The transfer portal, NIL deals and one-time transfer exceptions have greatly altered the college football landscape. While some traditionalists might say that has all been for the worse, the loose transfer rules have been a benefit for numerous players, specifically prospects hoping to get noticed by the NFL. In the 2022 NFL Draft, four players drafted in the top 50 (Jameson Williams, Jermaine Johnson, Arnold Ebiketie and Kenneth Walker) might not have risen that high had they stayed at their original school.
Not every transfer journey ends in the NFL — most don’t. But here are 10 prospects who switched schools in the offseason and, so far, have given their draft stock a boost.
(Note: An asterisk indicates draft-eligible underclassmen. Only draft-eligible prospects were considered for this list.)
*Jordan Addison, WR (6-0, 180)
Pittsburgh → USC
Addison didn’t need to transfer to be an early-round prospect — he most likely would have been graded in the top 50 regardless of where he played in 2022. But the fireworks from the USC offense will help showcase his athletic skill set. The early production has been impressive: 13 targets, 12 receptions, 226 receiving yards, 18.8 yards per catch, 9.8 yards-after-catch average and four touchdowns.
Addison debuted at No. 34 on my initial top-50 draft board in August, and he should continue to climb. Although he doesn’t hit the desired size measurables, the NFL is hungry for playmakers, and teams have shown they are willing to sacrifice when it comes to size. A sub-180-pound receiver has been drafted in the top 20 in each of the last two years: DeVonta Smith in 2021 and Jahan Dotson in 2022.
*Jahmyr Gibbs, RB (5-11, 200)
Georgia Tech → Alabama
Like Addison, Gibbs could have stayed at his original school and still been drafted in the top 50. But transferring to Alabama has given him a chance to play with a better quarterback and offensive line, which should help better showcase his electric talent.
Scouting Jahmyr Gibbs: What to know about Alabama RB ahead of 2023 NFL Draft
Although he managed only 2.4 yards per carry against Texas last weekend, he led his team in receptions and is currently the only Crimson Tide player with double-digit catches on the season. He is a tad undersized and can be slowed through contact, but his elusive athleticism as a runner and receiver could make him an Alvin Kamara-like weapon in the NFL.
O’Cyrus Torrence, G (6-5, 347)
Louisiana → Florida
Like Addison and Gibbs, Torrence earned a spot on my early top-50 draft board and likely didn’t need to transfer to hear his name called within the first few rounds of the 2023 draft. If he dominates in the SEC like he did in the Sun Belt last year, though, Torrence will continue to rise throughout the draft process. He is off to a great start.
Following Billy Napier from Louisiana to Florida, Torrence stepped into the starting right guard role for the Gators and has looked outstanding against both Utah and Kentucky. He has yet to give up a sack in pass protection, but his bread and butter comes as a run blocker — he has consistently created room for Florida’s ground game.
*Jared Verse, edge (6-4, 250)
Albany → Florida State
Any chance I get to gush about Verse, I’ll take advantage. Last season, the Seminoles added pass rusher Jermaine Johnson, who parlayed a standout senior campaign at his new stop into a first-round draft slot. Verse is making a much larger leap from the FCS to high-level college football, but he hasn’t looked out of place.
While his success against Duquesne in the opener was predictable, Verse’s pass-rush production actually increased against LSU last weekend: seven pressures and a pair of sacks. With his get-off quickness, he looks like a sprinter out of the blocks, and he plays with impressive power through his frame to attack blockers in different ways. I know Florida State fans are tired of me writing and talking about Verse because they want the fourth-year junior to spend more than one season in Tallahassee, but he looks more and more like a Sunday player.
Mekhi Garner, CB (6-2, 218)
Louisiana → LSU
The second former Louisiana player on this list, Garner was one of the better defensive backs in the Sun Belt last season and used that performance to attract attention from SEC programs in the transfer portal. Unlike Torrence, his former teammate, Garner decided to join LSU over Florida and Billy Napier.
Obviously, the first thing that stands out with Garner is his size — he is a hair under 6-foot-2 with verified 33-inch arms. He doesn’t have elite top-end speed for the position (my guess is the 4.54- to 4.58-second range in the 40-yard dash), but he locates the ball well and can flip his hips while staying within arm’s length of the receiver. For a player with his size, I was disappointed in Garner’s tackling but encouraged by his cover skills (like the breakup in zone coverage from the clip above).
He has draftable grades from around the league.
