Transfer Portal 2022: Sleeper Picks for Biggest Impact Players Next Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2022

Transfer Portal 2022: Sleeper Picks for Biggest Impact Players Next Season

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    Andres Leighton/Associated Press

    You can't read a spring football story without seeing names such as Caleb Williams, Quinn Ewers, Jahmyr Gibbs or Jaxson Dart.

    Those big-name transfers are well-deserving of all the buzz surrounding them, but it isn't always the most-discussed players who make huge impacts.

    Just ask Alabama receiver Jameson Williams and Kenneth Walker III.

    So, who are some of the off-the-radar candidates who could splash in 2022? To make this list, a player couldn't be ranked among the top 40 players in the 247Sports transfer rankings.

    Several quarterbacks with marquee talent made the cut, as did some electric skill-position players and game-changing defenders.

Jadan Blue, Virginia Tech Wide Receiver

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    It won't be an easy rebuild in Virginia Tech for new head coach Brent Pry, who has to pick up the pieces from the disappointing Justin Fuente regime.

    He has a few interesting offensive transfers who could help speed along the process, though.

    Quarterback transfers Grant Wells (Marshall) and Jason Brown (South Carolina) are going through spring drills with the Hokies and battling for the starting job. Whoever wins it will have an elite pass-catcher in Temple transfer Jadan Blue.

    The receiver finished his four-year career in Philadelphia with 169 receptions, 1,672 yards and 10 touchdowns, making him a 4-star transfer at No. 76 overall.

    With the departures of Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson, Blue will have opportunities to showcase what he can do for a year before heading to the pros.

    A big season could help the 6'0", 190-pound target rise up draft boards, especially if he does it in an improving ACC and shows he can be a leader and producer during a tumultuous time of transition.

Troy Brown, Ole Miss Linebacker

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    While the Ole Miss-related national focus is centered on Lane Kiffin's social media presence and the explosive offensive numbers his team produces, the coach is quietly building a complete program.

    Even with exciting transfers in Jaxson Dart, Zach Evans and Michael Trigg, you can't forget about the defense. Coordinator D.J. Durkin did a good enough job turning that group around a year ago to entice Texas A&M to steal him.

    Now, the Rebels are breaking in new blood. One of those is Central Michigan transfer linebacker Troy Brown, who is an ideal candidate to lead a growing defense in tackles in 2022.

    The three-time All-MAC player has a shot to be a star on the highest FBS level, which will help him surge in scouts' eyes.

    A year ago, he finished with 65 total tackles, forcing and recovering one fumble each. In his time at CMU, Brown tallied 212 total tackles, 159 of which were solo. He also intercepted five passes, forced four fumbles and recovered two.

    He can do a bit of everything, and after the success experienced by transfer linebacker Chance Campbell last year, he will have a spot to showcase it all.

Jayden Daniels, LSU Quarterback

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    Jayden Daniels' once-bright star has lost some luster.

    Now, he's got at least one more opportunity (and perhaps two more seasons) to prove he is the exceptional NFL prospect who had experts buzzing during his first couple of seasons at Arizona State. One ex-NFL scout even wrote Daniels was a better prospect than Trey Lance.

    But after an uneven and sometimes awful 2021 season in Tempe, Daniels lost his consistency, relied too much on his wheels and often gave up on plays too early rather than move the pocket. When he left the Sun Devils, his teammates didn't react kindly, either.

    Daniels made an interesting choice to finish his career at LSU, where there's a glut of quarterbacks, including senior Myles Brennan and talented youngsters Walker Howard and Garrett Nussmeier. He's gambling on himself to win that job this spring.

    If he does, head coach Brian Kelly will have a weapon with all the skills to be elite. Daniels is lanky (6'3", 185 lbs), athletic and has plenty of arm strength. Yes, he has flaws and his decision-making needs work, but Kelly has helped produce excellent quarterbacks like Ian Book and DeShone Kizer.

    If Daniels wins the job, he'll be surrounded by some incredible talent such as receivers Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins and Brian Thomas Jr. who could bring out the best in his ability, and a career resurrection could be next.

Jayden de Laura, Arizona Quarterback

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    Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura is heading to Arizona State's biggest rival, Arizona, where a huge offseason surprise has been how second-year Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch has flipped the Wildcats roster. Though they've won just one game in the past two years, things are looking up in Tucson.

    Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the raw talent of sophomore De Laura, who was a catalyst for the Cougars a season ago. He entered the fray after Jarrett Guarantano hurt his knee in the season opener and completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

    De Laura has some exciting new weapons around him. Transfer receiver Jacob Cowing should team with incoming freshman Tetairoa McMillan to give the Cats some playmakers, and De Laura has the chops to make it all tick.

    While he hasn't displayed much running ability yet, it's because he's not overly big and doesn't need to run a lot. He has plenty of athletic ability to extend plays, and he proved a season ago he can make all the throws against Pac-12 competition.

    The best thing about him is he has three seasons of eligibility remaining, giving him the shot to learn and develop into the offensive centerpiece.

