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Transfer Portal 2021: Top 10 Transfers (So Far)

McKenzie Milton, UCF to Florida State

Transfers have long been a factor in college football throughout its history, but never before have we seen so many at such a dizzying rate. The invention of the transfer portal has made it easier than ever before for coaches to identify potential transfers and fill roster holes. Of course it is a double-edged sword, and roster management has become even more difficult and precarious as we push ahead through the 2020-21 off-season. Several big-name players have already hit the transfer portal and more are sure to follow once we hit spring practice and position battles become clearer. In that spirit, I've decided to rank my ten most impactful transfers of the early CFB off-season, while acknowledging this list could certainly change by the time we kick off in late August.

1. McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF to Florida State

It's not too often we see players who once finished in the Top 10 of Heisman voting hit the transfer market, but McKenzie Milton is a fascinating story. Milton burst onto the scene in 2017 under Scott Frost, throwing for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns as part of UCF's "National Championship" team. He was well on his way to another extremely productive campaign in 2018 before a horrifying leg injury in the final game of the year against USF. Milton has since had to go through multiple surgeries that cost him both the 2019 and 2020 football seasons, but he was recently cleared to play for 2021. With Dillon Gabriel well on his way to becoming one of college football's best quarterbacks at UCF, Milton saw the writing on the wall and decided to head elsewhere in the Sunshine State, joining Mike Norvell in Tallahassee. He provides Florida State with star power at quarterback, which they've lacked since Jameis Winston left town, and he does also appear to be a really nice fit in Norvell's offense. The injury concerns and questions about rustiness are valid, but no matter what happens, Milton is an inspiring story. I don't see him putting up Heisman numbers for FSU, but I think he'll immediately become a top-tier QB in the ACC.

2. Arik Gilbert, TE, LSU to TBD

Rated as the best tight end recruit in the history of 247 Sports, Arik Gilbert was a surprise LSU commit, adding to the wave of momentum the Tigers were riding in 2019. With LSU losing so much prior to 2020, it wasn't shocking that Gilbert saw a healthy dosage of snaps as a true freshman, catching 35 passes for 368 yards. Even though he was far from the first option offensively, Gilbert displayed eye-popping athleticism for his position, and already was developing into a matchup nightmare. However, following LSU's blowout loss to Alabama it came out that Gilbert was homesick in Baton Rouge, and looking to opt-out of the rest of 2020 and then transfer. He did just that, providing the portal one of the most talented young tight ends we've ever seen in college football. It's still unclear where he will end up; Georgia is certainly in the mix since he's from Marietta, but Florida and even a return to LSU remain in the hunt. Wherever he ends up will get an elite talent that will help out not just in 2021, but beyond, and likely become a Day One or Day Two NFL Draft selection.

3. Jack Coan, QB, Wisconsin to Notre Dame

Ian Book has finally wrapped up his Notre Dame career after three-plus seasons as starting QB, forcing the Irish to start over at the game's most important position. Without much experience currently on the roster, it wasn't shocking at all to see Brian Kelly dip into the grad transfer market and land a quality signal-caller in former Badger Jack Coan. Coan's career arc is one we see often in modern college football; he was a back-up for much of 2017 and '18 before getting a chance in 2019 and playing really well, hitting 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns. An injury just before the 2020 campaign ended up costing him his starting job, with Graham Mertz asserting himself as the future in Madison. Coan made the expected decision to head elsewhere for his final collegiate season, and Notre Dame is an understandable fit. Not only is he the clear starter right away, but the offensive scheme seems to be a good one for him, even if ND will look to get the ball down the field more in '21. Coan isn't the type of player that will push the Irish over the top as a true National Title contender, but he's a solid get that has ample experience. I actually think he'll enter next fall very underrated, and will be in store for a very productive campaign.

4. Henry To'o To'o, LB, Tennessee to TBD

The firing of Jeremy Pruitt in Knoxville last week opened the flood gates, with a bunch of former Volunteer players deciding to transfer elsewhere. The most significant of them has to be linebacker Henry To'o To'o, a former high-profile recruit who played immediately at Tennessee. To'o To'o started 22 games over the last two seasons in Knoxville, racking up 148 tackles and 15 TFL. He's one of the most skilled linebackers you'll see today in college football, and the type of defender that can fit in nearly any defensive scheme. We still don't know exactly where To'o To'o will end up, but rumors of a Top 4 of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and USC have persisted. USC and other West Coast schools will definitely be in the mix since he is originally from California, but it would also make a lot of sense for the linebacker to remain inside the SEC.

5. Hendon Hooker, QB, Virginia Tech to Tennessee

Hendon Hooker adds to the growing list of Virginia Tech players that have left the program over the last couple seasons under head man Justin Fuente. Hooker took over as starting QB at VT about midway through the 2019 campaign and made an instant impact, leading the Hokies to wins in each of his first six starts. He would wrap up that 2019 season with 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air, while also adding five with his legs. Entering 2020 as the clear-cut starter at QB, Hooker missed time after testing positive for COVID and although he had his moments, he eventually would loss his starting job. Even so, losing Hooker to the portal is a major blow for a VT program that has desperately needed some stability the last few years. Hooker is the type of dynamic dual-threat QB that doesn't come around everyday and while he left something to be desired as a passer, his 65.3% completion percentage is actually a Tech single-season record. He committed to Tennessee prior to the firing of Pruitt, but is expected to follow through on his decision. Hooker will compete with youngster Harrison Bailey for the starting gig, and has the advantage in both experience and playmaking ability.

6. Wan'Dale Robinson, RB/WR, Nebraska to Kentucky

One of the few bright spots on offense the last few seasons for Nebraska has been Wan'Dale Robinson, a do-it-all RB/WR who can be used in a variety of different ways. Robinson made an immediate impact in Lincoln, totaling 793 total yards, while averaging over 21 yards per kick return his debut season. Even during a shortened Big Ten season where a lot went wrong for the Cornhuskers, Robinson had 701 all-purpose yards in 2020 and his 51 receptions by far led the team. His decision to move on and transfer doesn't sound like a personnel issue or any clash with coaches, but instead an urge to return closer to his native Frankfort, KY. Nebraska's loss is a major gain for Kentucky, who really lacked big-play ability on the 2020 roster. Robinson's versatility and unique skillset can be utilized in so many different ways it should be fun to see just how creative new OC Liam Coen ends up being. As of right now, Robinson has not been ruled eligible for the 2021 season but the expectation is that he will get a hardship waiver, meaning we should see Robinson in Kentucky blue this upcoming fall.

7. Eric Gray, RB, Tennessee to TBD

While Henry To'o To'o's departure will greatly impact Tennessee's defense, Eric Gray will be the biggest absence offensively for the Vols. Gray split time with veteran Ty Chandler (who also transferred) in 2019 and still managed to rush for 539 yards and four touchdowns. Going into this past fall, it was becoming clear that Gray was asserting himself as the feature back and he didn't disappoint, leading UT with 772 rushing yards. He appears to only be getting better as he grows and matures, and 2021 could've been a special season for him at Tennessee before the Pruitt news hit. Now he enters the portal with two years of eligibility remaining and over 1,200 rushing yards under his belt. Unsurprisingly, there's plenty of interest already for Gray, and he reportedly visited Texas recently. Any Power Five team looking for some extra help in their backfield should contact him, and '21 could still be the breakout year some were expecting this past fall.

8. Nyles Pinckney, DL, Clemson to Minnesota

Clemson is recruiting defensive line talent at a pretty remarkable rate right now. So well in fact that even proven veterans are losing snaps to the talented young guys, which tends to happen at some of these elite Power Five programs. Nyles Pinckney joins fellow veteran Jordan Williams in the portal, two guys who would start at just about every other program in college football. Pinckney was an All-ACC performer in 2019 but started just two of Clemson's 12 games in 2020 as that youth really began to shine. A South Carolina native, there was an expectation Pinckney might stay in the Southeast but he instead made the surprising decision to head north to Minneapolis and join P.J. Fleck's roster. Simply put, Pinckney is not the type of transfer Minnesota is used to landing; he's not only an All-Conference talent, but he has played in CFB Playoff games, National Championship games, and conference championship games. In addition, Pinckney has held his own playing alongside a host of current and future NFL defenders that includes Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and more. His arrival helps turn a position group that was once considered a weakness for the Gophers, interior D-Line, into a possible strength. 

