Separating Arkansas’ Defensive Transfers into Projected Day 1 Starters vs. Rotation Players

Trajan Jeffcoat, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

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. First up in our breakdown is the defense…

(NOTE: Each section is listed alphabetically.)

Projected Day 1 Starters for Arkansas Football

DE Trajan Jeffcoat — Missouri

The third defensive lineman to cross the “Battle Line” by transferring from Missouri to Arkansas, Trajan Jeffcoat is a former first-team All-SEC performer. He earned that honor in 2020, when he racked up six sacks in 10 games, all against conference foes.

Although he’s failed to replicate that in the last couple of seasons, Sam Pittman has praised Jeffcoat since his arrival on campus and said he’s hungrier than ever. A chiseled 6-foot-4, 281 pounds, Jeffcoat certainly looks the part and there’s a lot of hype surrounding him entering the season, with The Athletic ranking him No. 22 on its list of the top 100 impactful transfers for this season. In that piece, one anonymous Arkansas staffer said, “We can’t block him.”

It remains to be seen if that’s because of his skills or the youth and inexperience of Arkansas’ offensive tackles, but it sounds like the coaches believe he – paired with former LSU transfer Landon Jackson on the other side – give the Razorbacks their best chance to get after the quarterback in new defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ aggressive system.

NB Lorando Johnson — Baylor

With so much turnover in a secondary that ranked dead last in the FBS in passing defense, landing Lorando Johnson out of the transfer portal was the first major addition at a much needed position for Arkansas football.

He is coming off a season in which he started all 12 of Baylor’s regular-season games at cornerback and posted a solid 75.0 grade on Pro Football Focus. That was the position Johnson – who goes by the nickname “Snaxx” – initially played this spring, when he established himself as one of the top defensive backs on the team.

However, with the emergence of a few other cornerbacks, the Razorbacks were able to slide him inside to nickel – or “Hog,” as the position is called in their defense – this fall. It’s a position he played some with the Bears and where he’s expected to play this season.

CB Jaheim Singletary — Georgia

Even with the addition of Johnson, the Razorbacks still needed more defensive back help and they landed a big one in Jaheim Singletary. Although he hardly played as a freshman for the Bulldogs, he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and many believed he had a ton of potential.

A summer enrollee at Arkansas, Singletary bulked up during the offseason, adding 12 pounds of muscle. That caught the attention of the coaching staff, who quickly promoted him to the first-team defense in fall camp.

Even with sixth-year super senior LaDarrius Bishop returning after tearing his ACL last season and the emergence of true freshman Jaylon Braxton, it appears Singletary has the inside track to starting opposite of Dwight McGlothern.

S Alfahiym Walcott — Baylor

Not long after Johnson committed to the Razorbacks, Alfahiym Walcott joined him in Fayetteville to give the Razorbacks a pair of former Baylor defensive backs. Walcott was met with even more fanfare, as he was a second-team All-Big 12 selection.

An injury forced him to miss all of spring, but there was talk of him possibly helping at nickel, where he played last season with the Bears. Instead, it was Johnson who moved there because the coaching staff seems to be more comfortable with their depth at cornerback than safety.

Instead, Walcott is set to be a starter at safety. He has been praised for both his hard-hitting style of play, as well as his leadership qualities as an older player.

Could Potentially Start for Arkansas Football

DT Anthony Booker Jr. — Maryland

Arguably the biggest point of emphasis in the transfer portal for Arkansas during the spring semester was defensive tackle and it landed a good one with Power Five experience in Anthony Booker Jr.

Known by his teammates as “Tank,” he is a 6-foot-4, 351-pound fifth-year senior who was mostly a rotational piece on Maryland’s defensive line. Despite playing limited reps, he was pretty productive and graded out particularly well against the run.

There’s a very good chance he ends up starting at some point this season and potentially in the opener against Western Carolina — it’s difficult to sort through the defensive line depth right now. It’s also very possible that Arkansas gives the nod to two of its veterans: Taurean Carter, Cam Ball and Eric Gregory.

DT Keivie Rose — Louisiana Tech

Even after landing Booker, the Razorbacks needed another defensive tackle to feel good about their depth because new defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ base defense features a four-man front. With two defensive tackles on the field at once instead of one, they obviously need more players at the position.

Keivie Rose fit that need, but he’ll be making the jump from Conference USA, where he played for Louisiana Tech, to the SEC. He’s made some plays this fall camp, though, and should at least be in the rotation.

Much like Booker, though, it’s hard to know what the starters will look like on the defensive line. But between him, Booker, Carter, Gregory and Ball, that’s a pretty solid group that should see extensive playing time, regardless of who’s on the field first.

LB Jaheim Thomas — Cincinnati

A former four-star recruit who chose to stay home and play at Cincinnati, Jaheim Thomas got a taste of Reynolds Razorback Stadium with his old team last season. He’ll now get to play there in an Arkansas football uniform.

There’s a chance that will be as a starter, but it boils down to whether or not he beats out sophomore Jordan Crook for the second starting spot at linebacker. The only certainty at the position is Chris Paul Jr. being a starter, assuming he’s healthy.

Paul has been banged up some this fall camp, though, leading to both Thomas and Crook getting first-team work. It wouldn’t be surprising if either one of them starts, but both should get plenty of reps as part of the linebacker rotation.

Likely to At Least Rotate for Arkansas Football

LB Antonio Grier — South Florida

When he first hit the transfer portal this offseason, Antonio Grier committed to UCF. The Razorbacks were able to flip him, though, after hiring defensive coordinator Travis Williams away from the Knights.

Arkansas liked the young talent it had in the linebacker room, but felt like it needed a veteran presence and Grier checked that box. On top of being an All-AAC performer, he’s also been active in the community.

Back during the spring, Grier likely would have been included in the Day 1 starters section of this piece, as he got a lot of first-team reps alongside Chris Paul Jr. However, he’s been banged up for several practices this preseason and summer enrollee Jaheim Thomas seems to have surpassed him on the depth chart. Still, Grier will almost certainly be a key rotational piece.

DE John Morgan III — Pittsburgh

New defensive coordinator Travis Williams is known for a much more aggressive style of defense than his predecessor, Barry Odom. For his system to work, he needs players who can rush the quarterback.

Even before Jordan Domineck changed his mind about returning, the Razorbacks needed to get more pressure off the edge and brought in a veteran capable of doing just that in John Morgan III. He racked up 23 tackles for loss and 14 sacks over the last four seasons at Pitt.

Now a super senior, he is definitely going to rotate on Arkansas’ defensive line, but he likely won’t start barring injury to – or subpar performance by – Landon Jackson or Trajan Jeffcoat. Even then, he’ll likely be competing with homegrown returnees Zach Williams, Jashaud Stewart and Nico Davillier to fill in.

Key Depth Piece for Arkansas Football

CB Kee’yon Stewart — TCU

Despite starting and showing promise as a freshman at TCU in 2019, Kee’yon Stewart never quite built on that performance. He’s played some as a backup and also battled injuries over the years.

Sam Pittman has mentioned his emergence, along with fellow transfer Jaheim Singletary and freshman Jaylon Braxton, is what made the coaching staff comfortable enough to move Lorando Johnson to nickel. Still, most of Stewart’s action has been with the second-team defense in camp.

Although he’ll probably remain in the two-deep, there is a lot less rotation at cornerback than other positions like wide receiver or defensive line. He could still get a rep here or there, but expect Dwight McGlothern and Jaheim Singletary to handle the bulk of the work – barring injury, of course.


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

Facebook Comments