Folks, college football season is almost here. With a rapidly approaching Week 0 lingering in the foreground, here are a few of my most important transfer portal additions from this spring. College football’s de facto system of free agency and the open signing window, the portal has ushered in a brand new way of recruiting from your blueblood Power Fives to your mid-majors and programs in-between.
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
From the days of Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram, and Trent Richardson to Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, and, most recently, Brian Robinson Jr.—among others—the pipeline of backfield talent in Tuscaloosa has continued to serve as an NFL assembly line for some time. A transfer from Georgia Tech, it won’t take long for Gibbs to become a household name. If you followed college football in any capacity last fall, you already know who he is. While his numbers at Georgia Tech won’t blow you away, he was a one-man show—one on 11, if you will—at times for the Yellow Jackets during the last two seasons. Once teams were able to limit Gibbs, the Georgia Tech offense faltered, as exemplified by their three-win campaigns in consecutive years. However, with his days in the ACC now in the past, the first glimpse of Gibbs donning Alabama threads showcased a highlight-reel type of athlete with the ability to take it the distance on every touch.
While Saban often enjoys the luxury of recruiting four- and five-star recruits every single year, and Alabama’s backfield touted highly praised prep talent heading into the spring, they lacked experience after the departure of Robinson, which made Gibbs the ideal puzzle piece to add via the transfer portal. A true three-down back whose burst is often the first topic of conversation when discussing his game, Gibbs is a ground-and-pound style of ball carrier who can run through, around, and over defenders. Where Gibbs separates himself is in the passing game, where his receiving ability not only has NFL scouts drooling over his potential not only on Sundays but what he can do this season alongside 2021 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Anything less than Biletnikoff-Award-hype, video-game-like receiving numbers, and Heisman hype could be considered a disappointment for the Trojans’ newest transfer in Addison. A prospect whose skill set already has NFL talent evaluators drooling, college football’s top wideout in 2021 has even loftier expectations for his junior campaign.
Following a freshman season in 2020 that saw Addison lead Pittsburgh in receiving yards, his 2021 campaign quickly saw his game—and draft stock—enter warp speed as one of the country’s elite perimeter weapons. Working in tandem with Heisman semifinalist and Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett, it didn’t matter how defenses attempted to counter the versatile pass-catcher, he often found himself in open grass despite facing bracketed defenders and the occasional triple team on his way to 1,593 yards last fall.
What makes his projection so exciting, however, is the talent now around him in Los Angeles. While it’s not a knock on Pitt, Addison will quickly realize he’s not the only one that can put up numbers. He’ll find Mario Williams, a former five-star talent who transferred from Oklahoma, and Gary Bryant Jr, a potential breakout star on the outside. In the backfield, former Oregon standout Travis Dye will lead the charge on the ground after totaling over 3,000 yards in four seasons for the Ducks. And then, of course, there’s quarterback Caleb Williams (also a transfer from the Sooners), as the sparkling new Ferrari under center for head coach Lincoln Riley, who will be tasked with feeding the aforementioned pass-catchers.
In fact, as good as Addison was with Pickett and as good as Williams was at Oklahoma last fall, he and Williams could evolve into the country’s most dominant tandem, though Ohio State’s connection of C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba could have something to say about it. For Trojan faithful, get your popcorn ready. For opposing coordinators, grab your Advil.
With a resounding voice leading the charge in Riley, and Addison now in the fold to headline a group of skill players as good as any in the country, USC is back. And it won’t take long for the cardinal and gold to assert themselves as one of the top programs in the land.
Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas
A former five-star talent, Ewers enters the fray as a captain that will be tasked with leading one of the Big 12’s most prolific offenses this fall. A transfer from Ohio State after sitting a season behind Stroud, Ewers has everything to gain working under Sarkisian. A native of Southlake, Texas, he’s bled burnt orange since birth despite his prior commitment and if you ask him, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I didn’t just choose to go anywhere,” Ewers said. “I chose a program I truly believe in. I chose to come home.”
Quinn Ewers should have teams at his feet for his services. Top-tier arm with easy gas. pic.twitter.com/uQ5zetKovK
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) December 4, 2021
A potential high-level draft selection if all comes to fruition down the road, Ewers’ big-time game and persona are fit for the likes of stage and screen and he should have no trouble with the bright Texas spotlight.
Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss
Evans has a lot to prove to me—but man, he is so doggone talented. A highly-recruited prep prospect, Evans’ game—and draft stock—should skyrocket this fall working within head coach Lane Kiffin’s playmaker-friendly offense. A five-star prospect out of high school with the ability to do it all, having a high-impact 2022 campaign should place Evans firmly in the conversation to be no lower than an early-day-two selection. The reins placed on him at TCU are no longer there and he has the chance to put up gaudy numbers for the Rebels in the coming months.
Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State
College football, welcome your new Air Raid overlord. As quickly as Washington State faithful saw former gun-slinger Jayden De Laura depart for greener pastures in the form of the University of Arizona (we’ll get to him later), Ward’s skill set has quickly garnered national attention—and rightly so. A highly sought-after transfer from Incarnate Word, an FCS program that calls the Southland Conference home, Ward has all the tools in his ever-growing bag to become one of CFB’s biggest risers moving into the summer, toward future campaigns, and, eventually, the NFL draft circuit.
A true junior in 2022, Ward was nothing short of spectacular captaining the Cardinals’ offense last fall. Winner of his conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award, Ward was also selected as an FCS All-American (second team) and was additionally named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, an honor annually given to the most outstanding offensive player in FCS football. Building off of what was a dominant freshman campaign for UIW—in which Ward was named the Jerry Rice Most Outstanding Freshman in the FCS—Ward’s second season under Eric Morris (more on him later) saw his game blossom to produce among the gaudiest numbers of any quarterback in the country.
A relatively unknown prospect out of West Columbia, Texas who received just one other Division I offer (Texas Southern) out of high school, Ward threw for 4,648 yards and completed 384 of 590 passes (65%) with 47 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions in 13 games last fall. He set single-game program records in passing touchdowns (7) and passing yards (610), and eclipsed school career records in passing touchdowns (71) and yards (6,908)… in just two seasons at the helm. A talent that brings everything to the table that scouts fundamentally desire under center (ideal size, big arm, ability to maneuver and deliver outside the pocket accurately), his relationship and rapport with Morris, who will follow his quarterback to Washington State as the Cougars’ new offensive coordinator, has introduced Ward as one of the more intriguing stories heading into the regular season.
While his success at Incarnate Word mostly saw him stand tall and deliver as a true pocket passer, his impressive dual-threat ability shown when provided the opportunity to work on RPOs and on designed bootlegs really begins to widen the frame on the type of talent Ward could become when inserted into the Cougars’ high-octane attack. An offensive scheme that is built around fundamental principles of the Air Raid offense, while Morris will surely use concepts that Ward was familiar with in his days at UIW, deploying a player framed within an impressive 6-foot-3 mold to captain the ship should see Washington State reap the reward of a passer only now coming into his own as a leader of an offense.
Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
One of many Nick Saban’s additions that you’ll find on this list, Ricks could be the top corner in the 2023 class when things are all set and done. A long, physical corner whose fluid lower half allows him to mirror any opposing skill set, he’ll anchor what will be one of the country’s most intimidating secondary units.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC
A dynamic dual-threat talent, Williams touts one of the most intriguing games of any signal-caller in the country. After out-playing Spencer Rattler for the starting gig in Norman last fall as a true freshman, Williams followed Lincoln Riley to Southern California where he should have no issues in picking up right where he left off.
Ochaun Mathis, EDGE, Nebraska
A transfer from TCU, Mathis will be an interesting study all year long. A high-impact edge talent with a “first off the bus” type of physical frame, his burst can be overwhelming at times for opposing linemen. A nuanced pass-rusher that can win both with athletic intangibles and as a refined sack artist with a detailed plan of action, Mathis will only improve as he earns more snaps for the Cornhuskers this fall.
Victor Oluwatimi, IOL, Michigan
Oluwatimi was the top-graded interior offensive line transfer according to 247 Sports’ rankings. It’s no secret the Wolverines make their money in the ground game and Oluwatimi’s game should slot in seamlessly into Jim Harbaugh’s gameplan. A guard-center versatile talent, his addition will go overlooked in comparison to the high-flying skill positions on this list, but he will have a massive impact if Michigan looks to capture lighting in a bottle twice and qualify for the College Football Playoff once again.
Tyler Harrell, WR, Alabama
Following the losses of Jameson Williams, John Metchie III, and Slade Bolden, Alabama has had no issue in replacing its trio of former perimeter standouts this spring. A program that rejuvenates talent like no other in college football, the Crimson Tide’s newest face on the outside could be one of their most dynamic weapons in 2022. When it comes to Harrell, the Louisville transfer, don’t blink.
A four-year member of the Cardinals before committing to Nick Saban’s Tide this spring, Harrell provides one of the most unique skill sets of any wideout in the country. A track star that has since turned his spikes in for football cleats, his gaudy 29.06 yards per reception will immediately provide Alabama with a true burner to complement their deep rotation of pass-catchers this fall.
Within an offense that includes fellow portal adds in wide receiver Jermaine Burton (Georgia), offensive tackle Tyler Steen (Vanderbilt), and the aforementioned ball-carrier in Gibbs, Harrell will look to become a featured target in the high-flying Alabama offense.
Tanner McCalister, CB, Ohio State
Following a down year for Buckeyes defensive backs, McCallister will slide into the nickel spot to shore up what is expected to be a national-title-contending group. Following the hiring of Jim Knowles away from Oklahoma State to become the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, McCalister should produce right away working under the tutelage of a familiar face in a new place.
Antwane Wells, WR, South Carolina
SEC fans will quickly learn Wells’ name. A dominant force at FCS James Madison where he totaled 1,250 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns, both single-season school records, Wells received a ton of work with Rattler this spring and should have a massive perimeter workload for the revamped Gamecocks this fall.
Jayden de Laura, QB, Arizona
The former Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, de Laura entered the portal after throwing for 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore last fall. Although the Wildcats have won just one game combined over the last two college football seasons, he’ll sling it around a bunch to UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing and give Arizona a fighter’s chance in each game.
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