10 College Football Transfer Players to Watch in Spring Practice 2017

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2017

10 College Football Transfer Players to Watch in Spring Practice 2017

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    With Jarrett Stidham at the helm, Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers offense may really take off.
    With Jarrett Stidham at the helm, Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers offense may really take off.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Every season, college football is full of transfers who are expected to make an instant difference for their new team, and 2017 is no different.

    Perhaps what is a little out of the ordinary is the sheer volume of quarterback transfers, though. There is an abundance of signal-callers who will be suiting up elsewhere this year, and many of them are being relied upon to play the most important position and play it well.

    This list doesn't even include guys such as former Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who transferred to Baylor, or former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson, who will play for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic.

    But quarterbacks aren't the only position players seeing a barrage of exits recently. Transferring is an epidemic throughout the sport; from junior college to graduate transfers to kids frustrated with their initial choices, there are a lot of them.

    "What I try to emphasize with our players is, there's so much emphasis now on outcomesimmediate self-gratification," Alabama coach Nick Saban said, per SEC Country's Connor Smolensky. "Football is a developmental game…where people develop and improve."

    Some just choose to do that elsewhere. So, who are a few of the biggest-name transfers we should watch during spring drills? 

    From Auburn's Jarrett Stidham to Texas' Gary Johnson, let's take a look at some of the transfers to keep an eye on during spring practice.

Kyle Allen, Houston Quarterback

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    Kyle Allen will play his college career for new Houston head coach Major Applewhite.
    Kyle Allen will play his college career for new Houston head coach Major Applewhite.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The first quarterback on the list is Houston's Kyle Allen, who left Texas A&M after having to split time with true freshman Kyler Murray in 2015.

    When the smoke of that situation cleared, head coach Kevin Sumlin lost both of them. Allen bolted to play for the Cougars and Tom Herman, while Murray joined Oklahoma. 

    Allen probably didn't foresee Herman leaving for Texas before he had the opportunity to play for him, but so goes the business of college football. Now, the 6'3", 210-pound pro-style quarterback from Arizona will battle another Kyle (Postma) for the starting gig.

    During his time in College Station, Allen threw 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, so he's proved he can do well on a big stage.

    "Now, he has a chance to show why he is expected to win the job," Underdog Dynasty's Joey Broback wrote. "A former 5-star recruit, Allen has all of the tools to easily win this competition, and a steady environment should help his development. While at Texas A&M, he completed 58 percent of his passes against SEC competition…Competition will drive Allen to get better, and he can move on from the drama that led to his exit from Texas A&M.

    Allen's presence at Houston is exciting for the Cougars as they look to usher in the coach Major Applewhite era, continuing the momentum built under Herman and former star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. 

    Beating Postma for the job won't be easy, especially considering he was such a capable backup a season ago as Ward battled injuries. But Allen has the physical makeup to do it.

Blake Barnett, Arizona State Quarterback

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    Former Alabama signal-caller Blake Barnett has a new start in Tempe.
    Former Alabama signal-caller Blake Barnett has a new start in Tempe.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Staying under center, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback in terms of being a former star recruit is arguably Blake Barnett, who begins an Alabama flavor to this list.

    The former Crimson Tide quarterback lost the opportunity to win the starting job a season ago, as true freshman Jalen Hurts beat him in the competition. So, Barnett left early in his redshirt freshman season and will now have three years to play for Arizona State.

    That's a major recruiting coup for the Sun Devils and coach Todd Graham, especially after they limped to a 5-7 record a season ago. Also, Barnett recently won his eligibility appeal with the NCAA, so the 6'5", 215-pound dual-threat quarterback will be able to play right away.

    Barnett gets to move closer to his California home, and he will move on from a situation in Tuscaloosa that didn't end well.

    Tide coach Nick Saban appeared to infer Barnett was a quitter on his weekly radio show, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande.

    Saban said:

    I think there's a certain pride people have in competition. There's certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don't think I'd have a place to stay.

    Barnett has a new home sweet home in the desert. It's a new opportunity for him to live up to his former billing as one of the next big things at his position.

Isaiah Buggs, Alabama Defensive End

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    With all that talent leaving for the NFL on Alabama's defensive line, Isaiah Buggs may have the chance to play right away.
    With all that talent leaving for the NFL on Alabama's defensive line, Isaiah Buggs may have the chance to play right away.Credit: Scout.com

    Alabama may not be able to keep all of its stud prospects happy, but Saban has a pretty good retention rate, and the ones who do stay normally wind up competing (and winning) championships.

    The Crimson Tide added another pair of elite transfers this offseason when they hit the JUCO ranks hard for potential starting right tackle Elliot Baker and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs.

    Though it's tough to pick which one will have the quickest impact, the safe bet is Buggs, who appears to have the physique and talent to step right in on a line that lost a wealth of talent such as Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson and others.

    The 6'5", 290-pound Mississippi Gulf Coast star was a 5-star prospect who had offers from virtually everybody. Though the Tide didn't necessarily need him, the rich got richer when he signed. Now, he'll be firmly in the mix to be the next big name of crimson-clad beasts who litter the NFL draft.

    "If they bring in a junior college guy in, they expect him to already be prepared," Buggs said, per Ben Jones of BamaInsider.com. "They don't want to have to go back and teach him all over again."

    The Ruston, Louisiana, product gained nearly 50 pounds while in junior college, transforming himself into a monster on the defensive front. Will he start right away? That's hard to say with that stable of talent in Tuscaloosa, but he'll definitely be in the rotation.

    If he gets off to a good start, his ceiling is sky-high.

Dee Delaney, Miami Cornerback

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    Miami got an immediate-impact player in graduate transfer Dee Delaney, a Football Championship Subdivision star from The Citadel.
    Miami got an immediate-impact player in graduate transfer Dee Delaney, a Football Championship Subdivision star from The Citadel.Todd Bennett/Getty Images

    Dee Delaney has spent much of his college career under the radar, but like most players at The Citadel, he stuck to his daily regimen, displayed discipline on and off the field and, in his case, he became an elite player.

    The 6'1", 194-pound cornerback has terrific size and ball skills. He wound up one of the best Bulldogs ever, starting 36 games and finishing second in school history with 13 interceptions and fourth with 32 passes defended.

    He was a Football Championship Subdivision All-American a season ago for the Bulldogs, and the lure to big-time football was just too much. With NFL aspirations, Delaney elected to transfer and play his final season for the Miami Hurricanes.

    He wrestled with the choice but ultimately made it on his Instagram account:

    Well while one chapter in my book has ended another one is beginning. Deciding to come to The Citadel was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made and now deciding to leave is even harder. The friendships I have made here will last forever. The Citadel has made me into a better and much mature person and for that all I can say is Thank you! I will be transferring to the University of Miami to finish up my senior football season. Thanks for all the support and much love!

    Delaney could step right in and make a huge difference in the U's secondary. If he does, his professional stock will skyrocket.

    With his arrival, the Hurricanes' secondary all of a sudden becomes a team strength. Though they lost Corn Elder to the NFL, Delaney joins JUCO stud Jhavonte Dean, incoming freshman Trajan Bandy and returning lettermen Sheldrick Redwine and Malek Young.

Will Grier, West Virginia Quarterback

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    After his suspension at Florida for use of performance-enhancing drugs, Will Grier needed a new environment.
    After his suspension at Florida for use of performance-enhancing drugs, Will Grier needed a new environment.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Just how high are the expectations for former Florida signal-caller Will Grier as the maestro for head coach Dana Holgorsen's offense?

    Some are even predicting him to be firmly in the Heisman Trophy race as a junior, according to CBSSports.com's Chris Anderson.

    If that happens, the Mountaineers can definitely continue the momentum they built in 2016 with second-year starter Skyler Howard under center. Now that he's gone, it's Grier's show—that is, if he is allowed by the NCAA to start the season.

    Grier, as has been well-documented by now, was suspended from Florida for using performance-enhancing drugs. He sat out a year, and the remnants of that suspension still are lingering.

    Holgorsen has seemed confident that Grier will be ready to go, and if he is, West Virginia is in good hands.