9. Tyrique Stevenson, DB, Georgia to Miami

Perhaps no program in college football has mined the transfer portal for elite talent quite like Miami has the last couple seasons, and they once again have had a successful off-season doing so in 2020. After landing QB D'Eriq King, edge rusher Jaelen Phillips, and defensive back Bubba Bolden a season ago, Tyrique Stevenson is the major name arriving this season. A South Florida native, Stevenson was a four-star get for Georgia in the 2019 Class and played immediately, even in a defensive backfield loaded with future NFL talent. He had 13 tackles and five pass deflections in 2019 before playing an even larger role this fall, notching 31 total tackles and four pass deflections. Stevenson would've likely been a starting corner going into 2021 for UGA but had been frustrated with the role he was playing in a complex Bulldog defense, contributing to his decision to head farther south. Miami has done a really good job developing defensive backs throughout the past half-decade, and Stevenson should immediately get playing time, assuming he is ruled eligible. 

10. Ryan Hilinski, QB, South Carolina to Northwestern

For the third straight off-season, Northwestern has landed a notable transfer quarterback, following the footsteps of Hunter Johnson in 2018 and Peyton Ramsey in 2019. Ryan Hilinski comes from South Carolina as a significantly different QB than the two that arrived before him, a former four-star prospect out of California. He was a pretty notable addition for the Gamecocks and made a quick impact, stepping in for an injured Jake Bentley and throwing for 11 touchdowns in the brutal SEC. Hilinski was so effective that Bentley was forced to transfer, ending up in Utah for 2020 (he has since transferred to South Alabama). Unfortunately for Hilinski, new South Carolina OC Mike Bobo brought a veteran QB from his previous gig at Colorado State with him in Colin Hill, while true freshman Luke Doty also crowded the quarterback room. Despite being a talented young QB, Hilinski ended up taking just six total snaps in 2020 as the Gamecocks plummeted to the bottom of the SEC. The decision to transfer was not surprising, but how will he translate to the Big Ten West? Hunter Johnson and Peyton Ramsey had radically different results in their first years in Evanston. Johnson started just one game and really struggled as part of the 3-9 2019 team, while Ramsey helped lead Northwestern to a division title and Citrus Bowl victory. First Hilinski has to win the job, which means holding off Johnson and Andrew Marty.

Other Names to Watch

Wanya Morris, OT, Tennessee to Oklahoma -- Another former Vol to hit the portal, Wanya Morris is a former five-star recruit who made 19 starts in his two years in Knoxville.

Jafar Armstrong, RB/WR, Notre Dame to Illinois -- Bret Bielema's first notable transfer get is Armstrong, who had 383 yards rushing in 2018 but saw his role diminished the past two seasons.

Charleston Rambo, WR, Oklahoma to Miami (FL) -- After gaining 743 yards in 2019, Rambo looked ready to become the go-to guy in Norman. He was good enough, with 25 catches for 312 yards, but will get a much-needed change of scenery in Coral Gables.

Big Kat Bryant, DL, Auburn to Tennessee -- Not only a great name, but 10 career sacks over a four-year span. He will meet up with former Auburn DC Kevin Steele at Tennessee.

Xavion Alford, S, Texas to USC -- One of the higher-rated safeties of the 2020 cycle, Xavion Alford is inexperienced but awfully talented. His move to USC appears to be primarily because of his prior relationship with former Texas assistants Todd Orlando and Craig Naivar. 

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan to TBD -- Charbonnet burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2019 for Michigan, rushing for 726 yards and 11 scores. But, he was passed up on the depth chart in 2020. He's certainly still talented to land, and play, at a Power Five program. 

Jarrett Guarantano, QB, Tennessee to Washington State -- Four seasons with Tennessee and Jarrett Guarantano just never made the big jump everyone was hoping for. He heads to the Pacific Northwest, in an offense that might cater to his strengths a bit more.

Mike Jones Jr., LB, Clemson to TBD -- One of the most recent players to enter the portal, Mikes Jones Jr. was a surprise. He started seven games in 2020 and was projected to start again in '21 but enters the portal as a grad transfer.

Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, DB/LB, Florida State to Boston College -- Another former high-profile recruit, Lars-Woodbey was a Freshman All-American in 2018 but dealt with injuries each of the past two years. He joins a Boston College secondary that has really improved over the last few months.

Bailey Zappe, QB, Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky -- A dark horse name to keep an eye on. In just four games with Houston Baptist in 2020 Zappe finished with 1,883 yards and 15 touchdowns. Prior to that, he was a Walter Payton Award finalist in 2019 with an FCS-leading 35 touchdowns. He arrives at WKU with OC Zach Kittley, who held the same job at HBU.

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