Ranking Top Names Still Available in College Football's Transfer Portal
Most of the best players who entered the college football transfer portal have already been scooped up by a new program, but there are still quite a few key "free agents" weighing their options.
Let's point out from the start that even though it's hanging over everything these days, we won't be making any coronavirus-related comments or speculation about decisions made, plans changed, etc. But there's no denying this has to be the weirdest year to still be in the transfer portal, especially for the guys with immediate eligibility.
Don't go thinking it's too late for them to make significant contributions in 2020, though. After all, Joe Burrow transferred to LSU on May 18, 2018, and he was the starting quarterback for the season opener about 11 weeks later. The guys on this list who are eligible for the upcoming season could still make a nice splash, especially if the start of the season is delayed for any length of time.
However, many of them will be required to sit out the 2020 season. That doesn't make them any less desirable or hurt their ranking. In fact, both our No. 1 and No. 2 players will be forced to miss the upcoming campaign if they do end up transferring to another FBS program.
Some talent is simply worth the wait.
10. Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin RB
2019 Stats: 18 carries, 116 yards, 1 touchdown
Bradrick Shaw is moderately intriguing for two big reasons: experience and immediate eligibility.
No one is expecting the sixth-year senior to be a backfield savior in 2020. He doesn't even have 1,000 rushing yards in his career, and he has averaged a modest 4.6 yards per carry while serving as one of the backups to Corey Clement and Jonathan Taylor in recent years.
There's bound to be a couple of teams out there that would love to add a grown man to their backfield depth chart, though, whether because of injury, a lost transfer of their own or whatever reason.
And let's not forget: Shaw was supposed to be Wisconsin's guy back in 2017. He was the featured back in the season opener against Utah State, rushing 18 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. However, he suffered a minor knee injury and missed the subsequent game against Florida Atlantic, in which Taylor rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns and locked down the starting gig for the next three years.
Given his immense talent, Taylor likely would have supplanted Shaw within a few weeks' time, but it's a shame that one game was his lone chance to stake his claim with the Badgers—and that a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2018 season forced him even further down the depth chart last year.
Shaw should be the primary target for any team looking to add a 2020 backup running back who could legitimately serve as the starter if push comes to shove.
9. Michael Thompson, Oklahoma OL/DT
2019 Stats: Did Not Play
Michael Thompson is a colossal unknown, both literally and figuratively.
Rated as the No. 72 overall recruit in the 2018 class, Thompson was originally recruited to Oklahoma as a defensive tackle. Before he could try to bring down an opposing quarterback, though, he suffered a torn ACL in June 2018 and redshirted that season.
When Thompson returned in the spring, Lincoln Riley decided the 6'5", 324-pound big man would be better suited protecting quarterbacks than pursuing them, switching him across the trenches to the offensive line. However, he has yet to appear in a game on either line thus far in his college career.
But there was a ton of interest in Thompson two years ago. Per 247 Sports, 25 Power Five teams extended him an offer, including Alabama, Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and USC. It's safe to assume there would be some interest in a second chance at him now that he has packed on about 50 more pounds of weight/muscle.
Three significant problems of note: Thompson has not yet played in a college game, he has to sit out the 2020 season (barring an unexpected waiver for immediate eligibility), and he'll then only be eligible for 2021 and 2022.
Most programs would rather roll with a borderline top-500 recruit in the 2021 class and mold him for the next four or five years than take their chances on two years of a guy who hasn't played in many moons. But he could still be a quality depth addition.
8. C.J. Moore, Oklahoma State WR
2019 Stats: 4 receptions, 81 yards, 2 touchdowns
Ranked No. 147 overall in the 2018 recruiting class, C.J. Moore was one of the best pickups of Mike Gundy's coaching career. The 6'5" wide receiver was supposed to be the next big thing in what is usually one of the more high-octane offenses in the country.
Instead, Moore redshirted the 2018 season, barely saw the field in 2019 and will be headed for what he hopes are greener pastures to close out his college career in 2021 and 2022.
The big question for inquiring teams is his size.
The 6'5" part is stellar, but he was listed at 175 pounds last season, which is rail thin. For the sake of comparison, Calvin Johnson was listed at 6'5" and 235 pounds in his final season at Georgia Tech. Moore might be fast as a gazelle, but even an undersized cornerback will be able to knock him off his routes until he packs on some muscle.
That means getting set up with a good strength and conditioning program is even more important than finding an offensive scheme that best fits his fortes, especially since strength and conditioning is going to be his primary focus while sitting out the 2020 season as a non-graduate transfer.
Notre Dame could be a great fit for Moore. Matt Balis is one of the most revered strength and conditioning coaches in college football, and Moore could slide right into the type of role that 6'4" Miles Boykin and 6'4" Chase Claypool played in Brian Kelly's offense in recent years.
But wherever he lands, he could be a star if he spends enough time in the weight room and the cafeteria.
7. Ricky Slade, Penn State RB
2019 Stats: 47 carries, 214 yards, 2 touchdowns; 12 receptions, 105 yards
It's hard to blame this former 5-star recruit for exploring his options outside of State College.
Seeing limited touches as a true freshman in 2018 was to be expected for Ricky Slade. Penn State still had Miles Sanders anchoring the backfield, and quarterback Trace McSorley was basically a second primary running back for that offense. After both guys left, though, it seemed a path was paved for Slade to become the main guy.
Instead, he fell even further down the pecking order.
Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford all received more carries than him last year. So did starting quarterback Sean Clifford and backup quarterback Will Levis. And with all five of those guys returning for the Nittany Lions in 2020, it makes sense for Slade to pursue a fresh start—even though it does mean sitting out the upcoming season.
He has averaged a modest 5.1 yards per carry thus far in his college career, but he did flash some serious potential as a pass-catching running back last season.
If he's open to relocating to a much warmer and more humid climate, that skill set could make UCF an intriguing landing spot. Head coach Josh Heupel hasn't been shy about getting running backs involved in the passing game, and Slade could become the main guy for the Knights in 2021 after rising seniors Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae exhaust the last of their eligibility this year.
Old Dominion is also a strong candidate. Slade is from Virginia, the Monarchs' new head coach (Ricky Rahne) was the offensive coordinator at Penn State for the last two seasons, and let's just say there wouldn't be much competition for him to worry about in ODU's backfield.
6. Jarren Williams, Miami QB
2019 Stats: 169-of-276, 2,187 YDS, 19 TD, 7 INT
Despite bringing in Tate Martell from Ohio State, new Miami head coach Manny Diaz handed the reins to redshirt freshman Jarren Williams in 2019.
He almost led the Hurricanes to victory in the season opener against Florida. He also played well in the heartbreaking Week 2 loss at North Carolina. He threw for at least 200 yards in seven games despite spending a few weeks as the backup after tossing three first-quarter interceptions in a loss to Virginia Tech.
He clearly has talent. But what he didn't have at Miami was pass protection.
Williams was sacked 10 times in that opener against the Gators. In the regular-season finale against Duke, he and backup quarterback N'Kosi Perry were sacked a combined nine times, so it's not like that offensive line got better with age. North Carolina, Central Michigan and Louisiana Tech each recorded four sacks against the Hurricanes.
On the rare occasions during which he wasn't facing constant pressure, though, Williams was solid. He threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and lit up Louisville for six passing touchdowns the following week. There were only three sacks between those two contests.
Surely, some of that onus falls on Williams. You've got to be able to make quick reads and quicker decisions when you know you have a porous offensive line. But put him behind a line that can occasionally stop pass-rushers and give him the next 15 months to get comfortable with the playbook, and he could be a team leader in 2021 and 2022.
5. Eyabi Anoma, Houston/Alabama LB
2019 Stats: Did Not Play
Most of the well-established Power Five schools won't even consider touching Eyabi Anoma with a 10-foot pole.
He was dismissed from Alabama in July 2019 and subsequently dismissed from Houston in February 2020. While the exact details leading to those decisions were never made public, Matt Zenitz of AL.com said he heard that skipping classes and clashing with teammates and coaches was at the heart of both dismissals.
In short, that's not the type of headache with which most coaches feel like dealing.
All the same, we're talking about a linebacker who was the No. 4 overall recruit in the class of 2018, per the 247Sports composite rankings. Inevitably, someone is going to take a chance on a guy this talented because the risk is worth the reward, especially for a program that couldn't sign a top-five overall recruit in its wildest dreams.
We have yet to get a good look at Anoma at the collegiate level. He played sparingly as a true freshman in 2018, serving as a backup in a linebacking corps featuring Dylan Moses, Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller. Anoma only made nine tackles that season.
Had he been able to stay out of trouble at Alabama, he undoubtedly would have gotten a ton of playing time this past season. Miller and Wilson both left, and Moses tore his ACL less than a month after Anoma's departure—and Anoma was already likely in line for a starting job before Moses' injury. But we'll never know.
It would be quite interesting if it's Lane Kiffin who gives Anoma another shot, if only because it would mean he gets to square off against Alabama. Kiffin loved bringing in Last Chance U guys at Florida Atlantic, but he may be a little more hesitant to take those risks at Ole Miss.
4. Caylin Newton, Howard QB
2019 Stats: 65-of-127, 815 YDS, 6 TD, 3 INT
Cam Newton's younger brother, Caylin Newton made his collegiate debut in Week 1 of the 2017 season against UNLV. Howard was a 45-point underdog, but Newton had a passing/rushing total of 330 yards and three touchdowns in the monumental 43-40 upset.
In the 2018 season opener, he went for 532 total yards and four touchdowns in a close loss at Ohio.
Newton was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Rookie of the Year in 2017, was the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 and was expected to take home that title again in 2019. However, he stopped playing four weeks into last season and later announced that he was preserving that year of eligibility with the intention of graduating from Howard and transferring elsewhere with two years remaining.
That happened in early October, though, and he still hasn't found a home with an FBS school.
One of the big questions is: What position will he even play?
Unlike Cam, who is a stocky 6'5", Caylin is maybe 6'0" and is built more like a traditional slot receiver or cornerback. But given the success 5'10" Kyler Murray had in 2018, perhaps the dual-threat quarterback will get a chance to throw passes for the next two years.
Either way, he is an exceptional athlete who could make a splash at cornerback, quarterback or receiver in 2020. He's probably just waiting to figure out which school is most in need of his services.
3. Rico Bussey Jr., North Texas WR
2019 Stats: 5 REC, 150 YDS, 1 TD
Rico Bussey Jr. suffered a torn ACL in the first half of North Texas' second game of the 2019 season. His injury wasn't the only reason the Mean Green went from back-to-back nine-win seasons to a 4-8 mess, but it certainly didn't help to unexpectedly lose a senior wide receiver who had 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018.
The silver lining is that he suffered the injury early enough in the season to preserve his final year of eligibility, and he is at least exploring the possibility of playing that year with a new team.
Bussey reached the century mark six times in his junior year, and he opened the 2019 season with a career-best 156 yards in an easy win over Abilene Christian. He led North Texas in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2018, and he was clearly on track to do so again this past season. He could be a huge steal for any Power Five program that wants to make him its No. 2 or No. 3 guy.
Or perhaps he could even lock down the top spot in Mike Leach's pass-happy offense at Mississippi State.
Aside from Osirus Mitchell (29 receptions, 430 yards, 6 touchdowns), the Bulldogs have virtually nothing in the "returning receivers" department. And North Texas head coach Seth Littrell did spend four years working for Leach as a running backs coach at Texas Tech, so there's a bit of a connection there.
Miami is another team that could clearly benefit from the addition of a guy like Bussey. The Hurricanes already added graduate transfers D'Eriq King (quarterback) and Quincy Roche (defensive end). Why not add one more Group of Five star to their arsenal?
They were led in receiving yards by a Group of Five transfer last year (Buffalo's K.J. Osborn), and Bussey could slide right into that type of role, albeit with an even higher ceiling thanks to Miami's upgrade at quarterback.
2. JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn RB
2019 Stats: 156 carries, 763 yards, 10 touchdowns
Running backs in the transfer portal—especially those required to sit a year—are typically a dime a dozen. For every Travon McMillian, who rushed for 1,000 yards in a season at both Virginia Tech and Colorado, there are probably 100 running backs who change schools just to get buried on a different depth chart.
JaTarvious Whitlow might be an exception to that rule.
Whitlow led Auburn in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, but it appears he'll be taking his team-leading totes elsewhere. The rising redshirt junior entered the transfer portal in early February, and mum has been the word in the three-plus months since then.
If he has completed enough coursework to qualify as a graduate transfer, he should be a hot commodity. His career mark of 5.1 yards per carry is nothing special, but plenty of Power Five programs could use a player of his caliber as a plug-and-play option for the next two seasons.
If he can't grad-transfer or otherwise get a waiver to play in 2020, though, that's another story. Since he already took a redshirt year, he would just be sacrificing a season of eligibility by transferring to another FBS program. In that scenario, he probably either stays at Auburn or goes the FCS route for one year before trying to re-enter the FBS ranks for one final campaign.
That unknown makes it harder to guess what he will ultimately decide to do. But let's just say he would be a welcome addition at a school like Arizona State, which is devoid of running backs with more than 62 career rushing yards at the collegiate level.
1. JT Daniels, USC QB
2019 Stats: 25-of-34, 215 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT
Two years ago, JT Daniels was a 5-star recruit who reclassified to graduate high school a year early. The 18-year-old true freshman subsequently started the 2018 season opener and accounted for nearly 90 percent of USC's passing yards on the season.
It was a rocky season. There's no denying that. The Trojans went 5-7 and averaged a meager 26.1 points per game—their worst year on offense since 2001. But it was also an uncommonly young offense, so the expectation was that things would improve in 2019 with Daniels leading the way.
Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1, hence the pithy stat line above. True freshman Kedon Slovis took over at quarterback and was so successful that the starting job is now his to lose.
Thus, Daniels entered the transfer portal.
Will he actually leave USC, though?
From the moment he entered the portal in late April, a lot of people connected the bread crumbs to the May 20 vote on the "one-time immediate eligibility for transfers" proposal. If the vote had passed, maybe he would have committed elsewhere the following day and legitimately competed for a starting job in 2020. (You've got to believe LSU has been in contact with him for that possibility.)
But now that the decision has been postponed until January, it makes more sense for Daniels—provided he's academically on track to become a graduate transfer after the 2020 season—to just bide his time as USC's backup for one more year.
Regardless, his name remains a highly coveted one in the transfer portal. If he actually does end up relocating, it'll be the biggest splash of this offseason.
Recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports.