Arkansas football received a bit of surprising news Wednesday when Bryce Stephens withdrew his name from the transfer portal.
The wide receiver originally left the Razorbacks on Dec. 7 and now, a little over a month later, he’s back in the fold. A spokesperson for the UA confirmed he has rejoined the team.
It’s the fifth time Sam Pittman has welcomed a player back after entering the portal since becoming Arkansas’ head coach.
The first two were somewhat unique.
Defensive back Devin Bush decided to transfer following the coaching change in 2019, but changed his mind and spent two more seasons at Arkansas before going through with a transfer and landing at Grambling.
Following the 2020 season, linebacker Deon Edwards originally planned to use his extra year of eligibility elsewhere, but with super seniors not counting against the 85-man scholarship limit in 2021, Pittman allowed him to return just three days after entering the portal.
Neither of them were big factors upon their return. Bush played 51 defensive snaps over those two seasons, while Edwards played 35 and was a significant contributor on special teams (146 snaps).
The next two Arkansas football players to enter and withdraw from the transfer portal were a pair of four-star recruits and both did so after Pittman’s now-infamous remarks at 2021 SEC Media Days.
“Once you go to the transfer portal at the University of Arkansas, you sure ain’t transferring back in,” Pittman said that summer. “I’m pretty sure, if I asked Jamie if I go to transfer for a week and figure it out, would she let me come back, I’m sure the answer would be ‘no.’ That’s the way we feel about that, too.”
Pittman has since clarified that statement and left the door open for players to return, which is just what offensive lineman Jalen St. John and quarterback Malik Hornsby did that offseason.
St. John figured to compete for a starting job on the offensive line in 2022, but ultimately remained a backup and eventually did hit the transfer portal following an arrest late in the season. Now at UNLV, he battled an injury before taking over as the Rebels’ starting left tackle.
Hornsby was always going to be KJ Jefferson’s backup, but the Razorbacks wanted to figure out a way to use his speed and tried doing so by moving him to wide receiver. The experiment failed, though, and he ended up transferring to Texas State. After one year with the Bobcats, he hit the transfer portal yet again and landed at Arkansas State, where he’s expected to fully convert to wide receiver.
That’s not exactly a promising trend for Stephens, who was already staring at an uphill battle to get on the field.
After being part of the rotation in 2022, the speedster from Oklahoma played just 10 offensive snaps this past season and lost his job as punt returner to Isaiah Sategna.
With almost the entire wide receiver corps returning in 2024, including Sategna, plus the addition of Jordan Anthony, it’s hard to see a path to playing time for Stephens, barring a significant improvement.
Throw in the fact that Arkansas already had 11 wide receivers on scholarship, assuming the return of Tyrone Broden, and it comes off as a peculiar decision on both sides. Perhaps new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, who got a taste of Stephens’ potential when his long punt return helped beat Missouri State two years ago, can find a way to utilize his speed, but he’s no longer alone in that category thanks to guys like Sategna, Anthony and Dazmin James.
Several of Stephens’ teammates have also entered the transfer portal, but he is the only one to withdraw this cycle. Here’s a rundown of where those former Arkansas football players have landed…
Arkansas Football Transfers This Cycle
DT Anthony Booker Jr. — SMU
A graduate transfer from Maryland, Anthony Booker Jr. spent just one season at Arkansas before re-entering the transfer portal. Nicknamed “Tank,” the 6-foot-4, 351-pound defensive tackle didn’t start any games for the Razorbacks, but was a key rotational piece and finished with 19 tackles while playing 194 snaps in 11 games.
He visited Texas Tech earlier this month, but ultimately announced his commitment to SMU on Thursday. It was a big get for the Mustangs, who lost the pledge of another Arkansas defensive tackle, Taurean Carter, a day earlier. Booker will be a super senior in 2024.