Charlie Jones, WR (6-0, 186)
Iowa → Purdue
After bypassing the 2022 NFL Draft, Jones returned to school for a sixth season and was expected to be a key part of the Hawkeyes’ offense in 2022. In a surprise move, however, he left the program over the summer and joined Purdue. There, he reunited with his childhood friend, quarterback Adrian O’Connell. With the NFL in his sights, the transfer decision actually makes a lot of sense.
Jones’ stats over two seasons at Iowa: 34 targets, 21 receptions, three touchdowns
His stats over two games at Purdue: 28 targets, 21 receptions, four touchdowns
Jones, who originally played at Buffalo before walking on at Iowa, was the Big Ten’s return man of the year last season and is returning kicks and punts for the Boilermakers. While he isn’t guaranteed to be drafted, Jones’ chances of hearing his name called next April have increased because of his decision to head to greener offensive pastures.
Jacoby Windmon, edge (6-1, 241)
UNLV → Michigan State
After bouncing between inside linebacker and edge rusher over his three seasons at UNLV, Windmon joined the Spartans this offseason and established himself as the team’s best pass rusher during practice. That has translated to the field through two games, as Windmon has lived in the backfield (6.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles).
Windmon rushes with a ridiculous amount of energy that the MAC blockers on Michigan State’s schedule thus far haven’t been able to handle. The Akron right tackle in the clip above didn’t have an answer for Windmon’s spin move, and the running back didn’t do much to slow him down either, allowing Windmon to knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. The competition (Western Michigan and Akron) has been less-than-stellar, so scouts will want to see him continue his hot start against more talented, upcoming opponents — Washington, Maryland, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Daiyan Henley, LB (6-1, 230)
Nevada → Washington State
After putting his name on the NFL map last season with 103 tackles at Nevada, Henley moved to the Pac-12 and has been Washington State’s best defensive player through two games. Against Idaho and Wisconsin, he combined for 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
Henley has a good mix of length (33 1/4-inch arms) and speed (he should run in the 4.6s in the 40-yard dash) with the read-and-react skills to make sound decisions against both the pass and run. The sixth-year senior has the tools to be a four-down player at the next level, and his move to Washington State will help show that to NFL teams.
Anthony Grant, RB (5-11, 200)
New Mexico Military Institute → Nebraska
Not much has gone right at Nebraska this season, including last Saturday’s loss to Georgia Southern that led to Scott Frost’s dismissal. But one of the bright spots has been the play of Grant, who spent two seasons at Florida State and two more at NMMI before joining the Huskers.
Grant currently ranks third in the FBS in rushing yards per game (142.7) and carries of 10-plus yards (11), and he’s tied for the lead nationally in rushing touchdowns (five). His moves can get a tad crazed at times, but that is part of what makes him a tough guy to tackle — he is a cut-and-accelerate Tasmanian devil with play strength through contact. Scouts will want to see him be more productive as a pass catcher, but he has been a fun runner to evaluate through three games.
Tashawn Manning, G (6-4, 330)
Auburn → Kentucky
Kentucky has done a great job using the transfer portal to fill out its roster the last few seasons — this offseason, the Wildcats added starters like Manning and wide receiver Tayvion Robinson. From being diagnosed with leukemia as a senior in high school to an up-and-down five seasons at Auburn, Manning is accustomed to attacking challenges and, so far, he has been an important part of Kentucky’s offensive line rebuild.
With his thick lower body and natural strength, Manning is a mauler in the run game and has the blocking appetite to finish through the whistle. In pass protection, he has been better than expected and has yet to allow a pressure on the young season. Manning can work himself into the mid-round discussion if he continues this level of play through the SEC schedule.
Three must-see NFL prospects this weekend
1. Jaren Hall, QB, BYU (at Oregon, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
With his size (6-foot) and age (he’ll turn 25 before the 2023 draft), Hall won’t be for everyone as a pro prospect. But he has shown a skill set worthy of the NFL. Hall spins it really well, especially on the move, and his mobility is a key part of his production. His leadership also will be a strong selling point to NFL teams. As BYU defeated Baylor in double overtime this past Saturday, ESPN cameras caught Hall embracing the Cougars’ kicker, who had missed two important kicks that could have cost BYU the game.
2. Olumuyiwa Fashanu, LT, Penn State (at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Penn State lost last year’s left tackle, Rasheed Walker, to the NFL Draft, but Fashanu has been an upgrade through two games in 2022 despite his relative inexperience. He has an intriguing combination of size, strength and athletic body control, which will all be tested against Auburn’s physical front — specifically, Colby Wooden and Derick Hall, who both earned a spot in my preseason top 50.
3. Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami (Fla.) (at Texas A&M, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Playing against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss, Van Dyke has gotten off to a quick start, completing 73.9 percent of his throws for 456 yards and three touchdowns. But the competition level takes a substantial jump in this matchup, as Van Dyke faces a Texas A&M defense ranked in the top 10 in the nation in yards allowed per play (3.74).
Stats of the week
West Virginia has gotten off to a disappointing 0-2 start, but the play of fifth-year senior WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton (6-3, 223) continues to impress. Through two games, he has combined for 20 catches for 249 yards and four touchdowns, all while averaging 15 targets per game (tops in the nation). Ford-Wheaton has been especially impressive in contested catch situations, finishing 72.7 percent of his contested targets (8-for-11), according to PFF. On one hand, his inconsistent separation skills contribute to the crowded catch points. But on the other, it speaks to his body control and ability to use his size as a catch finisher.
Prospect trending up …
Many will disregard the NFL chances of Mike Leach-groomed quarterbacks, but Mississippi State third-year junior QB Will Rogers (6-2, 210) is more than just a product of a system. Through two games this season, he is completing nearly 79 percent of his passes and is averaging 381.5 passing yards and 4.5 touchdowns per game. But more impressive than the production is his natural feel as a passer. Rogers throws with timing and anticipation and accurately delivers the ball before receivers are out of their breaks.
There are a lot of parallels between him and Bailey Zappe, who was a fourth-round pick in this past draft. Rogers has a higher ceiling as a pro prospect.
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) September 11, 2022
Prospect trending down …
After an All-American redshirt freshman season in 2019, Arkansas fourth-year junior safety Jalen Catalon (5-10, 200) was on the fast track to being a first-round pick — he checked in at No. 17 overall on my preseason draft board prior to the 2021 season. However, he missed the second half of last year with a tear in his shoulder. Catalon returned healthy for the 2022 season only to exit the season opener early, and it was revealed this week that he needs season-ending reconstructive shoulder surgery.
Based on talent and instincts, Catalon has a skill set reminiscent of Antoine Winfield when he was coming out of Minnesota. Unfortunately, durability concerns now cloud Catalon’s draft projection and football future.
“Come to balance”
A player’s ability to find his balance while playing a high-speed game is part of the job requirement in the NFL. The term “come to balance” can apply to multiple positions. For linebackers or safeties in open-field situations, their ability to come to balance on the move and make sound tackles is a crucial trait. Alabama LB Henry To’o To’o is an example of a player who can gear down and find his balance as a tackler, regardless of whether he is playing at full or half speed.
For quarterbacks, specifically mobile passers who rely on their legs to move the pocket, they need to quickly reset their balance to deliver with a strong base.
There were six wide receivers selected in the top 20 in this year’s draft. The most impressive in Week 1 of the NFL season was Washington Commanders WR Jahan Dotson. He had just three receptions for 40 yards in his pro debut, but he made them count with two touchdown catches. Similar to DeVonta Smith in the 2021 draft, teams were willing to overlook Dotson’s size concerns because of his route-running athleticism and ball skills.
Here is the summary from his scouting report in the 2022 NFL Draft Guide:
A three-year starter at Penn State, Dotson lined up across the formation in offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s offense. He became the fourth player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season and finished his career second in school history in catches (183) and touchdown grabs (25) and fourth in receiving yards (2,757). A polished pass catcher, Dotson puts defenders in conflict with his twitchy speed to defeat press and manipulate coverages at the stem. Although he is undersized, he has above-average hands and natural body control with maybe the largest catch radius of any sub-5-foot-11 receiver I have ever scouted. Overall, Dotson isn’t a tackle-breaker, and his marginal play strength will be more noticeable versus NFL defenders, but his dynamic speed, route instincts and ball skills make him a difficult player to cover one-on-one. He is an NFL starter in the Diontae Johnson mold with better hands and punt-return skills.
“I feel like I let everybody down. … I was pretty good to start the game off, but I missed a lot of different throws and my confidence got shot. It affected my receivers poorly, missing them wide open, so I know their confidence probably went down as well. I didn’t help my O-line, I didn’t help my running backs. I failed the team, so mentally I shot myself down a little bit, but I tried to stay in it.”
— Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, owning his poor performance in a loss to Kentucky last weekend. NFL scouts will be focused on how he responds this weekend against South Florida and in future games.
(Top photo of Jordan Addison: David Madison / Getty Images)