FAYETTEVILLE — Wide receiver Warren Thompson has left the Arkansas football program, head coach Sam Pittman confirmed Wednesday morning.
The announcement comes a day after reports of his departure first surfaced when the fifth-year senior wasn’t spotted during the media viewing periods of the Razorbacks’ practices Monday and Tuesday.
Thompson started in Saturday’s 13-10 loss to LSU, but did not record any official statistics. He leaves the program with two regular-season games remaining.
“He quit the team,” Pittman said on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference when asked about Thompson’s status.
It is a disappointing end to what was an up-and-down tenure at Arkansas for the former top-100 recruit who began his collegiate career at Florida State.
Following three seasons in which he failed to get consistent playing time with the Seminoles, Thompson entered the portal and reunited with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles in Fayetteville.
Originally a walk-on with the Razorbacks, he needed only a few months to earn a scholarship. Pittman revealed that news just a day after Thompson hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass against Georgia State, his third game in an Arkansas uniform.
However, consistency was an issue for the 6-foot-3, 198-pound receiver. Although he caught 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns, including one as time expired against Ole Miss, Thompson also struggled with drops — highlighted by when he dropped three potential touchdowns against UAPB.
During fall camp, Pittman praised Thompson for the progress he made over the offseason and said he looked like a completely different receiver.
That appeared to be the case early on, as he started the first four games of the season and caught 8 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. An injury prevented him from playing against Alabama and he’s caught just four passes for 56 yards in the five games since returning.
Thompson came off the bench in the first four of those, including against BYU when he was serving a first-half suspension for undisclosed reasons. He started the LSU game, but — for the first time this season — was not targeted a single time, despite playing 35 snaps.
Listed as a fifth-year senior on the Arkansas football roster, Thompson technically has another year of eligibility because of the decision by the NCAA to grant an extra year to all players in college football during the pandemic-altered 2020 season.
It is unclear if he plans to pursue that extra season elsewhere by entering the transfer portal when it opens up Dec. 5, the first day of the new transfer portal window.
Immediate Impact on Arkansas Football
Despite his lack of production — 12 receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns — Warren Thompson has been one of the Razorbacks’ top four wide receivers this season.
He has started five games and played 361 total offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That is behind only Matt Landers (630 snaps), Jadon Haselwood (562) and Ketron Jackson Jr. (471), but well ahead of the fifth receiver, Bryce Stephens (115).
In the nine games he played, Thompson was on the field for an average of about 40 snaps, so there is a significant hole to fill when it comes to playing time.
Jackson will likely remain a starter, as Thompson actually started in place of Landers against LSU despite being listed as the backup behind Jackson on the UA’s official depth chart. Already averaging 47 snaps, Jackson might see his playing time increase.
Considering he’s played the fifth-most snaps among receivers this season, Stephens would be a logical answer to get more reps in Thompson’s absence, but he is a slot receiver along with Haselwood.
The Razorbacks could split Haselwood out wide if Landers and/or Jackson need a breather or get hurt, and have Stephens in the slot, in an effort to get their best players on the field at the same time.
Based on what Sam Pittman said Wednesday morning and the way things have played out this season, though, the most obvious option would be Jaedon Wilson seeing more time. The redshirt freshman is currently listed as Landers’ backup on the depth chart, but he’s only gotten in on offense five times this season and played 60 total snaps.
However, Wilson’s most significant playing time came against Alabama when Thompson was out with an injury. He played 25 snaps and had one drop in that game. His first reception, which went for 2 yards, came against BYU when he got 20 snaps as Thompson served a first-half suspension.
“Jaedon Wilson would be the fifth guy up,” Pittman said. “Obviously Warren hasn’t started a whole lot of games with Matt (Landers) and all those things, but Jaedon Wilson…would be the next guy in that rotation.”
Long-Term Impact on Arkansas Football
Two names noticeably missing from the above section are true freshmen Isaiah Sategna and Sam Mbake, as the former four-star recruits don’t appear to be on the brink of significant playing time this year.
Sategna has appeared in only two games this year and will likely redshirt, which means he can play in just two more games. Pittman has been open about wanting one of those games to be a bowl and, with that still possible, the Fayetteville native is unlikely to play in both remaining regular-season games. Mbake has already burned his redshirt with a heavy special teams role, but he spent a few weeks on defense and is further down on the depth chart.
That said, both could be long-term beneficiaries of Warren Thompson’s departure. As mentioned above, Thompson still had the option to return to the Razorbacks in 2023 because of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic.
Arkansas is definitely losing Matt Landers, who leads the team with 663 receiving yards, because he’s already a super senior and has no remaining eligibility. There’s a chance the Razorbacks also have to replace Jadon Haselwood, who has a team-high 49 receptions. He could come back as a super senior, but Pittman has said in the past that they were planning on getting just one year from him, as the former five-star recruit may try his hand at the NFL Draft.
That would have made Thompson and Ketron Jackson Jr. the veterans of the wide receiver room in 2023, potentially taking up two of the three starting spots. Throw in Bryce Stephens and the top three would have been relatively clear heading into the offseason.
With Thompson no longer in the picture, Sategna and Mbake have a clearer path to the starting lineup next year. Of course, Sategna is a slot receiver and might end up battling Stephens for that job.
However, Mbake is an outside receiver who could find himself on the updated two-deep when it’s updated to reflect Thompson’s departure next week. After enrolling at Arkansas over the summer, he made some impressive plays during fall camp and drew quite a bit of praise from coaches and teammates alike.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the Razorbacks are bringing in a pair of talented receivers in the 2023 class — four-star Micah Tease and three-star Davion Dozier — and may also opt to hit the portal for additional help at the position, much like they did with Thompson, Landers and Haselwood.
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