Another player has surprisingly entered the transfer portal, as tight end Trey Knox is the latest to leave the Arkansas football program.
Even though he’s a senior, the Tennessee native could have returned to the Razorbacks as a super senior or maybe tried his hand at the NFL Draft, but will instead play his final season of eligibility elsewhere.
Considering the loyalty he’s shown over the past four years, it is a bit of a shock that Knox won’t be playing in the Liberty bowl and will be wearing a different college uniform next season.
Arkansas football was tied for fifth in the FBS with 16 scholarship players in the portal entering Monday, according to FarrellPortal on Twitter, trailing only Texas A&M (20), Florida (18), Colorado State (18) and Western Kentucky (17). However, most of them either hardly ever saw the field or had other factors at play and were expected to leave.
Knox and wide receiver Ketron Jackson are two who don’t fit that category and announced their intentions after the portal opened Dec. 5. Wide receiver Warren Thompson and defensive back Myles Slusher left the team before the end of the regular season. All four were significant contributors this season, totaling 31 starts and more than 2,000 combined offensive/defensive snaps in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus.
Other notable Razorbacks who’ve entered the portal so far include backup quarterback Malik Hornsby, punter Reid Bauer and defensive back Khari Johnson.
Trey Knox with the Razorbacks
Not long after National Signing Day 2019, former Arkansas wide receivers coach Justin Stepp told reporters a story about Trey Knox’s first visit to Fayetteville. When the four-star prospect left campus, Stepp turned to then offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and said, “We’ll never see that kid again.”
After all, Knox was a top-150 prospect who was actually ranked higher than future collegiate star Treylon Burks by Rivals in the 2019 recruiting class and had offers from the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and numerous other Power Five programs.
Despite being heavily recruited by schools across the country, Knox did eventually commit to and sign with the Razorbacks. He enrolled early and didn’t take long to show off his skills, as he made a lot of highlight-reel plays at practice and asserted himself as a starter.
Knox put together one of the best freshman seasons by a receiver in UA history. His 28 receptions were tied with Hunter Henry for the fifth-most by an Arkansas true freshman and went for 385 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s worth noting that most of that production came early in the year, as he racked up 21 catches for 299 yards and two scores in the first four games. His production fell off dramatically later in that season, with seven catches for 86 yards and one touchdowns over the final eight games.
Combine that drop in production with the fact that head coach Chad Morris was fired with two games left in the regular season, and there was a lot of speculation that Knox might enter the transfer portal. The one-time transfer rule had not yet passed, but the NCAA was handing out waivers like candy and he likely would have been immediately eligible if he chose to leave.
Instead, he stuck around and opened the 2020 season as a starter, but was replaced early on and ended up catching only seven passes for 70 yards — even though he did return to the starting lineup late in the season.
Once again, many believed Knox would be a prime portal candidate because of his lack of playing time, especially when Stepp left to become the wide receivers coach at South Carolina.
However, he was back again in 2021 and hardly saw the field the first few weeks of the season. At some point early in the year, Knox approached the coaching staff about switching to tight end. That changed the downward trajectory of his career.
Injuries limited him to a degree, but he flashed some potential at the new position and made 20 receptions for 141 yards and one touchdown.
Rather than try to transfer out and move back to receiver, Knox went all-in on the move to tight end going into his senior season. He added 30 pounds of good weight over the offseason and then started every regular-season game at tight end, playing more than 80% of the Razorbacks’ offensive snaps.
“I love the place, I love the people, I love the school and I want to be a Razorback and I want to help the team any way I can,” Knox said in an interview on the Hog Pod this September. “I don’t know who wouldn’t (have those thoughts) in my position. I just felt like I needed to stay here. … I have a life here and I love my life here, so why would I want to change it?”
That interview came just days after Knox opened the season with a bang, catching six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the win over No. 23 Cincinnati.
Unfortunately for him, that was the start of an up-and-down season. Twice this year Knox tipped or bobbled a pass that led to an interception, accounting for half of KJ Jefferson’s interceptions this fall. Despite the consistent playing time, he had multiple receptions in only six games, finishing with 296 yards and five touchdowns on 26 catches.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
The Razorbacks now find themselves without four of their top six pass catchers for the upcoming Liberty Bowl. Only wide receiver Matt Landers and running back Rocket Sanders will play against Kansas.
Knox joins wide receivers Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson in the portal, while wide receiver Jadon Haselwood has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft and opted out of the bowl.
Younger players like Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Isaiah Sategna are expected to fill the void at wide receiver, but Arkansas may turn to a pair of veterans to replace Knox.
Former walk-on Nathan Bax, a fifth-year senior, was his backup for much of the season and redshirt junior Hudson Henry, a former four-star recruit, got increased reps down the stretch with Bax dealing with an injury.
However, they combined for only four receptions for 19 yards on 251 offensive snaps, compared to the 725 snaps played by Knox.
The Razorbacks could give true freshman Ty Washington a look in the bowl, but that would require burning his redshirt because he’s already appeared in four games. He played two offensive snaps against South Carolina, but his other action was on special teams as a member of the kickoff return unit.
Looking ahead to next year, Landers is out of eligibility and won’t return in 2023, meaning Arkansas must replace 76.9% of its receptions, 81.6% of its receiving yards and 83.3% of its receiving touchdowns.
That’s even worse than this past offseason, when it lost 62.9%, 69.9% and 68.2% of its receptions, yards and touchdowns, respectively — and the biggest chunk of that was because of Treylon Burks heading to the NFL.
Those numbers are assuming the departures of Bax and Henry, but wouldn’t change much if either or both return. Neither has made an announcement. Bax would be a super senior, while Henry went through Senior Day festivities despite being listed as a redshirt junior.
With a trio of four-star tight ends committed in the 2023 class, reinforcements are on the way for Arkansas football. The staff seems to be high on Washington, as well, giving the Razorbacks four redshirt or true freshmen who could step in and replace Knox, Bax and Henry.
The early signing period isn’t until Dec. 21-23, though, and Arkansas still has its work cutout to actually get those recruits to sign on the dotted line. Alabama is trying to flip Luke Hasz and tight ends coach Dowell Loggains is leaving to become the offensive coordinator at South Carolina.
It remains to be seen if that will have any impact, but it could potentially throw a wrench into things with Hasz, Shamar Easter and Jaden Hamm. If Arkansas fails to sign any of them, the transfer of Trey Knox could create a need for convincing Bax and/or Henry to return or landing someone from the portal.
Potential Super Seniors for Arkansas Football
Including walk-on quarterback Cade Fortin, there were 12 seniors on this year’s Arkansas football team who could return in 2023 using the bonus year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all players who were in college during the pandemic-altered 2020 campaign.
Trey Knox is just the fourth of those to make his decision known, following center Ricky Stromberg (declared for NFL Draft), defensive end Jordan Domineck (returning to school) and punter Reid Bauer (entered transfer portal).
That leaves eight Razorbacks who still need to announce their plans for 2023. Half of those players were starters this season: left tackle Luke Jones, defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols, defensive end Zach Williams and safety Simeon Blair.
As mentioned above, tight end Nathan Bax spent most of this season as Knox’s backup. Defensive back LaDarrius Bishop has previous starting experience, but missed most of this season with an injury. Fortin split time with Malik Hornsby as the backup quarterback in 2022 and even started the Mississippi State game, while defensive back Trent Gordon hardly saw the field despite numerous injuries in the secondary.
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