Tigers and continue his career elsewhere Tuesday morning.
A former Arkansas commitment, he is the first player to make that move since Auburn officially fired head coach Bryan Harsin on Monday. Four other Tigers left the team in the week leading up to Harsin’s firing and it’s not too much of a stretch to think Capers could be the first of many who leave in the next month or so.
That could be good news for the Razorbacks and other programs who have been circling Auburn’s talent-rich roster like vultures, waiting for the fallout of Harsin’s impending firing.
It’s similar to what took place last year down in Baton Rouge when LSU parted ways with Ed Orgeron prior to the end of the season. Though Brian Kelly was able to land former Arkansas starters Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha, Arkansas added two current defensive starters in Landon Jackson and Dwight McGlothern.
Here’s a speculative look at how Arkansas football might benefit from raiding the Tigers, much like it did when Lincoln Riley ditched Oklahoma for USC, plus a breakdown of other players already in the portal who the Razorbacks may target…
Arkansas Transfers Radar: Wide Receiver
If the name Ze’Vian Capers sounds familiar, that’s because he was actually the first player to commit to Arkansas football in the Class of 2020. He pledged just days after National Signing Day 2019, when Chad Morris was still the head coach.
However, he grew into a four-star prospect, received a lot more offers and reopened his recruitment four months later, eventually picking Auburn. Even though then-wide receivers coach Justin Stepp has since moved on to South Carolina, it’s not entirely inconceivable that Capers might want to give his original commitment another look.
Not only is there precedent for that, but he wouldn’t be the first 2020 four-star decommitment to make his way back to Fayetteville. Offensive lineman Ty’Kieast Crawford had a similar path, with a one-year stop at Charlotte before transferring to Arkansas.
A more speculative target plays for the Razorbacks’ neighbors to the north. Along the same vein of Arkansas’ additions of former five-stars Jadon Haselwood and Drew Sanders, Missouri receiver Luther Burden would be the steal of the offseason for this Razorback program.
Burden was the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2022 and there have already been flashes of that projection through seven games with the Tigers. Rumblings of Burden’s discontent with his current situation were kicked up by a cryptic Instagram post and the deletion of any mention of Missouri football from his page following a zero-target performance in an overtime loss against Auburn.
Though those rumors have since been put to bed, with Burden issuing the following tweet, it’s not unfathomable that he’d want out of a Missouri football program that seems to be going nowhere fast under third-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz.
Another wideout Arkansas may keep its eye on who’s already entered the portal is Nebraska’s Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda. Garcia-Castaneda hauled in 37 passes for 578 yards and four touchdowns at New Mexico State in 2021 and seemed well on his way to shattering that after a four-catch, 120-yard performance against Northwestern in his debut with the Cornhuskers.
Despite the strong start, Garcia-Castaneda saw just three targets resulting in one reception for zero yards over the next three games, leading to his decision to retain his redshirt by entering the portal after Scott Frost was fired. With two seasons of eligibility remaining, the explosive former JUCO product may be someone the staff could see playing a key role in the offense.
Potential WR Portal Targets
- Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (Nebraska): Began career at New Mexico State, where he caught 37 passes for 578 yards and 4 TD in 2021… Caught four passes for 120 yards in Nebraska’s opener this season… Two-star recruiting coming out of JUCO in Class of 2020
- Landen King (Auburn): Converted from tight end to wide receiver this offseason… Caught 5 passes for 59 yards as a freshman tight end last year, including a touchdown in overtime of the Iron Bowl… Played in just 3 games this season, making one reception for 24 yards against Penn State… Three-star recruit in the Class of 2021
- Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. (Auburn): Known for his speed… Caught 2 passes for 30 yards and had 2 carries for 10 yards this season… Four-star recruit in the Class of 2021
- Ze’Vian Capers (Auburn): Former Arkansas commit… Caught 14 passes for 147 yards and 1 TD over the last three seasons… Four-star recruit in the Class of 2020
Arkansas Transfers Radar: Defensive Back
Anyone who’s watched Arkansas’ first eight games and has a lick of rationality about the team can see that the defensive backfield is not where it needs to be to contend in the SEC.
Though Barry Odom and Dominique Bowman’s group of signees in the Class of 2023 could be special, an immediate boost to the unit will be critical in evaluating what Arkansas can achieve next season.
He’s not yet in the portal, but Auburn safety Donovan Kaufman is a player to watch. As a third-year player and second-year starter with the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus grade among SEC safeties this season, he could enter the NFL Draft. If he doesn’t, though, there’s a similar on-field situation available at Arkansas. Of course, he began his career at Vanderbilt and has already transferred once, so he’d need a waiver for immediate eligibility in this hypothetical scenario.