    It's puzzling he's the No. 168 transfer prospect in the class; he's better than that.

Jacob Copeland, Maryland Wide Receiver

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    The Florida Gators are losing a pair of sneaky-good prospects from last year's team who could become instant-impact stars elsewhere.

    Several have mentioned Mohamoud Diabate's potential to make a splash on the second level of Utah's defense, but since he's the No. 34 overall transfer, he doesn't qualify for this list. One ex-Gator who does, though, is wide receiver Jacob Copeland, who isn't getting enough publicity.

    The No. 49 overall transfer is a 4-star pickup for Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who needs to replenish the depth in his receiving corps and could have the Florida native for a couple of seasons beginning in 2022.

    Copeland will team with Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett to give the Terrapins and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa some big-time targets this fall.

    The 6'0", 202-pound pass-catcher is coming off a quality season in which he finished with 41 catches for 642 yards but scored just four times for an often-anemic Florida offense. He didn't stick around to see where he'd fit in new head coach Billy Napier's scheme, going to a program with a more wide-open attack.

    In his time in Gainesville, Copeland totaled 86 catches for 1,366 yards and nine touchdowns and should build on that production this year.

Tiyon Evans, Louisville Running Back

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    It's puzzling that a major producer would leave a starting gig to go to a crowded backfield, but that's exactly what Tiyon Evans did when he left Tennessee for Louisville.

    The onetime JUCO transfer was a revelation with the Vols. He's a big back (5'11", 220 lbs), but he also showed second-level burst, proving he knew how to reach the end zone when he got through the line of scrimmage.

    Evans was injured for much of the second half of the season in Knoxville after being one of the team's bright spots with 521 rushing yards and six touchdowns on a 6.4 average in seven games. Now, he will finish his career with Scott Satterfield's Cardinals.

    The South Carolina native will only make a team that finished 18th nationally in rushing better. Yes, Louisville returns its top two running backs in Jalen Mitchell and Trevion Cooley, as well as fringe Heisman Trophy candidate and dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham.

    But Evans can be special, even if in a running back committee. It's unclear if he'll get enough opportunities to be considered the featured back in Louisville, but he'll be the team's most talented runner with the biggest upside.

Montrell Johnson, Florida Running Back

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    Just how well did Billy Napier recruit to Sun Belt powerhouse Louisiana-Lafayette? Two of his running backs entered the transfer portal, and 247Sports rated them as 4-star prospects.

    It's clear the new Gators coach has an eye for talent, and while Emani Bailey wound up at TCU, last year's conference Freshman of the Year, Montrell Johnson, is heading to Gainesville to play for his old coach.

    The Gators need a new offensive identity, and while two other much more highly touted former prospects share a backfield as Johnson, the familiarity he has with Napier could pay huge dividends. Regardless of recruiting rankings, Johnson has shown plenty of upside.

    Last year, the 5'11", 210-pound runner finished with 838 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry while splitting time with Bailey.

    Under Dan Mullen, the Gators got two former elite prospects (Lorenzo Lingard, who was at Miami, and Demarkcus Bowman, who started his career at Clemson) to head down to play in the Swamp, but neither has broken into the rotation much.

    The trio will battle for carries this spring, and Johnson's resume has been built under his current coach, so that should help him a ton. Plus, he's pretty good.

Frank Ladson Jr., Miami Wide Receiver

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    Frank Ladson Jr. battled injuries throughout his Clemson career and never lived up to his billing as a top prospect.

    Now, he's got a new lease on life, heading home to play his final two seasons for the Miami Hurricanes. He's walking into an ideal situation too.

    After enduring the inconsistency of quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, he'll play with Tyler Van Dyke in what should be an explosive offense under new coordinator Josh Gattis.

    Ladson has a huge opportunity to be WR1. At 6'3", 205 pounds, he is big and athletic and has plenty of ability; much more than his 31 career catches for 428 yards and six touchdowns show.

    Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley are gone to the NFL draft, and while the 'Canes have Xavier Restrepo, Key'Shawn Smith, Brashard Smith, Jacolby George, Romello Brinson and others back, Ladson has plenty to prove if he wants to head to the NFL, which could add motivation.

    This is a deep dive, considering Ladson is the No. 204 overall transfer, but he has that skill set, and a change of scenery should serve him well.

Jaxon Player, Baylor Defensive Lineman

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    There's no place like home.

    Former Tulsa defensive lineman and Waco, Texas, native Jaxson Player is trying to prove his terrific numbers in the Group of Five translate to the Power Five.

    He's heading to the right place to do it, learning under Baylor mastermind Dave Aranda.

    Last year, the Bears won the Big 12 and had plenty of elite playmakers on a defense that carried them, but they have holes to fill in 2022. Player will fit into one of them nicely; the 6'0", 294-pound lineman finished his career with the Golden Hurricane with 138 tackles, including 31 for a loss and eight sacks.

    He was a run disruptor and showed the athleticism to get after quarterbacks from the middle of the line of scrimmage.

    Player will have the chance to rise up draft boards in 2022. Doing so for his hometown team has to be a dream come true. If the Bears are going to repeat as conference champions, Player will be a huge part of it.

Bo Nix, Oregon Quarterback

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    With everything Bo Nix accomplished while he was at Auburn, you'd think he would have been a hotter commodity with a high ranking when he elected to leave Bryan Harsin's program (and his dad's alma mater) for greener pastures.

    The first part of this is true: Plenty of teams wanted Nix. But the second part wasn't. Though he finished his career on the Plains with 7,251 yards, 39 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and 869 more rushing yards, there were plenty of inconsistencies.

    That caused 247Sports to rate him as a 3-star transfer and the No. 156-ranked overall player in the portal.

    There's a strong chance if Nix beats out talented youngsters Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield for the starting job at Oregon, he'll outperform that ranking. Nix has two seasons of eligibility remaining and plenty left in the tank.

    Known as a bit of a gunslinger who sometimes forgets to take care of the ball, Nix is also a gamer and an ultracompetitor. He will play for Dan Lanning, who got a firsthand look at Nix during his Auburn career as the defensive coordinator at rival Georgia.

    Now, he'll reunite with former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham with the Ducks. It could wind up being a perfect union for the pair.

Austin Stogner, South Carolina Tight End

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    A couple of quarterback/tight end package deals could wind up paying major dividends for a pair of SEC football programs this fall.

    There's a buzz about Ole Miss grabbing Jaxson Dart and Michael Trigg, who came from USC. But while the headline-grabbing story of Spencer Rattler winding up with former coach Shane Beamer at South Carolina got publicity, Austin Stogner becoming a Gamecock gets overlooked.

    Stogner was Rattler's teammate with the Sooners, and while the 6'6", 251-pound pass-catcher produced plenty while in Norman, he wasn't one of the showcase players in Lincoln Riley's system, so he didn't get a lot of the accolades.

    They'll love him in Columbia.

    In three years with OU, Stogner grabbed 47 passes for 654 yards and scored eight touchdowns. One issue, however, is the most games he's ever played in a single season is nine. He lost weight when his body reacted negatively to a thigh bruise, causing him to get a strep infection and have emergency surgery.

    Stogner had to battle to gain it back and never had an easy recovery.

    He will be a key target for Rattler with the Gamecocks, and if he stays healthy, he has the ability to be the league's top pass-catcher at the position. He also has two seasons of eligibility, so he could be a weapon for Beamer for several years to come. Stogner is an underrated pickup with All-SEC potential.

Casey Thompson, Nebraska Quarterback

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    Much like Jayden de Laura and Bo Nix, it's puzzling why Casey Thompson is only considered the No. 211-ranked transfer in a loaded portal.

    Did people forget he completed 63.2 percent of his passes a year ago for Texas, for 2,113 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions while splitting time with Hudson Card in Steve Sarkisian's first year at Texas.

    Yes, the Longhorns were awful, but Thompson wasn't the reason. Still, he had to see the writing on the wall when the Quinn Ewers circus headed to Austin that his days were likely numbered as the starter, so he decided not to deal with all the ruckus and decided to go elsewhere.

    Thompson wound up at Nebraska, where he could be the savior of a woebegone program that needed its own change at the top. While coach Scott Frost is still leading the charge for the Cornhuskers, this feels like a make-or-break year for the program, which moves on from Adrian Martinez under center.

    Martinez is gone to Kansas State, and while Thompson should have stiff competition from fellow transfer Chubba Purdy (Florida State) he should hold him off and has a couple of seasons of eligibility remaining in Lincoln.

    If Thompson can lead the Huskers to a bowl game, he'll get plenty of hype as a key impact player.

Ky Thomas, Kansas Running Back

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    When Mohamed Ibrahim ruptured his Achilles tendon in Minnesota's season opener last year, coach P.J. Fleck and crew probably were unsure where to turn.

    They wound up settling on freshman Ky Thomas of Topeka, Kansas, a 5'11", 205-pound former 3-star prospect who was little-known by pretty much everybody around the nation.

    All he did was lead the Golden Gophers in rushing on their way to a 9-4 rebound season. Thomas piled up five 100-yard efforts in wins over Maryland, Northwestern, Indiana and West Virginia (as well as a loss to Iowa). For the year, he finished with 824 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

    With Ibrahim returning for another season and poised to recapture the form that made him a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020 before the injury, Thomas decided to head home. Much like Jaxon Player and Frank Ladson, he will try to star for his home-state team, heading to the Kansas Jayhawks.

    Head coach Lance Leipold has a rich history of developing running backs, and he is getting a pair of transfers with Thomas and Nebraska transfer Sevion Morrison coming to Lawrence to help restock the pantry. With Jalon Daniels looking like a rising star at quarterback, there's finally reason for hope at KU.

    Thomas is going to be a huge part of the offense this year and could take some of the pressure off Daniels and be a focal point. It's possible a 1,000-yard season follows.

                

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference. Player rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.

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