Rocket Launches Into Portal: Sanders Follows Path of Former Teammate

Rocket Sanders, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Nick Wenger

Rather than declare for the NFL Draft, Rocket Sanders has decided to leave the Arkansas football program and enter the transfer portal.

The star running back announced his decision via an Instagram post Tuesday night. Two days into the current portal window, he is the Razorbacks’ ninth scholarship player to choose that route this offseason.

There were some big names among the previous eight, including linebacker Chris Paul Jr., left tackle Devon Manuel and fellow running back AJ Green, but Sanders immediately becomes Arkansas’ highest profile departure.

Incredibly, this is actually the second straight offseason the Razorbacks have seen a former All-SEC performer and team captain opt to transfer following an injury-riddled season instead of begin his professional career. Last year, it was Jalen Catalon leaving for Texas.

The circumstances aren’t quite exactly the same, as Catalon has dealt with chronic injuries throughout his career compared to Sanders only being hurt this year, but it still feels pretty similar and is a gut punch to Arkansas football fans.

Rocket Sanders with the Razorbacks

Listed as an athlete by recruiting services, Rocket Sanders was originally recruited to Arkansas as a wide receiver. In fact, his lead recruiter was former receivers coach Justin Stepp.

It was a notable commitment for the Razorbacks because he was a top-200 overall prospect on 247Sports and had offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida State, Louisville, Oklahoma, Tennessee and several others.

When he arrived in Fayetteville, Sanders was almost immediate moved to running back because of depth concerns at the position. That proved to be a great move for the guy Arkansas thought would end up being a slot receiver.

As a true freshman, he was the No. 2 running back all season — first behind Trelon Smith and then behind Dominique Johnson. Sanders finished the 2021 season with 114 carries for 578 yards and five touchdowns, plus added 11 receptions for 109 yards and another score.

With Smith moving on via the transfer portal and Johnson suffering a torn ACL in the Outback Bowl, the Razorbacks went into 2022 thinking they had a dynamic 1-2 punch in Sanders and fellow sophomore AJ Green.

However, it turned out to mostly be a one-man show with Sanders emerging as one of the top running backs in the country. He earned first-team All-SEC honors from the AP after a stellar season that ranked among the all-time best in school history.

Not only did Sanders’ 1,443 rushing yards rank second in the conference and 13th nationally last season, but they also ranked fourth on the UA single-season list behind only Darren McFadden (twice) and Alex Collins. 

Those yards came on 222 carries, giving him a solid 6.5-yard average, and included 10 touchdowns. On top of that, he was third on the team with 28 receptions, which went for 271 yards and another two scores.

That production led to him earning numerous preseason accolades. Many considered him and KJ Jefferson as the best quarterback-running back tandem in the SEC and country. Unfortunately, none of that came to fruition.

Sanders suffered a knee injury during a lackluster season-opening performance against Western Carolina. He missed the next three games before playing against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He suffered a setback in the latter of those games and missed another two games.

The best moment of the season for him came against Florida, when he returned to action and ran for 103 yards on 18 carries. However, he was limited to zero yards on eight carries the next week against Auburn and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after just two carries against FIU, causing him to miss the finale against Missouri.

When the dust finally settled, Sanders had appeared in only six games this year and managed just 209 yards and two touchdowns on 62 carries.

Even with the underwhelming junior campaign, he’ll finish his career ranked 13th on the UA’s all-time list with 2,230 rushing yards.

What it Means for Arkansas Football

While it will be disappointing to see him playing at another school, Rocket Sanders’ departure isn’t necessarily devastating to the running back room at Arkansas.

Even with AJ Green also hitting the transfer portal, the Razorbacks should still have quality depth at the position, highlighted by the return of Rashod Dubinion and Isaiah Augustave. Those two handled the majority of the work the last two games of the year.

Arkansas is also slated to return Dominique Johnson as a fifth-year senior. He didn’t do much this past season, but had some flashes of his 2021 brilliance late in the year. Throw in the fact that he’ll be another year removed from his two ACL surgeries and he could have a bounce-back year in 2024 if the two aforementioned running backs don’t run away with the playing time.

Add in two four-star running backs — in-state standout Braylen Russell and Georgia product Jadan Baugh — committed in the 2024 class and Arkansas is up to five on scholarship, which is a good number.

Sanders will make some team very happy this offseason and should bounce back as a senior if he stays healthy, but the Razorbacks should have plenty of options without him.

Arkansas Football Players in the Transfer Portal

Here’s a list of Arkansas football players currently in — or who have announced their plans to enter — the transfer portal, ordered alphabetically… 

  • DT Taurean Carter
  • LB Jordan Crook
  • RB AJ Green
  • DB Jaylen Lewis
  • OL Devon Manuel
  • WR Sam Mbake
  • LB Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr.
  • LB Mani Powell
  • RB Rocket Sanders


More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments