Ranking the top 10 quarterbacks available in the transfer portal (so far)
If you’re a team in need of a quarterback, well, you’re in luck. The transfer portal has whatever you might need.
Need the multi-year starter who is in search of a new home after his offensive coordinator bolted? The portal has that. Need a veteran who might’ve been put in the wrong system and just needs a new opportunity? The portal has that, too. Need a small-school guy who just wants to play at a high-profile program and improve his draft stock? Yep. Portal’s got it.
We had some major household names hit the portal as soon as it opened up, and we’ll inevitably have more quarterbacks join the fray soon.
So remember that this ranking of the top quarterbacks available is extremely fluid (I’m compiling it the morning of Dec. 6) and certain to grow:
10. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Mertz was never going to get Russell Wilson-like freedom to be a high-volume passer at Wisconsin, but it was frustrating to watch his lack of development in 4 years with Paul Chryst, 3 of which were as the Badgers’ starter. He’s an interesting former blue-chip recruit to take a chance on because the U.S. Army All-American Bowl MVP didn’t go to a quarterback-friendly system, and in that all-important Year 2, he had the COVID season. Mertz might have too many bad habits to correct heading into Year 5, but he’s bound to end up at a Power 5 program with how many recruiting suitors he had.
9. Haynes King, Texas A&M
There are a lot of similarities between King and the aforementioned Mertz, at least in terms of their frustrating starts. Both went to places where the systems felt a bit dated, and they weren’t really set up for high-volume success. Year 2 setbacks hurt Mertz and King, albeit for different reasons. King’s broken foot in Year 2 and awful Appalachian State showing in Year 3 were the lowlights. The question is what does he look like away from Jimbo Fisher’s offense? The physical tools are there as a true dual-threat guy, but the downfield accuracy is an issue. It’d be fun to see King play in a more simplified system with some of those Baylor concepts.
8. Kedon Slovis (Pitt) & JT Daniels (West Virginia)
Yeah, I figured I’d let the former USC quarterbacks who faced off in the Backyard Brawl share a spot. Why? Because I can.
Once upon a time, Slovis was expected to be one of the top returning signal-callers in the sport. Many expected him to be off to the NFL by now. Instead, the former USC and Pitt quarterback going to his third school in as many years. He’s another case of a guy who probably could’ve benefited from a normal Year 2 instead of the COVID year. But either way, he regressed each year since his 30-touchdown true freshman season in 2019. The turnovers and lack of mobility have been an issue. Slovis needs weapons, and if he could go to a situation like what Jayden Daniels stepped into at LSU, obviously his chances of an NFL future would look much more promising.
As for Daniels, I don’t have a ton of hope that his 4th school will be where he figures it out, but it’s hard to quit someone who was a preseason All-SEC selection at Georgia in 2021. He was considered the guy until he got hurt and gave way to Stetson Bennett IV. I don’t know that we can assume a 4th Power 5 school will be in the cards. Injuries certainly hurt his development. Maybe a high-profile passing offense with a massively high floor like Western Kentucky could make sense for the well-traveled former 5-star quarterback (more on why that’s the case a little later).
7. Hudson Card, Texas
Card was a missed field goal from leading Texas to a win against Alabama. Think about that. I wonder how different the conversation would be if he had pulled off that feat in relief of an injured Quinn Ewers. The problem was that Steve Sarkisian’s first QB1 probably wasn’t ready to step into that role behind a struggling offensive line in 2021, and when Ewers came on board in 2022, well, Card’s days were numbered. But a tough, Year 4 guy who learned the position from one of the elite offensive minds in the sport should have plenty of potential suitors. Oregon or TCU could be nice fits for the Austin native if their signal-callers both leave for the NFL, but if Card chooses a Group of 5 option, a reunion with Tom Herman at FAU would make a lot of sense.
6. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
What a brutal 2022 it was for Armstrong. A new offense did him no favors. Maybe like fellow mobile southpaw Michael Penix, Armstrong is in need of a reunion with his former offensive play-callers, who are at Syracuse. That’s complicated by the fact that incumbent starter Garrett Shrader is returning for another year. Armstrong has been linked to Cincinnati, where he could play for Scott Satterfield, who saw plenty of him in the ACC. Someone who has over 9,000 career passing yards at the Power 5 level should find a home, but clearly, system is a major factor to determine his upside.
5. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson
This is complicated because I think Uiagalelei’s career could’ve been different had his 2021 season not started against that Georgia defense. Even in an improved 2022 season after failing to crack the top 100 in quarterback rating last year, Uiagalelei was seen as the guy who held Clemson back. It might’ve simply been that he wasn’t ever going to be a Trevor Lawrence or a Deshaun Watson, despite what that 2020 Notre Dame game told us. Uiagalelei needs to go somewhere with an elite offensive mind who can slow the game down for him. Might that be a team back home in California like UCLA? Or maybe Arizona State would be a nice landing spot to get a fresh start with respected offensive mind Kenny Dillingham. It’s clear that a Power 5 team will want a shot at rebuilding the former preseason Heisman contender.
4. Drew Pyne, Notre Dame
Pyne wasn’t going to be the guy Marcus Freeman built around, so he is pursuing an opportunity to thrive elsewhere. That’s rare for someone who finished with a 22-6 TD-INT ratio and was No. 21 in FBS in quarterback rating. But the inconsistency ultimately led to him not being the quarterback of the future. It’s possible that Pyne could return to the Northeast and replace former Notre Dame and Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec at BC after he transferred to Pitt. Pyne had national interest as a 4-star recruit in the 2020 class, so perhaps this won’t be a geographic decision. Pyne was respected within that locker room and should have a chance to be an immediate Power 5 starter elsewhere.
3. Austin Reed, Western Kentucky
Reed is a fascinating potential option for a Power 5 program. In Tyson Helton’s offense, he finished No. 2 in FBS in passing yards and No. 4 in passing touchdowns. The former Division II national champ (West Florida) would be a great fit at a place like Purdue or UNC if Drake Maye were to enter the portal. He’d be an intriguing option for a Power 5 program who runs an up-tempo, high-volume passing offense. As much as I’d love to see Reed end up at a place like Tennessee, I can’t imagine him going to a place to battle someone more familiar with the system like Joe Milton. Depending on who Kentucky hires as its offensive coordinator, that could make a lot of sense for Reed to potentially make an intra-state move, especially with the talent returning at receiver.
2. Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State
Welcome to 2022, wherein a 4-year Power 5 starter transferring isn’t some stunning revelation. That’s Sanders, who ran Mike Gundy’s offense successfully while he was in Stillwater. A former Fiesta Bowl MVP and All-Big 12 quarterback couldn’t stay healthy down the stretch in 2022, but when he’s at his best, he’s one of the country’s better signal-callers. Could he be a fit at a place like Florida or TCU if Max Duggan is off to the NFL? Absolutely. Maybe even Mizzou could be an option with some promising returning receivers. But I’m guessing Sanders has his sights playing on a high-profile program instead of returning for Year 5 at Oklahoma State.
1. Devin Leary, NC State
It’s too bad that Leary couldn’t stay healthy in 2022 because he had a chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country (again) before heading off to the NFL. Instead, he suffered a season-ending pec injury and he watched offensive coordinator Tim Beck leave for Coastal Carolina. Leary deserves to be the top target of any team in need of a quarterback. He throws a pretty ball, and while he might not be a high-end NFL prospect, you can absolutely build an offense around him. Alabama would be fascinating because he’s got a much different skill set than Jalen Milroe, who still has to develop his pocket presence to complement his elite mobility. If Bo Nix leaves for the NFL, Oregon could be in play or perhaps Leary will replace the aforementioned Pyne at Notre Dame.
Whatever the case, Leary is QB1 in the portal. So far.