First and 10: You'll never guess who is treating the transfer portal like a 5-star farm system
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” — Mya Angelou.
He has been saying it over and over, yet somehow, the one program in all of college football that benefited most this offseason from the crush of NIL and the transfer portal is the one that needed it least.
“We’re heading toward a competitive imbalance,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last month — and over and over since to anyone who would listen.
This, everyone, is competitive imbalance: Eli Ricks, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jermaine Burton, Tyler Steen and Tyler Harrell.
Five immediate impact starters — 4 of whom have the potential to play at All-SEC and/or All-American levels by the end of the season.
He tried to warn us, tried to explain that free transfer movement and unrestricted NIL money would lead to those at the top growing stronger. While it’s not completely accurate — other programs have benefited greatly and will improve competition — and won’t be the death blow to the game that he and other coaches have warned, it can no longer be ignored.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Or suffer the consequences of the best program in college football filling every need with stars from the transfer portal.
Ranking the SEC’s top transfer portal players of 2022:
2. Impacting college football
1. CB Eli Ricks, Alabama (from LSU): An elite cover corner with high-end skills. The defense lacked the ability to lock down a receiver last year. Won’t happen again in 2022.
2. RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (Georgia Tech): He’s unlike anything Alabama has had at the position with his running and elite receiving skills, which is a dramatic statement considering the Heisman Trophy winners and All-Americans under Saban.
3. CB Jarrick Bernard-Convers, LSU (Oklahoma State): Tigers were desperate in the secondary and landed the No.2 player at the position in the portal. All-Big 12 last year on one of the nation’s best defenses.
4. WR Jermaine Burton, Alabama (Georgia): He may not be Jameson Williams, but his talent and ability to stress defenses with deep speed was underutilized the past 2 years.
5. OG O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida (Louisiana): One of the top portal players at any position, he probably should’ve been a first-team All-American in 2021. But linemen at the Group of 5 level rarely are voted first-team. A mauler, and the perfect interior lineman to strengthen new coach Billy Napier’s inside run game.
3. Impacting the SEC
6. QB Spencer Rattler, South Carolina (Oklahoma): On 3rd down at Oklahoma in 2020-21, Rattler threw 116 passes and 43% of those throws converted 1st downs. That 43% would’ve placed 2nd in the SEC last season, behind only Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. Games are won and lost with 3rd-down conversions.
7. QB Max Johnson, Texas A&M (LSU): Stop this nonsense that it’s a quarterback competition at A&M. Fisher wants Johnson to work and compete over the summer. You don’t sit a quarterback — the most important position on the field — who has a career TD/INT ratio of 35/7 in the toughest conference (and the same division) in college football. Johnson will have a huge season.
8. WR Jadon Haselwood, Arkansas (Oklahoma): Developed into a dangerous threat in 2021, and statistically had a better season (39 catches, 6 TD) than fellow OU transfer WR Mario Williams, the No. 1 receiver in the portal.
9. LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas (Alabama): The Tide are set with Will Anderson and Dallas Turner, but this transfer of a potentially elite edge rusher stung Saban. Sanders was on the field before Turner last year and only left because of injury.
10. WR Tayvion Robinson, Kentucky (Virginia Tech): The production in 2021 as the No. 2 or 3 option was strong (44 catches, 5 TDs). He’ll be the No. 1 option at Kentucky and a critical part of QB Will Levis’ Year 2 development.
11. OT Tyler Steen, Alabama (Vanderbilt): The Alabama offensive line, outside of LT Evan Neal, was average in 2021, giving up a whopping 41 sacks. A 3-year starter, Steen is a lock to win the left tackle spot.
12. TE Michael Trigg, Ole Miss (USC): Had all of 7 catches last year, but the Ole Miss staff has raved about his length, speed and athletic ability. He’ll be a matchup problem all over the conference.
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4. Impacting the program
13. WR Tyler Harrell, Alabama (Louisville): One ACC coach told me this week, “the kid from Georgia is solid; (Harrell) has a chance to be special.” The fastest player on the team (and the SEC), Harrell is built (6-0, 194) like Jameson Williams and had better production from his previous school. Does make the jump like Williams?
14. RB Zach Evans, Ole Miss (TCU): Former 5-star had a strange start to his college career: the 2020 COVID season, and a 2021 season that finished with a coaching change. Still averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 146 carries.
15. DE Mekhi Wingo, LSU (Missouri): Took some time to get comfortable as a freshman, but by the last month of the season, he was he was the Tigers’ most dangerous player on defense. A disrupter off the edge.
16. CB DJ James, Auburn (Oregon): Was playing among the best in the Pac-12 by the end of last year, and with Auburn’s disruptive front seven, he could develop into an elite corner.
17. RB Christian Beal-Smith, South Carolina (Wake Forest): Kenneth Walker III left Wake Forest for Michigan State in 2021 because he didn’t want to share time with Beal-Smith. Now it’s Beal-Smith’s turn to make his mark as an exclusive No. 1.
18. WR Ricky Pearsall, Florida (Arizona State): He’s not the true No. 1 receiver Florida needs, but he’s faster than any receiver on the team and will be dangerous in the slot.
19. QB Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss (USC): Didn’t separate from Luke Altmyer in spring practice, but is too talented to not win the job. Coach Lane Kiffin’s history with QB development could produce another record-breaker in Oxford.
20. WR Antwane Wells, South Carolina (James Madison): Set single-season records for yards (1,250) and touchdowns (15) at FCS powerhouse James Madison, and tied the record for catches (83). Rattler and Wells will be a dangerous combination.