DT Taurean Carter — Colorado
The last remaining player of the three Mansfield Legacy signees in the 2019 class that also featured Jalen Catalon, Taurean Carter spent five seasons at Arkansas. He was primed for a breakout year in 2022, but a torn ACL at the end of spring ball derailed that. Carter returned from that injury this season and started four games, finishing with 25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 261 snaps.
It looked like he’d be returning home when he announced his aforementioned commitment to SMU, but he backed off that pledge Wednesday and flipped to Colorado, where former Arkansas teammates Myles Slusher and Jordan Domineck played in 2023. Although he’ll be a super senior, Carter could likely receive a medical redshirt for 2022 and get a seventh year of eligibility.
DB Malik Chavis — UNLV
An in-state signee out of Rison in the 2019 class, Malik Chavis was a versatile defensive back for the Razorbacks, bouncing between cornerback and safety over the last five seasons. He started nine total games at Arkansas, but was hampered by a hand injury this past season.
Rather than return for his super senior season, Chavis will continue the Arkansas-to-Las Vegas pipeline. He’ll reunite with Jalen Catalon, who spent the 2023 season at Texas, in UNLV’s secondary. This past season, the Rebels’ roster included Jackson Woodard, Jalen St. John, Landon Rogers and Jordan Hanna. They are coached by Barry Odom, with Michael Scherer serving as the defensive coordinator.
LB Jordan Crook — Arizona State
Jordan Crook was a high three-star recruit out of Duncanville High in the 2022 class and immediately became a contributor for the Razorbacks. He played 122 defensive snaps as a freshman and even started the Liberty Bowl against Kansas. That didn’t carry over into this season, though, as his playing time was very sporadic even though he ended up getting 142 snaps.
Instead of staying at Arkansas, where likely would have competed for a starting job in 2024, Crook opted to hit the transfer portal and landed at Arizona State.
RB AJ Green — Oklahoma State
Known for his speed as a four-star recruit at Union High School in Tulsa, AJ Green was part of Arkansas’ backfield for three seasons, primarily as a backup. He rushed for 953 yards and six touchdowns, plus added another 19 receptions for 184 yards and two scores, during his time with the Razorbacks.
Tulsa announced him as a signee, but Green ultimately backed out of that and chose to transfer to Oklahoma State instead. He’ll be a backup to Ollie Gordon II, who led the country in rushing this past season, but playing for the Cowboys means he’ll get a chance to face his former team because the Razorbacks visit Stillwater in Week 2 next season.
QB KJ Jefferson — UCF
It didn’t end on a high note, but KJ Jefferson enjoyed one of the most successful careers by an Arkansas quarterback in school history. He leaves the Razorbacks as their all-time leader in passing yards (7,911), passing touchdowns (67), total yards (9,787) and total touchdowns (88), all while completing 65.1% of his passes and throwing only 18 interceptions.
Despite plenty of speculation that he’d end up somewhere in the SEC, with both Mississippi schools, South Carolina and Auburn each rumored to be interested, Jefferson left the conference entirely to play for Gus Malzahn at UCF in the Big 12. It appears to be a really good fit for him and Malzahn.
DB Jaylen Lewis — Temple
One of two defensive backs from Tennessee to sign with Arkansas in 2022, Jaylen Lewis lasted only a couple of seasons in Fayetteville. He got some run at nickel in the Liberty Bowl at the end of his freshman year, but couldn’t parlay that into a spot in the rotation this season. Unsurprisingly, he chose to leave the team the week of the Missouri game.
His landing spot makes a lot of sense, as Temple is where former Arkansas assistant Dominique Bowman is now the cornerbacks coach. Bowman was Lewis’ position coach with the Razorbacks in 2022.
OL Devon Manuel — Florida
He was a bit of an under-the-radar recruit and extremely overweight, but Sam Pittman saw potential in Devon Manuel even though he was close to 400 pounds when he arrived on campus. The 6’9” Louisiana native worked to get that weight down to 310 pounds and was in position to take over as the Razorbacks’ starting left tackle this season, but he was hindered by multiple injuries and ended up starting only four games.
