Ranking the top 5 transfers poised for the most success after leaving the SEC
Ah, the one that got away.
It always stings when a relationship doesn’t work out, but it’s especially tough when someone tells you it’s over and then instantly finds love elsewhere.
Today, we’re applying that painful feeling to the transfer portal. In the SEC, I’d argue that the league has benefitted more from the portal than it’s been hurt by it. The league’s abolishment of the intraconference transfer rule that previously forced undergraduates to sit a year might have something to do with that.
But there were still plenty of players from SEC programs who left the league and will inevitably find love in 2021. Er, success.
These are the 5 who left the SEC via the transfer portal in 2021 and are poised for the most success:
5. DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
Former SEC team — LSU
Why he’s poised for success — I imagine when Ika picked up the phone and heard the words, “hey, it’s Dave Aranda,” he committed to Baylor on the spot. The former LSU defensive coordinator and current Bears head coach probably had a pretty easy recruiting pitch to Ika, who was one of the casualties of Bo Pelini’s switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3. At Baylor, he can go back to the system that helped him become a key rotation guy as a true freshman on LSU’s 2019 defensive line.
The 6-4, 350-pound interior defensive lineman will provide an immediate boost to a Baylor run defense that ranked No. 82 and surrendered 20 rushing scores in 9 games in 2020. But Ika is an exceptional pass rusher from the inside. Even in those 4 games in Pelini’s system before he hit the portal, Pro Football Focus graded Ika as a better pass-rusher than every one of Baylor’s interior defensive linemen AND edge rushers.
Reunited with Aranda, Ika will wreak havoc on Big 12 backfields in no time.
4. DE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
Former SEC team — Georgia
Why he’s poised for success — If you thought that Johnson would emerge from “Last Chance U” and become a star in Kirby Smart’s defense, you weren’t alone. But for the former top JUCO recruit in America, that didn’t happen. Johnson was a fine player with 36 tackles, 8.0 for loss with 7.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries in 2 seasons. But at Georgia, even fine players only get limited reps. In the 7 games that Johnson played last year, he only exceeded 30 snaps on 4 occasions.
At Florida State, Johnson will spend his final year of eligibility trying to beef up his NFL Draft stock. He’ll also try to boost an FSU defense that ranked No. 88 in tackles for loss. Johnson might not have gotten the workload he was looking for in Georgia’s load room of edge rushers, but he did record a sack in each of the final 4 games.
Reports out of Tallahassee suggested that Johnson picked up where he left off. Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis said “Jermaine, he’s a beast. Every single play he is in the backfield, making something happen” (via 247sports). FSU hasn’t had a top-60 defense since 2017, so it needs plenty of guys who can make something happen.
3. WR Mike Woods, Oklahoma
Former SEC team — Arkansas
Why he’s poised for success — In terms of the unique skill set as a superior deep threat, I’d argue that Woods’ absence will be felt more than any SEC transfer who left the conference. Woods was expected to pair extremely well with All-SEC receiver Treylon Burks after both took off in the first year of the post-Chad Morris era. The timing of his departure after the spring game certainly raised some eyebrows, and it raised even more when he announced that he was headed to Norman to play in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
Oklahoma lost Charleston Rambo and casually replaced him with Woods, whom I’d argue is an upgrade. Spencer Rattler will get an experienced downfield threat who showed he can get separation against SEC secondaries. Against Big 12 secondaries? Nobody would be surprised if Woods had himself plenty more success.
Longest touchdown pass for the Hogs since 2012, courtesy Mike Woods. pic.twitter.com/oH2KRdQXF0
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) November 15, 2020
He does have plenty of pass-catchers that he’ll share targets with. Marvin Mims is getting preseason All-America love, Theo Wease was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2020, Jadon Haselwood was the No. 4 overall recruit in 2019 and early enrollee Mario Williams was the No. 4 receiver in the 2021 class.
But Arkansas fans should already be bracing for the likely possibility that Woods hauls in a long touchdown in a Playoff game.
2. CB Tyrique Stevenson, Miami
Former SEC team — Georgia
Why he’s poised for success — The man they called “Tyrique The Freak” was a brutal loss for a Georgia secondary that had massive turnover this offseason. The Miami native returned home despite the fact that if he stayed, he easily would’ve been the Dawgs’ top returning corner. The good news for Georgia is that the guy who played 258 snaps as the slot corner was replaced by West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith. The bad news is that Stevenson likely would’ve lined up on the outside and been the veteran leader of an inexperienced group.
Manny Diaz landed a key addition with next-level recovery speed. Stevenson wasn’t quite on the level of an Eric Stokes or a Tyson Campbell, but the physical tools are certainly there. And it’s not that Miami is lacking in cornerback options. Last year’s starters, Al Blades Jr. and D.J. Ivey, are both back and are expected to push Stevenson to claim the 2 outside corner spots. The Canes return slot corner Te’Cory Couch, as well.
Even if Georgia’s secondary doesn’t wind up being its Achilles’ heel as many expect, it’ll be hard not to look at Stevenson and wonder how Kirby Smart let a proven, talented player with a clear path to playing time slip away.
1. RB Eric Gray, Oklahoma
Former SEC team — Tennessee
Why he’s poised for success — At this time last year, Gray had Tennessee fans more excited than any returning player (we’re excluding Harrison Bailey 15-second throwing videos from that). And like many talented players during the Jeremy Pruitt era, he was limited by a predictable offense that lacked creativity and a passing game. Granted, the guy still averaged 5 yards per carry and he caught 30 passes in 9 games. To gain over 1,000 scrimmage yards in that offense was no small feat.
— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) June 5, 2021
Gray transferred in the wake of the Pruitt fallout, and Oklahoma swooped in and landed a potential Rhamondre Stevenson replacement. T.J. Pledger also transferred to Utah, and third-leading rusher Seth McGowan was kicked off the team after an offseason arrest. That means Gray’s biggest competition for carries is Kennedy Brooks, who opted out of the 2020 season. But even if Brooks returns and looks like the 2-time 1,000-yard rusher he was prior to 2020, there’s still plenty of reason to believe Gray will become a star.
The amount of loaded boxes he’ll see with Rattler at quarterback should few and far between, which will be a massive shift from what he went up against in the SEC at Tennessee. The former Gator Bowl MVP should have running lanes galore. That is, assuming Oklahoma figures out its offensive line after losing Creed Humphrey.
Tennessee fans will groan every time they see a highlight the Memphis native busting loose for a long touchdown run for the Sooners. I can’t say I blame them.