Among those already in the portal, brothers Kejuan and Keon Markham from Arizona State headline the options for a number of reasons, the first of which is their “package deal” nature. Anytime siblings become involved, delicate scenarios of “we like you, but we’re not sure about your brother” can ruin a team’s chances before they even begin.
Fortunately for the Razorbacks, the secondary has plenty of room for the pair. With each racking up double-digit tackles and an interception through three games with the Sun Devils, their remaining two seasons of eligibility could provide a much-needed bridge to the maximized development of the 2023 class.
Potential DB Portal Targets
- R.J. Roderick (South Carolina): Started 34 games at safety for the Gamecocks… Played 2,387 career snaps over the past five seasons… Was a super senior this year, but battled injuries and left the team after appearing in only three games, preserving his redshirt… Three-star recruit in the Class of 2018
- Kejuan Markham (Arizona State): Started seven games at safety for the Sun Devils, including 2 of 3 games this year… Played 608 career snaps over the past four seasons… Four-star recruit in Class of 2019
- Keon Markham (Arizona State): Started two games at cornerback for the Sun Devils… Played 250 career snaps over the past four seasons, including a redshirt… Four-star wide receiver in Class of 2019
- Mordecai McDaniel (Florida): Made one start for the Gators, but appeared in 12 total games on defense… Played 134 defensive snaps at safety over the last two years… Cut from Florida over the summer… Four-star recruit in Class of 2020
- Tywan Francis (Colorado State): Made 16 starts at nickel/safety for the Rams, including four this year… Played 1,357 career snaps over the past five seasons… Three-star recruit in the Class of 2018… Originally from New Orleans
- Nicario Harper (Louisville): Began his career at Southern Miss, transferred down to Jacksonville State and was an FCS All-American… Named OVC Defensive Player of the Year for 2020-21… Appeared in only five games for Louisville this season
- AD Diamond (Auburn): Reserve cornerback at Auburn who never saw the field… Was a redshirt freshman this season… Three-star recruit in the Class of 2021
Arkansas Transfers Radar: Quarterback
It’s important to note here that it’s highly unlikely that Arkansas’ starting quarterback heading into next season will not be someone on the current roster. KJ Jefferson could return as a fifth-year senior and Malik Hornsby might get a shot after flashing in the Mississippi State game.
With that in mind, there are some higher-profile guys available, like former four-star recruit and Boise State standout Hank Bachmeier. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining and could serve as a bridge between Jefferson and 2023 commit Malachi Singleton.
From within the SEC, Texas A&M’s Haynes King could become an option, especially if the Aggies fork over the more than $80 million required to fire head coach Jimbo Fisher — who has sixth-best odds to be the next coach fired, at 19-to-2, by BetOnline.
A dual-threat quarterback from Longview, Texas, King seems to be a perfect fit for Kendal Briles’ system. He’s won the Aggies’ starting job to open each of the past two seasons, but injuries and ineffectiveness have led to him being in and out of the starting lineup. With five-star freshman Conner Weigman pushing him for playing time already, he might enter the portal even if Fisher sticks around.
While his stats have proven lackluster, King has flashed the ability to operate as a serviceable backup within a system like Briles’ Arkansas. This marriage also has some historical merit, as the Razorbacks took in Nick Starkel from the Aggies in 2019. Though he was far from an All-American, splitting time with SMU transfer Ben Hicks, his time in Fayetteville may be reflected on a bit differently if he’d had the opportunity to thrive in a backup role behind an established QB1.
Another Power Five option is Brendon Lewis, a former three-star dual-threat prospect out of high school who found himself in the portal after Karl Dorrell’s firing at Colorado. The Melissa, Texas, native started 12 games for the Buffs in 2021 but was relegated to the backup spot after struggling in the Buffaloes’ opener.
Looking at the past class, it’s also not unfathomable that Arkansas would comb through the Group of Five and FCS levels to find a veteran signal-caller. Though an addition of this sort isn’t the sexiest or most interesting move, it does hold some precedent as the Hogs brought in Cade Fortin as a walk-on from South Florida, even giving him a start in Jefferson’s absence.
Potential QB Portal Targets
- Hank Bachmeier (Boise State): Started 29 games for the Broncos… Played 1,856 career snaps over the last four seasons… Completed 61.5% of his passes for 6,605 yards, 41 TD and 19 INT at Boise State… Four-star recruit in Class of 2019
- Brendon Lewis (Colorado): Started 13 games for the Buffaloes, including all 12 in 2021… 801 career snaps over the last three seasons… Completed 58.4% of his passes for 1,727 yards, 10 TD and 3 INT at Colorado… High three-star recruit in Class of 2020
Arkansas Transfers Radar: Defensive Line
Though nearly every member of Arkansas’ current defensive line room has the opportunity to return in 2023, this is likely the easiest position to predict for the Razorbacks to bring in a transfer.