5. The Weekly Five
Five under-the-radar transfer portal players:
1. DT Darrion Henry-Young, Kentucky (Ohio State).
2. OT Mason Brooks, Ole Miss (Western Kentucky).
3. OT Kamryn Waites, Florida (Louisiana).
4. S Devonni Reed, South Carolina (Central Michigan).
5. DT Jayson Jones, Auburn (Oregon).
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Mississippi State QB Will Rogers.
“He’s a lot like many of those (Mississippi State coach) Mike Leach quarterbacks. That’s not a criticism, that’s reality. (Gardner) Minshew proved he could play in this league, and that’s probably the best comparison for (Rogers). If Minshew doesn’t get a chance to play (in the NFL) because of an injury, he more than likely still hasn’t played a game at this point.
“Rogers can make every throw and has developed each season with Mike. He’s a better physical prospect than (Minshew), and that will help his grade. But I want to see him make more accurate, intermediate throws when the pocket isn’t clean. All (quarterbacks) are different under duress. You make it in this league when you prove you can complete passes under duress.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Most dangerous 3-game stretch of the season.
1. Georgia: Oct. 29-Nov. 12: Florida (Jacksonville), Tennessee, at Mississippi State. A fortunate schedule hits a difficult stretch against 3 passing teams.
2. Alabama: Oct. 1-15: at Arkansas, Texas A&M, at Tennessee. Three different offenses, three proven ways to score.
3. Texas A&M: Sept. 24-Oct. 8: Arkansas (Arlington), at Mississippi State, at Alabama. Hogs and Bulldogs broke through last year and believe, and we all know what Alabama means after this spring.
4. Kentucky: Oct. 8-29: South Carolina, Mississippi State, at Tennessee. If the Wildcats want to play games that matter in November (Georgia at home), they can’t slip here.
5. Arkansas: Sept. 24-Oct. 8: Texas A&M (Arlington), Alabama, at Mississippi State. The difference between another 9-win season, and 6 or 7.
6. LSU: Oct. 15-Nov. 5: at Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama. Midway through the season, we get to see just how far LSU has come with a new coach and QB.
7. Ole Miss: Oct. 29-Nov. 19: at Texas A&M, Alabama, at Arkansas. Two brutal road environments against teams that could have found themselves sandwiched around the biggest game of the season.
8. Mississippi State: Oct. 8-22: Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Alabama. Three games against the upper half of the conference, and a chance for a breakthrough season.
9. Tennessee: Sept 24-Oct. 15: Florida, at LSU, Alabama. Beat Florida, and there’s momentum for 2 more big chances in Year 2 under coach Josh Heupel.
10. South Carolina: Nov. 12-26: at Florida, Tennessee, at Clemson. Don’t think these aren’t 3 winnable games with the revamped roster.
11. Florida: Sept. 3-17: Utah, Kentucky, USF. Lose the first 2 (not inconceivable), and every game moving forward is an adventure.
12. Auburn: Oct. 1-15: LSU, at Georgia, at Ole Miss. Bryan Harsin can go a long way to keeping his job by winning 2 or all 3.
13. Missouri: Sept. 24-Oct. 8: at Auburn, Georgia, at Florida. Getting 2 wins would be significant; getting 1 may keep the ship afloat heading into the back half of the season.
14. Vanderbilt: Aug. 27-Sept. 10: at Hawaii, Elon, Wake Forest. It’s always about nonconference games, the road to any bowl possibility.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: What does it say about Nick Saban and recruiting that he lost out on Arch Manning despite having a history of winning national titles and the best chance to play? — Curtis Raymond, Miami.
The quarterback position, more than any other, is the greatest opportunity for a player to make a name for himself. An elite quarterback can lift a program and resurrect it, or take it to new heights.
Manning could’ve gone to Georgia or Alabama (the runner-ups in his final 3) instead of Texas, but what is he bringing to the programs? They’re already championship-ready programs. Texas has been floundering for a decade, and what better way to make your mark outside the Hall of Fame careers of your uncles Peyton and Eli, than by being the player responsible for bringing the largest brand in all of college sports back to the elite level — in the most important sport?
Saban (and Georgia coach Kirby Smart) were recruiting against that, and frankly, both have quarterback rooms that are deeper than Texas (even with Quinn Ewers). Ty Simpson was a 5-star recruit in Alabama’s 2022 class, and the No. 3 quarterback overall.
The Tide also has a commitment from 2023 4-star (and soon to be 5-star) QB Eli Holstein. I don’t think Alabama losing out on Manning says anything about Saban’s recruiting now or in the future. It says more about the quarterback position in the age of NIL and the transfer portal, and players building their own brand.
66.5. We’ve heard the narrative over and over how Georgia will simply reload defensively with more 4- and 5-stars reserves from 2021, and have just as disruptive a unit as it did last season.
The 2021 defense had 99 tackles for loss, and lost 66.5 of those to the NFL Draft or transfer portal. That’s 65% of its tackles for loss last season. More telling: 46 — or almost half of its tackles for loss — were against ranked teams. That’s how defenses make an impact in big games, and that’s how championships are won.
10. Quote to note
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher on 8 or 9 SEC games in future scheduling: “I don’t mind 8 or 9. But we need to play an (FCS) game. I came from that league of ball. A lot of great coaches did. How do those schools make budget? You have to trickle the wealth down. If you don’t, and those schools have to fold up, where do those kids get to play and get an education?”