The transfer portal has been kind to the Arkansas football program in recent years, especially this past season when it produced its top two wide receivers, top cornerback and an All-SEC linebacker.
Sam Pittman is once again sifting through the portal in search of players to help the Razorbacks in 2023. He’s already landed one commitment from former Florida offensive lineman Josh Braun and they’ve zeroed in on several others, as well.
Among the official visitors heading to Fayetteville this weekend are former North Carolina quarterback Jacolby Criswell and former Texas A&M-Commerce wide receiver Andrew Armstrong.
Both players would give Arkansas a boost at major positions of need for next season.
Why Jacolby Criswell Makes Sense for Arkansas Football
Even with KJ Jefferson returning as a fifth-year senior, the Razorbacks desperately need more depth at the quarterback position. After Malik Hornsby’s unsurprising decision to enter the transfer portal, the only other scholarship quarterback currently set to be on the roster is incoming four-star freshman Malachi Singleton.
Arkansas could potentially have a pair of former Power Five scholarship quarterbacks on the team as walk-ons again, but Cade Fortin is a potential super senior who hasn’t announced his decision for next season yet and Kade Renfro has torn his ACL twice in the past year.
Needless to say, the Razorbacks are in the market for a quality backup who could be trusted to run the offense in the event of another injury to Jefferson. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone waiting in the wings if Singleton isn’t ready to take over as a redshirt freshman in 2024.
Jacolby Criswell checks all of those boxes, plus he’s an in-state product from Morrilton, so it’d be an opportunity for him to return home.
Despite him being a four-star prospect in the Class of 2020, Arkansas didn’t recruit Criswell particularly hard because then-head coach Chad Morris had already landed a commitment from his son, Chandler. By the time Sam Pittman took over, it was too late for the Razorbacks to flip him.
With the Tar Heels, Criswell appeared in 13 games — including one start — and played 116 total offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He backed up All-ACC quarterback Sam Howell his first two seasons and then lost a quarterback battle with Drake Maye, who ended up being named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year by the AP.
Criswell played well when he did get on the field, though, completing 18 of 31 passes (58.1%) for 204 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception while adding another 133 yards and a score on 20 carries. He earned PFF grades of 72.6 on 50 snaps and 69.3 on 22 snaps the last two years.
As a redshirt sophomore who redshirted in 2021, Criswell has three years of eligibility remaining. That means he could serve as Jefferson’s backup next season and then still have two years to be the starter if he won the job and chose to use the extra COVID year.
It sounds like the Razorbacks have a great chance of landing him, as he told Hogville’s Otis Kirk that they are “100 percent my No. 1 seed.” His visit this coming weekend will be a huge factor in his decision.
“There’s a lot of questions I have that will be asked,” Criswell told Kirk. “That will determine if I’m coming or not.”
Why Andrew Armstrong Makes Sense for Arkansas Football
Replacing arguably the best wide receiver in school history, Treylon Burks, was never going to be easy, but Arkansas did a pretty solid job by landing Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers from the portal.
Haselwood caught 59 passes — the eighth-most in a single season in UA history — for 702 yards and three touchdowns. Landers has 44 receptions for 780 yards and seven touchdowns. He already ranks among the top 10 in single-season touchdowns and would crack the top-10 list for receiving yards with 115 yards in the Liberty Bowl.
Their success in one season with the Razorbacks, coupled with the return of KJ Jefferson, would presumably make them a desirable destination for transfer wide receivers this cycle.
Seemingly the first player they set their sights on was Andrew Armstrong, who had a phenomenal season at Texas A&M-Commerce. In the program’s first year at the FCS level after jumping up from Division II, he caught 62 passes for 1,020 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games.
Soon after he entered the portal, he picked up 17 offers, including 13 from the Power Five ranks. Armstrong is scheduled to officially visit Missouri a week after being in Fayetteville.
Listed at 6-foot-6, 189 pounds, he would be another big target for Jefferson, similar to Landers (6-5, 197) this season.
