FAYETTEVILLE — Even though all of its recruits were in place for more than five months, the Arkansas football program still had a lot of work to do down the stretch.
Leading up to the early signing period, which began Wednesday and concludes Friday, opposing coaches were circling the Razorbacks’ 2023 recruiting class like vultures.
Three were ultimately plucked away — by Auburn, Kansas and Texas A&M — and one is waiting to sign in February, but Arkansas did get signatures from 19 of its high school commitments, plus four out of the transfer portal.
Even with the late defections, it is one of the Razorbacks’ strongest classes of the modern recruiting rankings era.
Including unsigned tight end Shamar Easter, Arkansas’ 20-man class has an average rating of 88.61 in the 247Sports Composite. That’s the highest it’s ever been in its two-plus decades of existence, topping the 88.54 average of the 2019 class that produced Treylon Burks, KJ Jefferson, Jalen Catalon and others.
The Razorbacks also posted their highest mark in the 247Sports Composite, Rivals and On3 Consensus rankings during the Sam Pittman era in 2023. Those exact rankings can be found in the chart below.
This class features eight four-star recruits and another eight three-stars with an 87 grade or better. Jaylon Braxton, a defensive back from Frisco, Texas, is the highest-rated of the group and stuck with Arkansas despite picking up offers from Tennessee and UCLA during the season.
The top player on the other side of the ball who is currently signed is Luke Hasz, a tight end from Bixby, Okla., who signed alongside his twin brother, Dylan, a defensive back. Alabama made a strong push for him, with Nick Saban even using an in-home visit to see him in person.
“(Keeping) the Hasz brothers was a good thing,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “They had the best teams in the country coming after them and they decided (to stick). I want to thank their parents. Their parents had a lot to do with that. They held it together.”
Hasz is one of a handful of players Pittman said he believes can help Arkansas immediately in 2023, while his brother and Braxton are part of a really solid group of defensive backs Pittman described as the “most intriguing” position when it comes to early playing time.
Also included among the six defensive backs was T.J. Metcalf, a newly minted four-star safety on Rivals who stuck with the Razorbacks despite late pushes from Colorado, Penn State and Georgia Tech — the latter of which even got him on campus for an official visit.
Arkansas also had to hold off other teams from poaching four-star running back Isaiah Augustave throughout the fall. It landed him back in June, only for him to blow up his final season, garnering a lot of attention and picking up a fourth star.
“You can tell a lot about a kid when he stays loyal to you, too, and there was everybody coming in there,” Pittman said. “When there’s a lot of people start beating down your door and you’re going, ‘No, no, no, no, no…’ That’s a pretty special kid.”
Of the 23 total players Arkansas signed Wednesday, 16 will be early enrollees who go through spring ball. That number includes all four transfers and 12 of the 19 high school signees.
The players who won’t be here next month are Augustave, wide receiver Davion Dozier, defensive back Christian Ford, linebacker Alex Sanford and defensive linemen Ian Geffrard, Kaleb James and Quincy Rhodes Jr.
What’s Next for Arkansas Recruiting
Assuming Shamar Easter doesn’t flip before the traditional National Signing Day, Best of Arkansas Sports currently projects there to be 70 scholarship players on the 2023 Arkansas football roster.
That number doesn’t include any of the five players who have yet to announce whether they’ll return as super seniors. On Wednesday Pittman said he’s counting on having four back, but it’s unclear if Jordan Domineck — who has already announced his return — is part of that number.
Even if he isn’t, that still puts the Razorbacks at only 74 scholarships. With the NCAA eliminating the annual 25-man limit for new signees, they can now fill their remaining 11 spots via the transfer portal.
Aside from the Liberty Bowl against Kansas on Dec. 28, the next big date(s) for the Arkansas football program is Jan. 4-8. That five-day window has been set aside by the NCAA for schools to host transfers on official visits and could be a very busy stretch of time for the Razorbacks.
“I’m going to tell you it should and it needs to be anywhere from six to 12 kids on campus,” Pittman said. “Now, we have to be position-specific and all those type things, but we have some scholarships available and certainly we feel like we can change the depth and the team in that period.”
Rather than list all of its positions of need, it might be easier to rattle off the positions at which Arkansas isn’t looking to add from the transfer portal. It is set at quarterback, running back, defensive end and special teams. Other than that, it’s open season for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas Transfer Portal Needs
Pittman said they need a tight end, defensive tackle and offensive lineman, plus multiple linebackers, wide receivers and defensive backs. There is such a big need in the secondary that he didn’t rule out bringing in another high school recruit at the position.
Even with incoming transfer receiver Andrew Armstrong and Joshua Braun on board, Pittman said he’d like to add another two or three wide receivers plus another interior offensive lineman. Braun is a true guard who hasn’t played any center, which is what he’d like to bring in.
“Best available is probably the coach answer that I should give you,” Pittman said about what kind of offensive lineman he’s looking for in the portal. “The honest answer is we need another guy that can snap the football. … I think you can’t have enough snappers, and losing Luke Jones, he was obviously a go-to guy, as well, so we may look at somebody that can play center/guard combination.”
When the dust settles, Arkansas will almost certainly have double-digit transfers. That’s necessary to replace the 21 players it has already lost to the portal, plus those who declared for the NFL Draft or exhausted their eligibility.
That could potentially cause a riff in the locker room, but Pittman has already discussed his reasoning with the team and explained that even though he had a high hit rate in the last cycle, not everyone the Razorbacks bring in will immediately become a significant contributor.
“I think our team finally understands that we’re not going to the portal to put them on the bench,” Pittman said. “We’re going into the portal for competition and we’re going in the portal because we just don’t have enough scholarship players at their position.”
The current portal window closes on Jan. 18 and the traditional signing period begins Feb. 1. That latter date applies to only high school prospects, though, while transfers can sign at any time, even after the window closes. However, it’s safe to assume that things will somewhat quiet down around that time.
There is another transfer portal window from April 15-30 and Pittman hasn’t dismissed the idea of late transfer additions to the class, similar to wide receiver Matt Landers this past offseason.
“We may keep some to kind of look at our new guys coming in and maybe have 1 or 2, maybe 3, left in April,” Pittman said. “Which, at that point, we may be one of the few schools that have some left and we could possibly get some after the spring, too.”
Pittman is an old-school coach by nature and has openly talked about his desire to build a program through high school recruiting while only using transfers to plug major holes.
However, he has since adjusted his philosophy. Even though there are still a lot of moving parts, it seems as though Pittman has bought into the importance of the portal and has a plan moving forward.
“I’m really ready to attack this portal,” Pittman said. “I’m ready to attack it. We know exactly what we need to change our football team.”
Quarterback of the Future
There was a strong push by Gus Malzahn and UCF to get him to flip, but the early signing period arrived without drama for quarterback Malachi Singleton.
The four-star prospect out of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga., was the second signee announced by the UA on Wednesday and Sam Pittman was finally allowed to talk about him when he met with reporters that afternoon.
Pittman said Arkansas narrowed their options down to about three quarterbacks and it was ultimately his decision to go after Singleton.
“I just liked him because of his competitiveness and his toughness,” Pittman said. “He got hurt, he got a foot injury in high school this past season, but you go over and some of the teams he’s playing, against Buford and all that, they’re rocking him. They’re knocking the heck out of him.
“He’s getting up and doing the same to them. I thought with what we’re doing with Kendal Briles’ offense, I thought he was going to be perfect for what we did. He’ll be a good player here for us.”
Singleton will get to learn behind KJ Jefferson as a true freshman before presumably battling it out with North Carolina transfer Jacolby Criswell for the starting job in 2024.
Small, Incomplete In-State Class
The Razorbacks signed only two in-state prospects — North Little Rock defensive end Quincy Rhodes Jr. and Bentonville offensive lineman Joey Su’a — on the first day of the early signing period, but a third looms large.
Ashdown tight end Shamar Easter was the first commitment in the 2023 class for Arkansas football, announcing his pledge more than 16 months ago, but opted to wait until the traditional National Signing Day in February to put pen to paper.
The decision comes as he mulls a potential flip. With tight ends coach Dowell Loggains leaving Arkansas to become the offensive coordinator at South Carolina, the four-star prospect checked out the Gamecocks on an official visit last weekend.
As of Wednesday, though, Easter is still committed to the Razorbacks and planning on taking an official visit to Fayetteville next month.
Even if he sticks with Arkansas, it will be the smallest class of in-state recruits on record. Best of Arkansas Sports has data going back to 1994 and the fewest players Arkansas signed from the Natural State over that span is four — done three times (2012, 2020 and 2021).
Considering the fact that recruiting used to be much more regionalized and there were far fewer restrictions on the number of scholarship players teams could have previous to 1994, it’s probably safe to say this is the fewest in-state players the Razorbacks have ever signed.
This comes on the heels of a 2022 class that featured 10 in-state who signed with Arkansas — the most it had landed since 2008.
The ‘Almost Razorbacks’
Since Sam Pittman took over the program following the 2019 season, Arkansas has done a pretty good job of hanging on to its recruits.
Before this current cycle, the Razorbacks had seen only two commitments back off their pledge — and one of them, quarterback Landon Rogers (who has since converted to tight end and now wide receiver) from Little Rock Parkview, ultimately signed with Arkansas.
The other was four-star safety Myles Rowser from Michigan, but grades were believed to be a factor in him signing with Campbell, an FCS program. So really, a case could be made for Pittman not having any true decommitments in his first three recruiting classes.
That changed in the 2023 class. It started in the spring and only escalated in the final days leading up to the early signing period.
Wide receiver Anthony Evans III backed off his pledge in April as he began to get a lot of offers from big-time programs and committed to Oklahoma a few months later, only to flip to Georgia last month.
At the end of June, linebacker Everett Roussaw and Arkansas mutually parted ways. He has since signed with UAB.
More recently, defensive tackle Stephen Johnson flipped to Auburn, tight end Jaden Hamm committed to Kansas a day after decommitting from Arkansas and — arguably the biggest blow — Micah Tease decommitted a couple days before signing with Texas A&M.
Those latter three were particularly tough on the Razorbacks simply from a timing perspective.
“I think guys have a right to do whatever they want to,” Pittman said. “My only disappointment was, we found out late. … A lot of that had to do with coaching changes, but when you find out that late, it’s hard to go out and replace (when) it’s three or four days from signing day.”
On top of all that, the Razorbacks’ first commitment in the 2024 class — Benton running back Braylen Russell — decommitted in October. There’s a chance he could change his mind and still commit to Arkansas, much like Rogers, but for now, he’s one of Arkansas’ six decommitments in the last eight months.
Arkansas Recruiting Rankings Under Sam Pittman
NOTE: Rankings for the 2023 class are as of Thursday, Dec. 22 at 3:45 p.m. CT.
|247Sports Composite||No. 29|
|On3 Consensus||No. 30|
2023 Arkansas Football Signing Class
Here is a list of all Arkansas football signees in alphabetical order…
(NOTE: Hometowns, positions, heights and weights are listed as announced by the UA.)
High School Signees
Naples High School
RB | 6-2 | 205
Lone Star High School
CB | 5-11.5 | 180
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Henry County High School
OL | 6-5.5 | 320
Hebron High School
LB | 6-3.5 | 230
Moody High School
WR | 6-4 | 195
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McKinney High School
DB | 6-0 | 185
DL | 6-5 | 370
Bixby High School
DB | 5-11 | 175
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Bixby High School
TE | 6-3 | 245
Mansfield High School
DL | 6-4 | 260
Eagles Landing Christian Academy
Locust Grove, Ga.
CB | 6-2 | 182
Pinson Valley High School
DB | 6-1 | 185
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Paris Patterson Jr.
East St. Louis High School
East St. Louis, Ill.
OL | 6-6 | 340
Quincy Rhodes Jr.
North Little Rock High School
North Little Rock, Ark.
DL | 6-6 | 250
Oxford High School
LB | 6-1 | 230
North Cobb High School
QB | 6-1 | 220
Klein Forest High School
LB | 6-2 | 225
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Bentonville High School
OL | 6-4 | 331
Gardendale High School
CB | 6-0 | 185
Transfer Portal Signees
Andrew Armstrong – Texas A&M-Commerce
Bishop Dunne High School
WR | 6-4 | 189
READ NEXT: Arkansas Reels In Top Transfer WR Target, Likely Aiming for More
Joshua Braun – Florida
Swannee High School
Live Oak, Fla.
OL | 6-6 | 335
READ NEXT: Looking at Blue-Chip Transfer Josh Braun’s Place on Arkansas’ New Offensive Line
Jacolby Criswell – North Carolina
Morrilton High School
QB | 6-1 | 225
READ NEXT: What Jacolby Criswell Brings to Hogs Needed More Than Ever with Singleton Coming Aboard
John Morgan III – Pittsburgh
DeMatha Catholic High School
Upper Marlboro, Md.
EDGE/OLB | 6-2 | 265
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