Safety Simeon Blair is the latest starter for the Arkansas football program to enter the transfer portal.
News of the fifth-year senior’s departure broke just a couple of days after he was part of the Razorbacks’ wild 55-53 triple overtime win over Kansas in the Liberty Bowl. He’ll use his super senior season by playing elsewhere in 2023.
Throw in linebacker Jackson Woodard — another former walk-on who announced his intentions Friday afternoon — and Arkansas is up to 23 scholarship players in the portal since fall camp in August, which is among the highest totals in the country.
Through Monday, the Razorbacks were tied for third nationally with 21 portal departures, according to FarrellPortal on Twitter — one behind Florida and three behind Texas A&M.
Several of those players have been significant contributors at Arkansas, including a pair of team captains. Blair, who earned captain status when safety Jalen Catalon went down with a season-ending injury, follows his former teammate into the portal.
Blair is also the eighth player who started multiple games this season to transfer out, joining tight end Trey Knox, wide receivers Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson, defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols, defensive backs Myles Slusher and Khari Johnson, and punter Reid Bauer.
That number doesn’t include backup quarterback Malik Hornsby or Catalon, both of whom started one game this year.
Woodard played a handful of snaps on defense over the last three years, including a career-high 34 in the Liberty Bowl, but was heavy contributor on special teams. In fact, he played a team-high 215 special teams snaps during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Simeon Blair with the Razorbacks
To say Simeon Blair arrived in Fayetteville with little fanfare would be an understatement. The Pine Bluff native and former high school quarterback joined the Razorbacks as a walk-on in 2018 and redshirted without appearing in a game his first year.
From that point on, though, Blair saw his role increase. After playing on the four main special teams units as a redshirt freshman, he earned a scholarship from head coach Sam Pittman during fall camp before the 2020 season.
Blair started the first couple of games that year and then came off the bench in seven of the final eight games. He was a part-time starter in 2021, when he played 604 total defensive snaps, and then a full-time starter this year, playing a team-high 962 defensive snaps. That meant he was on the field for more than 96% of the plays this season.
Official statistics credit Blair with 73 tackles and five pass breakups. Those figures are third and tied for third on the team, respectively. However, those also don’t paint the full picture of his season.
Although he was widely considered a team leader, hence his team captain designation, and he did make a critical tackle for loss in the LSU game, Blair struggled mightily on a defense that gave up the most yards per game in UA history and ranked dead last in the FBS in pass defense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Blair allowed seven touchdown passes in coverage and posted an abysmal 51.2 overall grade. No SEC player allowed more touchdowns and his 51.2 grade ranks 368th out of 379 players with at least 700 defensive snaps in the FBS this season.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
The departure of Simeon Blair is part of what’s shaping up to be a massive overhaul of Arkansas’ defense.
Barry Odom left to become the head coach at UNLV, ending his three-year run as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator, and Sam Pittman has tabbed former UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams as his replacement.
He inherits a defense that allowed a school-record 465.2 yards per game, which ranks 124th in the FBS and last in the SEC, but also one that will be without a lot of the players that contributed in 2022.
Between the transfer portal and players exhausting their eligibility, the Razorbacks are losing nine players who combined for 70 starts on defense this season — just under half of the 143 total defensive starts. They also must replace more than 5,000 defensive snaps.
Those numbers could still grow depending on whether or not defensive end Zach Williams, who started six games this year, decides to return as a super senior.
With Blair entering the portal, there are now only three potential scholarship super seniors whose plans for 2023 are not yet publicly known. In addition to Williams, Arkansas football fans are still waiting on news from tight end Nathan Bax and defensive back LaDarrius Bishop. Quarterback Cade Fortin, a walk-on, also hasn’t made any announcement regarding his plans for next year.
Looking Ahead to 2023 at Safety
As for the safety position, experience — at least in an Arkansas uniform — will be pretty limited for the Razorbacks next season.
Latavious Brini is out of eligibility, while Jalen Catalon, Myles Slusher and Khari Johnson each entered the portal. That leaves Hudson Clark, who is expected to return after moving from cornerback to safety during the season. They’ll also have versatile veterans Jayden Johnson and Malik Chavis.
Perhaps because he was aware of Blair’s impending decision, Pittman gave true freshman Jaylen Lewis quite a few meaningful reps — 23 snaps, to be exact — in the Liberty Bowl. There were several moments down the stretch against Kansas when Lewis was in the game and Blair was on the sideline. It seems as though the coaching staff is expecting Lewis to take on a bigger role as a redshirt freshman next season.
The Razorbacks have also signed a solid group of defensive backs from the high school ranks for 2023, including four-star safety TJ Metcalf, plus Pittman hasn’t been shy about his desire to bring in a lot of help for the secondary via the transfer portal.
Because no one knows who the portal might yield, projecting a starting secondary beyond Clark and cornerbacks Dwight McGlothern and Quincey McAdoo would be a futile effort.
Arkansas Football Transfers in 2022
The Razorbacks are up to 23 total scholarship players who have entered the transfer portal since fall camp in August. Here’s a list of those players and where they’ve landed so far:
- P Reid Bauer — Memphis
- S Simeon Blair
- S Jalen Catalon
- WR Jaquayln Crawford
- OL Marcus Henderson
- QB Malik Hornsby
- RB Javion Hunt
- WR Ketron Jackson Jr. — Baylor
- DB Khari Johnson — Boston College
- RB James Jointer Jr.
- TE Trey Knox — South Carolina
- DT Taylor Lewis
- DB Chase Lowery
- DT Isaiah Nichols
- TE Erin Outley
- CB Keuan Parker — New Mexico State
- DB Myles Slusher — Louisville
- OL Jalen St. John
- DE Eric Thomas Jr. — Southern Miss
- WR Warren Thompson
- DB Jacorrei Turner
- LB Jackson Woodard
- DB Zach Zimos — Louisiana Tech
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