Other Potential QB Targets in Transfer Portal
It’s probably safe to say that Jacolby Criswell is the No. 1 quarterback target in the transfer portal right now, but if he falls through for some reason, here are a few others who would make sense for Arkansas football…
Haynes King — Texas A&M
A top-50 overall prospect coming out of Longview, Texas, in the 2020 class, Haynes King was recruited by both Arkansas (under the previous coaching staff) and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles (at Houston). Injuries have marred his career to this point, but he does have SEC experience although, granted, he was up-and-down with the Aggies. Over the last three seasons, King has completed 56.6% of his passes for 1,579 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while rushing for another 150 yards and one score.
Nick Evers — Oklahoma
If the Razorbacks want a younger option, they could pursue Nick Evers, who spent just one season at Oklahoma before entering the transfer portal. He played six total offensive snaps and his lone pass attempt fell incomplete, so he’s not very experienced. However, Evers was a four-star recruit and ranked inside the top 100 by On3, plus he’s a dual-threat quarterback from Texas (Flower Mound).
Braylon Braxton — Tulsa
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Braylon Braxton is the older brother of four-star cornerback commit Jaylon Braxton. He’s been at Tulsa the last two seasons, redshirting in 2021 and serving as the backup for most of 2022. However, an injury to the starter thrust him into a larger role. Braxton started three of Tulsa’s final four games and played significant reps in the other. His average PFF grade over those four games was 78.1 and he averaged 245.3 yards of offense with nine total touchdowns.
Layne Hatcher — Texas State
Another in-state product, Layne Hatcher was a standout quarterback at Pulaski Academy and had a solid career at Arkansas State before Butch Jones took over and did everything he could to replace him. That led to him transferring to Texas State. Over the last four seasons, Hatcher has played more than 2,500 career snaps and completed 61.8% of his passes for 10,080 yards, 84 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. However, he’s not a dual-threat quarterback and he’s probably looking for a spot to start his final season of eligibility, so the Razorbacks don’t make a lot of sense beyond him being from the Natural State.
Tony Muskett — Monmouth
It certainly wouldn’t be a sexy addition, but Tony Muskett is one of the more intriguing FCS quarterbacks currently available in the portal. He is a two-time first-team All-Big South selection and finished fifth in the Jerry Rice Award (top FCS freshman) voting a couple of years ago. This season, he completed 64.1% of his passes for 1,997 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games. Several FBS schools have already offered Muskett, including Virginia and Missouri.
Other Potential WR Targets in Transfer Portal
With Ketron Jackson Jr. making a surprise decision to enter the transfer portal, Arkansas will have to replace its top four wide receivers next season. There is some young talent on the roster, but it also wouldn’t be shocking if the Razorbacks targeted multiple wide receivers in the portal again, so they might not be done even if they land Andrew Armstrong. Here are a few options…
Dorian Singer — Arizona
The second wide receiver to publicly announce an offer from Arkansas, Dorian Singer is one of the top players available in the transfer portal. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection after leading the conference with 1,105 receiving yards in a breakout sophomore campaign. Those yards came on 66 receptions and included six touchdowns. Competition for Singer will be tough, as he’s reported 11 Power Five offers — from the likes of Utah, Penn State, Oklahoma, Oregon and others — since entering the portal Monday.
Arland Bruce IV — Iowa
A former four-star recruit, Arland Bruce IV has caught 44 passes over the past two seasons at Iowa…but they totaled just 396 yards. That’s an average of only 9.0 yards per reception. It looks like he was also used in the Hawkeyes’ run game, as he also ran for 116 yards on 21 carries. In fact, he scored more touchdowns on the ground (4) than in the air (2). Bruce has announced he’ll be visiting Arkansas on the weekend of Dec. 9-11, the same as Andrew Armstrong.
Dominic Lovett — Missouri
The Razorbacks got a taste of just how good Dominic Lovett is in the regular-season finale, when he caught six passes for 130 yards. It was his fourth 100-yard game of his sophomore season and gave him 846 yards on 56 receptions. Lovett was the highest-graded wide receiver in the SEC with an 83.7 grade, so there wouldn’t be any concerns about him needing to adjust to the level of play in the conference.
Rara Thomas — Mississippi State
Another wide receiver with extensive SEC experience is Rara Thomas from Mississippi State. He hasn’t tweeted about an offer from Arkansas, but he’d make sense for the Razorbacks to pursue after catching 62 passes for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past two seasons. A big chunk of that production was this year, when he had 44 receptions for 626 yards and seven scores as a sophomore. Georgia, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee and several other Power Five programs have already offered.