Considering his solid 70.1 PFF grade on 417 snaps and the nature of the position, Manuel was a coveted prospect in the transfer portal and ultimately committed to Florida over USC, Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Miami (Fla.), Missouri and others.
WR Sam Mbake — Kilgore College
A four-star recruit in the 2022 class, Sam Mbake carved out a role on special teams as a freshman even though he didn’t get many reps on offense. Based on his performance in spring ball and early fall camp, he seemed like he was on his way to being a major factor at wide receiver this past season, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first preseason scrimmage.
Mbake was dismissed from the team late in the season, with him later claiming the last straw was a speeding ticket he received. It seems unlikely, but he’s said he’d like to return to Arkansas at some point. He’ll be looking for a landing spot again next offseason, as he’s taking the JUCO route by heading to Kilgore C.C.
LB Chris Paul Jr. — Ole Miss
Perhaps the most surprising transfer portal departure of the offseason was one of the first players to leave, as Chris Paul Jr. announced he was leaving just a few days after the end of the regular season. Known as “Pooh,” he was a starting linebacker for the Razorbacks this year and made 137 tackles, including 15 for loss and six sacks, during his three seasons in Fayetteville.
Less surprising was just how coveted he was in the transfer portal. He had offers from TCU, Auburn, Missouri, Florida State, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Oklahoma and several other schools, but ultimately chose to stay in the SEC by committing to Ole Miss. According to On3, Paul was the second-best linebacker in the portal.
LB Mani Powell — UNLV
Originally from Ohio, Mani Powell moved to Fayetteville for his senior year of high school after committing to the Razorbacks. He played a decent amount of special teams as a true freshman and then was on five different units this past season, but hardly saw the field on defense.
He announced on Instagram earlier this week that he is also heading to UNLV, furthering the aforementioned Arkansas-to-Las Vegas pipeline.
RB Rocket Sanders — South Carolina
Injuries, plus a struggling offensive line, prevented Rocket Sanders from having the kind of junior season many expected from him this year. He was very good as the Razorbacks’ No. 2 running back his freshman year and then burst onto the national scene with a 1,443-yard sophomore campaign in which he earned All-SEC accolades. Unfortunately, Sanders got hurt in the opener this year and was never himself in 2023.
Instead of trying his hand at the NFL Draft, he decided to enter the transfer portal and play his senior year elsewhere. Sanders landed at South Carolina, where Dowell Loggains is the offensive coordinator and Justin Stepp is the wide receivers coach. Stepp actually recruited him to Arkansas, as he was originally going to play receiver in college before moving to running back.
OL Joey Su’a — Arizona State
A transplant from California who finished his high school career at Bentonville, Joey Su’a chose to stay close to home as a high three-star recruit in the 2023 class. Unfortunately, injuries sidelined him for most of the year and he redshirted.
Rather than sticking around for a second season with the Razorbacks, Su’a hit the transfer portal and is now heading back west, signing with Arizona State.
LB Jaheim Thomas — Wisconsin
Part of the Cincinnati team that visited Fayetteville and lost to open the 2022 season, Jaheim Thomas was a former four-star recruit who initially chose to stay close to home by signing with the Bearcats. He was a key addition to the Razorbacks’ transfer portal haul last offseason and ended up being the team’s leading tackler.
However, late in the season, Thomas lost his starting job and played sparingly. He sent – and quickly deleted – a cryptic tweet following the loss to Missouri in the regular-season finale and then hit the portal when the NCAA loosened its restrictions on multi-time transfers. Thomas is heading to Wisconsin, where he’ll play for his former head coach at Cincinnati, Luke Fickell.
Non-Scholarship Players in the Transfer Portal
- WR Marlon Crockett — undecided
- K Blake Ford — North Texas
- WR Kalil Girault — undecided
- WR Chris Harris — undecided
- K/P Tyler Larco — undecided
- P Owen Lawson — undecided
- WR Chris Rhodes — UT Martin
- TE Hunter Talley — Missouri State
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…