    "But Grier has two major advantages working in his favor in the Big 12 newcomer of the year race," ESPN.com's Jake Trotter wrote. "One, playing time; he's the overwhelming favorite to win the starting job, provided, again, that he's eligible. And two, he'll be playing for a coach with a tremendous track record of calling explosive offenses. The combination of those two factors could lead to a big year for Grier in his first behind center in Morgantown."

    At the start of his career in Gainesville, Grier threw 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and 1,204 yards for the Gators, leading them to a 6-0 start that crumbled after he left.

    If he returns to that form, Holgorsen will have a stud around which to build his offense.

Gary Johnson, Texas Linebacker

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    Gary Johnson is a near-lock to play right away in the middle of Texas' defense.
    Gary Johnson is a near-lock to play right away in the middle of Texas' defense.Credit: Scout.com

    When Herman takes over in Austin, he'll need to restock the shelf with difference-makers sitting on one of the biggest hotbed states for football talent in the country.

    One of his earliest and best building blocks will be inside linebacker Gary Johnson, the nation's top-ranked JUCO linebacker who chose the Longhorns over virtually everyone else out of Dodge City (Kansas) Community College.

    The 6'1", 225-pound linebacker will team with Malik Jefferson to give Texas an extremely talented one-two punch on the second level of its defense. It's a unit that needs a ton of help after a shaky tenure under former head coach Charlie Strong.

    He'll have the ability to shine under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Johnson is not only a jackrabbit chasing down ball-carriers, he has the strength to get off blocks and make tackles as well.

    "As a prospect, Johnson has absolutely elite speed and quickness and remarkable striking ability when he finds the football," Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts wrote. "His film at linebacker is some of the best in recent memory for a Texas commit, even compared to Jefferson, who was a consensus five-star prospect and the state’s top player in 2015."

    With those two elite players running around making tackles, it's hard not to see the Longhorns defense improving dramatically in 2017. Texas fans are starved for a big-time winner again, and all eyes will be on Herman's first spring practice with his new team.

    Johnson will be getting plenty of attention, and rightfully so.

Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State Defensive Back

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    Kendall Sheffield enjoyed one national championship season at Alabama. He'll try to duplicate that with Ohio State.
    Kendall Sheffield enjoyed one national championship season at Alabama. He'll try to duplicate that with Ohio State.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Saban doesn't just load up his roster with star players each year, as 2017 will show everybody, he's doing a pretty good job of supplying others with quality players as well.

    Barnett was mentioned earlier along with one of Saban's newest coups in Buggs. There are two other defenders on this list who have roots at the Capstone as well. The first of those is Ohio State defensive back transfer Kendall Sheffield, who played for the Tide as a true freshman.

    There will be another one on this list, too.

    But Sheffield may be the best of them all. The 6'0", 183-pound cornerback steps into an ideal situation in Columbus with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley heading to the NFL. He'll get to battle with other stud youngsters such as Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah, but Sheffield is a budding star.

    So much so, that Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman believes the loss of Lattimore and Conley may not be that big of a deal.

    "For most other programs, that would be a crippling loss," he wrote. "For Ohio State, they went out and found an immediate replacement. That's where Sheffield comes in…

    "Sheffield is two years removed from high school and should be physically ready to start immediately. Early playing time was important to Sheffield during his most recent recruiting process, and Ohio State gave him the best opportunity to find it."

    He'll join other stud Texans playing for Urban Meyer such as Okudah and Baron Browning, and he'll try to win another national championship like he did his first year at Alabama.

Jarrett Stidham, Auburn Quarterback

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    One of the biggest losses of an ugly situation at Baylor over the course of the past couple of seasons was an elite quarterback prospect in Jarrett Stidham.

    Once former Bears head coach Art Briles and Co., were let go in the midst of the rape culture scandal at Baylor, Stidham bolted. He's found a new home on the lovely plains of Alabama where he'll spearhead head coach Gus Malzahn's Auburn offense for the next three seasons.

    Whether Malzahn is around for that entire tenure largely depends on whether Stidham can live up to the Texas-sized expectations he brings to the Tigers.

    "He's pumped," Stidham's former private coach, Trenton Kirklin, told AL.com's Wesley Sinor. "I expect nothing short of a championship and a Heisman. I know that's out there and I don't care. I say that because if he ties mental, emotional and physical together, he has that X-factor along with it. That's the equation. That's what makes a special quarterback."

    Though Stidham hasn't thrown a ball in a college game since 2015, he's been preparing. The 6'3", 210-pound dual-threat quarterback elected to sit out the 2016 season and take online courses through McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, while training.

    He'll have three years to play at AU. The Tigers hope he builds on the potential he showed as a true freshman with the Bears where he threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns and started three games as a true freshman.

    With Kamryn Pettway in the same backfield, Stidham's potential is enough to give Auburn fans palpitations.

Adonis Thomas, Florida State Linebacker

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    Continuing the Alabama flavor, former Crimson Tide player Adonis Thomas could play right away for FSU.
    Continuing the Alabama flavor, former Crimson Tide player Adonis Thomas could play right away for FSU.Credit: Scout.com

    The final player in the trifecta of Saban-wrapped gifts to other Power Five programs is Florida State linebacker Adonis Thomas.

    The 6'3", 230-pound linebacker from Lawrenceville, Georgia, who played last season at Northwest Mississippi after starting his college career with the Crimson Tide will play his final two seasons in Tallahassee. There's nothing that suggests FSU will be getting 'Bama's leftovers in terms of potential.

    Thomas can play, and he will have an opportunity to step right in and make a difference for FSU right away.

    Linebacker is a position where the Seminoles have struggled in recent years, but all of a sudden, it looks like it may be a bright spot in 2017. Matthew Thomas and Ro'Derrick Hoskins will join Dontavious Jackson and Jacob Pugh. 

    Even in a crowded second level, Adonis Thomas could find an important role.

    "This guy solidifies our whole linebacker corps in my opinion," FSU linebackers coach Bill Miller said, per 247Sports' Bob Ferrante. "He’s really a great athlete, great football player. But he's a mature kid. He’s already here, too. That's a really big plus."

    Is Thomas a starter on an ACC power? That remains to be seen, but when your position coach says that about you, there's an opportunity in front of one of FSU's newest players. Head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn't recruit JUCO prospects to ride the bench, so Thomas has a direct path to the rotation.

    If he can step in and be the kind of coverage linebacker the Seminoles have missed in the past couple of seasons, he'll be on the field a lot more than watching from the sideline. 

Andrew Van Ginkel, Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst may have a hidden gem in pass-rusher Andrew Van Ginkel.
    Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst may have a hidden gem in pass-rusher Andrew Van Ginkel.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Perhaps the biggest wild card on this listand a name you likely haven't heardis Wisconsin pass-rusher Andrew Van Ginkel.

    The former Iowa Western standout looks like a superhero, professional wrestler or perhaps a clone of Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard with his blond, flowing locks. But at 6'4", 230 pounds, the big, strong Midwesterner just looks like he was destined to come off the edge for the Badgers.

    Being a "fit" is perhaps the biggest reason why a program that doesn't normally take JUCO kids decided Van Ginkel was a guy they had to have. The expectations will follow the Rock Valley, Iowa, native as well.

    Van Ginkel is the first JUCO player to commit to Wisconsin in Paul Chryst's three years at the school. He chose the Badgers over Iowa and Nebraska.

    "Obviously, we wouldn't have recruited him and brought him in, because we're not a junior college program that goes out and gets many guys," Badgers outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar said, per ESPN.com's Jesse Temple. "He was a guy that we thought fit well from a culture standpoint being a Midwest kid from a small town in Iowa. He's a hardworking kid. He wasn't over-recruited out of high school. We're certainly hopeful that he can step in and be a contributor."

    The big junior seems destined to play outside linebacker at Camp Randall, especially considering Wisconsin only returns redshirt senior Garret Dooley and redshirt sophomore Zack Baun at the position. 

    With his unique hair, name and pedigree, Van Ginkel is sure to become a quick favorite in Madison. If his production matches, he'll be a guy to watch right away.


    All stats gathered on CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruit rankings and information courtesy of Scout.com unless otherwise noted. 

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. 


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