The offseason addition of Landon Jackson, who suffered a severe knee injury as a freshman at LSU, sets the precedent that the Razorbacks aren’t afraid to take a chance on talent that’s been discounted due to injury concerns, which could open the door for the Hogs to offer another Alabama transfer prospect.
The nation’s No. 124 overall prospect in 2019 per ESPN, Braylen Ingraham tore both his ACL and lateral meniscus in the spring of 2021. Despite rigorous rehab efforts, his knee wasn’t up to par with where it was expected to be at that point in his recovery and he was advised to medically retire from the Tide and utilize his final two years of eligibility elsewhere. In a recent interview, he told AL.com’s Michael Casagrande that he’s just looking for an opportunity to show he’s still one of the best players in the country.
“Any school that can give me an opportunity to play right away,” Ingraham said of what he’s looking for at his next destination. “That’s the main goal. It doesn’t matter where but as long as I fit into the system and I like the coaching and scheme they run.”
Now a year-and-a-half removed from his injury, Ingraham was permitted to continue rehab efforts in the Tide’s facilities. Though he’d hoped to contribute for Alabama this season, he says the extra time away has allowed him to strengthen both his knee and upper body en route to his comeback.
Given the success that Drew Sanders has had with the Hogs, it’s hard to imagine Ingraham doesn’t take a serious look if the Arkansas staff feels comfortable enough to extend an offer.
Also out of the state of Alabama is the aforementioned defensive end Zykeivous Walker from Auburn. After signing with the Tigers in 2020 as a consensus top-100 recruit, Walker saw action in just 11 games across three seasons.
While he’s not yet able to officially enter the portal until the NCAA’s newly-implemented transfer window opens on “the day after championship selections begin,” should Harsin indeed be fired prior to that point, then he’d be immediately eligible to begin talking to other schools.
Though Chad Morris’ Razorback staff never got involved in Walker’s recruitment, Arkansas special teams coach Scott Fountain (who worked with Sam Pittman under Kirby Smart) led the charge from a Georgia team that made his final five.
On the interior, Arkansas’ most likely options may well still be enrolled elsewhere. Pending the remaining chaos that is the FBS “Coaching Carousel,” the staff could follow the trend set by the recruitment of JUCO defensive tackle Taylor Lewis.
Though he didn’t make it through fall camp as a Razorback, defensive line coach Deke Adams hasn’t strayed away from the junior college ranks as a whole and a recent offer to Hinds (Miss.) CC defensive tackle Derick Hunter Jr. could signify another foray into some under-discovered prospects.
Potential DL Portal Targets
- Zykeivous Walker (Auburn): Made just one start for the Tigers, but appeared in 20 others games… Totaled 20 tackles, including 2.5 TFL and 1 sack… Played 294 career defensive snaps… Four-star recruit in the Class of 2020
- Braylen Ingraham (Alabama): Appeared in only four games for the Crimson Tide… Played just 26 career defensive snaps… Four-star recruit in the Class of 2019
- Devin Phillips (Colorado State): Started 36 games for the Rams… Played 1,814 career defensive snaps… Three-star recruit in the Class of 2018… Originally from Louisiana
Arkansas Transfers Radar: Linebacker
If there’s any position on the field that Arkansas football has cemented itself as a premier destination, it’s at linebacker.
Now in Year 2 as the Razorbacks’ linebackers coach, Michael Scherer’s ability to put his players in positions to succeed has top prospects chomping at the bit to get another look at what Fayetteville has to offer.
A pair of potential targets Arkansas could make a legitimate push for given the depth in the room have already entered the portal from their respective SEC schools, but neither necessarily ever had the Razorbacks in the mix throughout their high school recruitment.
The first option is former LSU and top-100 recruit Phillip Webb, who entered the portal in September after medically retiring from the program more than a month earlier. Despite his limited playing opportunities with the Tigers, Webb’s talent is clear, and Drew Sanders’ success in what will be his only year on the Hill could put Arkansas in a better position to compete for his services this go-around if it chooses to pursue him given his injury history.
Another player who might fit that mold is true freshman Daniel Martin, who was dismissed from Vanderbilt following their season-opening win at Hawaii. It was confirmed by ESPN that his removal did not involve any illegal activities, and instead appeared to have been a cultural fit issue.
“I’m not going to go into more depth beyond what was said in the statement,” second-year Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said. “We consider it a privilege to be a part of this program, and we have the highest operating standards here. Our expectations are clear and we want to make sure we fight every day to build this program into what we know it can be.”
If he passes the staff’s evaluations and background check, then he’s another option who could provide four years of eligibility to Scherer’s room.
Potential LB Portal Targets
- Phillip Webb (LSU): Appeared in only three games with the Tigers… Top-100, four-star recruit in Class of 2020
- Daniel Martin (Vanderbilt): Left the team before his freshman season… Four-star recruit in Class of 2022
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…