Cade Fortin’s Expected Contribution Validates Honor from Arkansas
photo credit: Nick Wenger
The gamble Cade Fortin took by joining Arkansas football paid off as he didn’t have to pay for his final year with the Razorbacks.
The quarterback was placed on scholarship this semester and will remain on it next fall, a UA spokesman confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports, giving Arkansas four scholarship quarterbacks for the 2023 season.
Not your average walk-on, Fortin began his career as an ESPN four-star signee at North Carolina and even started a few games before transferring to South Florida, where he was also on scholarship and played a few games started
His decision to transfer to Arkansas may not have been met with the same excitement from fans as other additions last season, but bringing in someone with his experience was essential to the Razorbacks’ thin quarterback room.
After going through the 2022 season with just two scholarship quarterbacks — KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby — Arkansas will have double that number next year. In addition to Jefferson and Fortin, the Razorbacks also brought in Jacolby Criswell as a transfer and Malachi Singleton as a four-star signee.
Cade Fortin with the Razorbacks
Although he came to Fayetteville with four career starts against Power Five opponents under his belt, Cade Fortin didn’t exactly put up big numbers and was never a full-time starter.
He completed just 50.4% of his passes for the Tar Heels and Bulls, averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt with one touchdown and three interceptions, while also rushing for 152 yards and two scores on 27 carries (5.6 step/carry) rushed.
Considering those numbers were far from awesome and his status as a walk-on, Fortin figured to be a depth piece and veteran presence for the Razorbacks, able to run the scout team while KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby handled the primary quarterback duties.
However, it wasn’t long before that narrative began to change. Fortin appeared to strike out redshirt freshman Lucas Coley, leading to Coley’s transfer midway through the jump ball, and then challenged Hornsby for the backup job.
The coaches were so comfortable with the idea of Fortin running the offense that they gave Hornsby a look at wide receiver — a package that lasted a few weeks before being unceremoniously laid to rest.
Hornsby was still assumed to be the backup quarterback, but when Jefferson fumbled against Alabama, the Razorbacks turned to Fortin. He also started the following week at Mississippi State, but struggled and was eventually replaced by Hornsby.
That caused Fortin to drop back to the third team, with Hornsby starting the LSU game in place of Jefferson, but it was his fourth-quarter 40-yard strike to Matt Landers that gave Arkansas a chance to knock off the Tigers.
Even with that big play, his numbers looked pretty similar to what he put up at his previous two spots. Fortin completed 48.3% of his passes and averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt while adding 17 yards on seven carries.
Arkansas Quarterback Depth for 2023
To no one’s surprise, Malik Hornsby re-entered the transfer portal after the regular season and this time stalled, dropping to the Group of Five tier by landing at Texas State after a brief flirtation with Nebraska.
While they may not have someone as electric from a speed perspective, the Razorbacks appear to have a much deeper and more talented quarterback room in 2023.
In an ideal world, KJ Jefferson would play every meaningful snap of the season. He’s proven to be an elite college football quarterback when healthy — but that qualification is important. Jefferson, a big, mobile quarterback who doesn’t like to shy away from contact, has dealt with multiple injuries that caused him to miss two games entirely and severely limited him in a third last year.
Such issues heighten the importance of quarterback depth and Arkansas appears to have addressed this offseason.
Arguably the biggest addition was Jacolby Criswell, a Morrilton native who returns home after spending three years in North Carolina. Although he was never the full-time starter for the Tar Heels, he battled for the starting job with Sam Howell — who started a game in the NFL — and Drake Maye, a front-runner for the 2023 Heisman Trophy.
In limited action at North Carolina, he completed 18 of 31 passes (58.1%) for an average of 6.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown and one interception, while also averaging 6.7 yards on 20 carries and a score on added the soil.
He won’t surpass Jefferson, but the hope is that Criswell can come in and immediately lock down the backup job, positioning himself to take over as the starter in 2024.
That would mean Fortin battling it out with the other rookie, freshman Malachi Singleton, for the no. 3-place. Singleton, a four-star recruit, is arguably more talented and has more potential, but it’s still a pretty big jump from high school to the SEC — even from a state as loaded as Georgia.
The Razorbacks will likely give Singleton a look at some point in 2023 using the four-game redshirt rule, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the coaches lean on Fortin’s experience regarding Singleton’s potential in the event of injuries to Jefferson and Criswell.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that Fortin may be better suited to play right away than Singleton under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who brings in a more pro-style system that may be difficult for young players to quickly grasp and immediately plug and play into. play.
Fortin’s numbers certainly don’t inspire a lot of confidence should he be forced into action, but Enos has a track record of improving quarterbacks from a passing perspective. Just look at Brandon Allen, whose completion percentage jumped from 56.0% to 65.9% and yards per attempt under Enos jumped from 6.7 to 9.3.
At worst, Cade Fortin never sees the field while serving as a backup quarterback capable of running the scout team and providing veteran leadership to Singleton and the rest of the room — earning him a scholarship more than make worthy
Under traditional rules, Cade Fortin would be ineligible and unable to play in 2023 because he was a fifth-year senior this past season. However, all players active in 2020 have been granted an extra year due to the pandemic.
The Razorbacks had 12 seniors on last year’s team qualify to return as super seniors and Fortin is the only one known to do so at this point.
Defensive end Jordan Domineck was originally the first to announce he was coming back, but he has since reversed course and transferred to Colorado for his final season of college football.
Three other Razorbacks could join Fortin, as tight end Nathan Bax, defensive back LaDarrius Bishop and defensive end Zach Williams have yet to publicly announce their 2023 decisions.
Center Ricky Stromberg declared for the NFL Draft rather than return as a super senior and left tackle Luke Jones chose to move on with his life, while the others joined Domineck in the transfer portal.
Tight end Trey Knox transferred to South Carolina, defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols transferred to Purdue, punter Reid Bauer and safety Simeon Blair transferred to Memphis, and defensive back Trent Gordon has yet to land at another school after being deemed academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl.
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