UPDATE (Dec. 8): Thomas has announced an offer from Arkansas…as well as Penn State, Miami (Fla.) and Florida State.
Traeshon Holden — Alabama
Arkansas hit a home run with Alabama linebacker transfer Drew Sanders, who started some for the Crimson Tide before getting surpassed on the depth chart. It could try to pull it off again with Traeshon Holden, who started the first five games of this season before being replaced. The former four-star recruit caught 46 passes for 570 yards and seven touchdowns over the last two seasons. Another couple of wide receivers Arkansas might look at include former top-50 recruits JoJo Earle and Christian Leary.
Grant DuBose — Charlotte
If the Razorbacks look to the Group of Five ranks, like they did with Matt Landers, Grant DuBose would be a solid option. He actually began his career at he Division II level before transferring to Charlotte. Over the last two seasons with the 49ers, DuBose has caught 126 passes for 1,684 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning grades of 76.8 and 70.3 from Pro Football Focus.
Theo Wease Jr. — Oklahoma
Last season, Arkansas brought in a former five-star wide receiver from Oklahoma in Jadon Haselwood and it turned out alright. It could try to replicate that this offseason with Theo Wease Jr., who caught 64 passes for 1044 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last four years with the Sooners. That includes the 2021 season, when he appeared in just one game because of an injury.
Troy Omeire — Texas
Injuries severely hindered Troy Omeire’s career at Texas, as the former four-star recruit missed his first two seasons and then couldn’t break into the rotation this season. Taking a chance on a player with that kind of injury history is risky, but Omeire is talented and heavily considered the Razorbacks in high school, granted that was under the previous coaching staff.
MJ Wright — Fordham & Abdul Janneh — Duquesne
A couple of other FCS options, in addition to Andrew Armstrong, are MJ Wright from Fordham and Abdul Janneh from Duquesne. Wright put up incredible numbers this as a senior season, catching 62 passes for 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games. He has one year of eligibility remaining. Janneh’s stats weren’t quite as impressive, but he still caught 43 passes for 579 yards and 9 touchdowns in 11 games. As a sophomore, he has a couple of years of eligibility left. Both have already tweeted about a handful of FBS offers, including some from the Power Five ranks for Janneh.
Other Potential OL Targets in Transfer Portal
As mentioned above, Arkansas has already landed one transfer offensive lineman in Josh Braun from Florida. He could push for playing time in 2023, as the Razorbacks will have to replace at least two starters up front and potentially three depending on what Luke Jones decides to do. Sam Pittman probably feels pretty good about the unit moving forward because of all the young talent, but he could decide to pursue another transfer if he doesn’t feel like they’re quite ready. Here are some offensive linemen that would make sense for the Razorbacks…
Jake Renfro — Cincinnati
This name might be familiar to Arkansas football fans, as it was a major story in the days leading up to the season opener against Cincinnati that Jake Renfro suffered a season-ending knee injury at practice. He was a two-year starter at center and earned first-team All-AAC honors in 2021. With a solid season this year, Renfro likely would have entered the NFL Draft, but now he’s looking for a new home. Although Beaux Limmer could slide over from right guard, the Razorbacks have an obvious hole at center with the departure of Ricky Stromberg.
Gunner Britton — Western Kentucky
A name to know in the Group of Five ranks is Gunner Britton, who entered the portal to use his sixth and final year of eligibility elsewhere. He started half of this season at right tackle and the other half at left tackle, earning an impressive 80.7 grade from Pro Football Focus and second-team All-C-USA honors. Arkansas must replace right tackle Dalton Wagner and could potentially have to replace left tackle Luke Jones, too, so Britton could possibly be a one-year placeholder while the younger players develop for another season.
Ben Coleman — Cal
When it comes to Power Five options, Ben Coleman is a two-year starter who spent much of his career at left guard, but also started half of this season at left tackle and has some experience at right guard. On paper, he appears to be versatile and Pro Football Focus gave up grades of 71.9 and 68.7 the last two seasons. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
Ajani Cornelius — Rhode Island
One of the top FCS offensive linemen available, Ajani Cornelius has reported 20-plus Power Five offers since entering the transfer portal. He’s a two-year starter at right tackle and posted an impressive 89.5 Pro Football Focus grade in 2022.
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