Nearly half of the 2023 Arkansas football roster is made up of newcomers, with a good chunk of the 39 new players coming to Fayetteville via the transfer portal.
The Razorbacks actually signed 18 transfers from four-year programs, ranging from Division II all the way up to other SEC teams.
One of them, defensive back AJ Brathwaite Jr. from Western Kentucky, has already left the program, but the other 17 are expected to play significant roles for Arkansas this season — and Sam Pittman has a pretty high hit rate with the portal.
With so many of them, it can be hard to keep them all straight, so Best of Arkansas Sports decided to divide them up into four categories of roles for 2023 based on what we’ve seen and heard throughout fall camp.
We also split them up by which side of the ball they play. We started with the defense, but now it’s time for the offense…
(NOTE: Each section is listed alphabetically.)
Projected Day 1 Starters for Arkansas Football
WR Andrew Armstrong — Texas A&M-Commerce
When Andrew Armstrong signed with Texas A&M-Commerce in the 2019 class, it was still a Division II school. The Lions moved up to the FCS ranks last year and he enjoyed his best year yet, catching 62 passes for 1,020 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games.
Now at Arkansas, it seems as though Armstrong has continued to blossom. He’s one of five players on the team who’s been clocked at 22 mph and he appears to have developed a nice connection with KJ Jefferson – so much so that the 6-foot-4 fifth-year senior could become his go-to receiver.
As many as six different receivers are expected to get reps on offense, but Sam Pittman has indicated that Armstrong has essentially locked down one of the starting spots. The Athletic feels the same way, ranking him No. 82 on its list of the top 100 impact transfers for this season.
OL Joshua Braun — Florida
More than four years after committing to him as a four-star recruit, Joshua Braun will finally get to play for Sam Pittman in 2023. He originally pledged to Georgia in high school, but ultimately flipped to Florida when Pittman left the Bulldogs to become Arkansas’ head coach.
That connection proved fruitful when a coaching change led to Braun entering the transfer portal. He chose the Razorbacks and quickly asserted himself as one of their five best offensive linemen during spring ball.
Although he spent a little bit of time at tackle in the spring, Braun (6-6, 348) is a more natural guard and is set to be Arkansas’ starting right guard, filling out a veteran interior that also includes returning starters Beaux Limmer (center) and Brady Latham (left guard).
WR Isaac TeSlaa — Hillsdale College
A former Wing T quarterback in high school, Isaac TeSlaa has always been ultra-athletic, but college coaches didn’t want to take a risk on someone who had never really played wide receiver. That led to him signing with Hillsdale College, the Division II school where his father played.
In three short years, though, TeSlaa had put plenty on film as a receiver to generate a ton of Power Five interest when he entered the transfer portal. He is coming off a season in which he caught 68 passes for 1,325 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games.
He might not be able to put up quite such explosive numbers in the SEC, but TeSlaa seems to have adjusted to the level of competition pretty well in practice and Sam Pittman has insinuated that he – like Armstrong – has locked up one of the starting wide receiver spots.
Could Potentially Start for Arkansas Football
TE Var’keyes Gumms — North Texas
Coming off a redshirt freshman season in which he caught 34 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns and earned some Freshman All-America accolades, Var’keyes Gumms was one of the most coveted tight ends in the transfer portal.
The Razorbacks landed him, lost him and then reeled him back in this spring, filling another major need on the roster. With Trey Knox heading to South Carolina and Hudson Henry stepping away from football, they needed a pass threat at the tight end position.
Had this list been put together at the beginning of the summer, there’s a good chance Gumms would have been considered Day 1 starter. However, it’s taken him some time to learn the playbook and adjust to his new team, plus freshman Luke Hasz is outperforming his lofty expectations and looks like he might start in the opener. That said, Gumms is clearly talented and could emerge as a starter later in the year.
Likely to At Least Rotate for Arkansas Football
WR Tyrone Broden — Bowling Green
The third wide receiver Arkansas landed out of the transfer portal, Tyrone Broden is coming off a season in which he caught 32 passes for 506 yards and seven touchdowns at Bowling Green. It was his second straight year with at least 500 receiving yards.
Listed at 6-foot-7 – which is believed to make him the tallest receiver in college football – and with 22 mph speed, Broden has all of the tools to help the Razorbacks in the SEC. There have been times in periods of practice open to the media that he’s struggled with drops, but he’s also made some sensational catches.
The inconsistency is reminiscent of Warren Thompson, whom he’s essentially replacing, but he’s bigger and faster. Especially with the season-ending injury to Sam Mbake, Broden will get plenty of opportunities this season and could become a big-time red zone target.
That said, the starting wide receiver spots seem to be relatively set, with fellow transfers Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa on the outside and then either Jaedon Wilson (if he’s healthy) or Isaiah Sategna in the slot.
TE Francis Sherman — Louisville
Considering his lack of production at Louisville, Francis Sherman was a bit of a head-scratching addition when he committed to Arkansas. However, Sam Pittman has since revealed that they didn’t bring him in to be a pass-catching tight end.
Instead, the former walk-on is known for his blocking abilities and will probably fill a role similar to that of Nathan Bax. With guys like Luke Hasz, Var’keyes Gumms and Ty Washington available as better options in the passing game, Sherman’s best chance to start is likely if Arkansas ever opens up in 12 personnel and he gets the nod over Bax.
Whether or not they open up in it, the Razorbacks will probably utilize a lot more two-tight end sets than they have the last few years, so Sherman should still find his way on the field a decent amount, even if he doesn’t show up in the box score.
Key Depth Piece for Arkansas Football
QB Jacolby Criswell — North Carolina
If it were up to Sam Pittman and most Arkansas football fans, Jacolby Criswell would only see the field in blowouts. That would mean star quarterback KJ Jefferson stayed healthy the entire season and likely put up great numbers.
However, Jefferson’s playing style opens him up to injuries, as we all saw in 2022. He missed two games entirely and played in a third when he clearly wasn’t 100% — all three of which ended in losses.
The Razorbacks’ offense suffered in his absence because backups Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin struggled. The hope is that in a similar situation this year, Criswell would have much more success. Pittman has said he feels confident enough in him that he believes they can win a game without Jefferson if needed. The same probably couldn’t be said last year.
Curious how the 10 defensive players Arkansas added via the transfer portal will fit in this season? Check out our breakdown of that side of the ball:
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