The age of the transfer portal is a wild west of second-level recruiting.
As Lane Kiffin begins his first new year atop the Ole Miss program, he inherits a roster with an abundance of talent at the offensive skill positions and a lot of youth across the board. However, due to a compounding lack of holistic recruiting, there are holes on both sides of the ball and an absence in experienced leadership at crucial positions.
The expectation is that Kiffin and Ole Miss will not finish with a recruiting class that makes a massive splash in February, and that is okay. This is where the two-year-old transfer wrinkle comes into play. With a new semblance and a brilliant staff coming together, the draw to suit up in red and blue is real, and Kiffin has expressed his desire to explore all of the options available to him.
“We’ll look at everything,” Kiffin said. “College football now from a head coaching perspective is a lot more like the NFL, managing roster. It’s like in the NFL, you’ve got the draft, you have young free agents, old veteran free agents, your own guys, restricted free agents. Now college has become like that, because you’ve got high school kids, junior college kids, four-year transfer kids and grad transfer kids. You really have to manage the roster. There are all these great grad transfers out there, but you’re using an initial scholarship for one year. You’re putting a lot of money into a veteran who you only have for one year. You have to do a really good job of managing it. We’ll look at all aspects to improve our team.”
In some ways, Ole Miss already won the transfer market, with Miles Battle, Demarcus Gregory and Grant Tisdale returning from their time in the portal, and Chandler Tuitt and Carter Colquitt choosing to stay after hinting at their departures. When you look at the final recruiting class and it’s rankings you have to take the former three-star offensive linemen, four-star quarterback, and four-star receivers staying in Oxford into consideration. So when the class is final, do not panic, and do not take away the joy from one of the biggest days in the new signees’ lives.
Instead, look at the net talent and the raw potential, begin to build the puzzle of who might fit where, and look at the transfer portal to complete the image. The holes in the immediate roster are primarily on defense but span to both sides of the ball. When it’s all said and done, Kiffin could bring in as many as four or five transfers, or none at all. Though, it is likely that at least one transfer-eligible player will rep the set in 2020.
Let’s take a look at some of the names that are out there:
The biggest area in need of replenish is on the defensive line. With Benito Jones, Austrian Robinson and Josiah Coatney moving on, and no clear depth to step up, there is a void that Kiffin has voiced will be among his priorities to fill.
“(Defensive line) is (important) for sure. There are some really good ones left out there. That will be a very big emphasis finishing the class off,” Kiffin said.
As it would appear, he has already begun to explore options for his new defensive coordinators Chris Partridge and D.J. Durkin.
Quincy Roche (WDE) — Temple
When a player enters the transfer portal, schools and coaches are able to make immediate contact without regulation. That seems to be the case with defensive end Quincy Roche, who recently entered the portal and had a few of the Ole Miss coaching staff follow him on social media shortly thereafter.
Roche, a graduate transfer from Temple, is a stud. Immediately eligible for whichever team he chooses to finish out his college career, the 6’4, 235-pound former three-star recruit has far outplayed his high school rank (stars are subjective) and is coming off of a big year with the Owls.
If you don’t know who Quincy Roche is, you really need to check him out.— John Vogel (@johndavogel) November 17, 2019
Temple EDGE guy, projects well to a 3-4 OLB. Reminds me a LOT of Khalil Mack coming out of school. Redshirt-Junior right now. pic.twitter.com/SvrdQm6Bh6
An NFL pass-rusher in stature and physicality, Roche was the 2019 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and recorded 13 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 49 tackles and two forced fumbles. As (probably) the best player in the portal, he will be courted by many of the top schools in the nation, including Miami, where Roche has a preexisting relationship with head coach Manny Diaz after his momentary stint as head coach at Temple. However, there is no doubt that Ole Miss is among the legitimate contenders and would be a massive ‘get’ to step into the starting-11 immediately.
Beyond the newly-admitted high-profile transfer, the defensive line help available remains at a premium, but meets the demand with supply.
Isaiah Chambers (SDE) — Houston
Staying on the edge, Isaiah Chambers is another name of interest as another graduate transfer with immediate eligibility. The former TCU and Houston defensive end will hope that his third school in five years is a charm, and has ties to Ole Miss’ new special teams coordinator Blake Gideon. At 6’5, 265-pounds, he could be a plug-and-play on Partridge and Durkin’s defense, particularly on third downs.
One of the few times Alan Bowman held on to the ball - Isaiah Chambers records fourth sack of season pic.twitter.com/3MXM4gRzEK— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) September 17, 2018
Though he is not necessarily a statistical standout, and has struggled with both injuries and finding the right fit, should the former four-star from Texas choose to move out-of-state for the final chapter of his career, his physicality would be a profound addition in Oxford.
Jovan Swann (DT) — Stanford
Graduate transfer Jovan Swann leaves the Stanford defensive line as a former All-Pac-12 honorable mention, and with immediate eligibility. Having played primarily at the four technique in Palo Alto, he played inside in certain scenarios, and spent his high school career at the nose. In an Ole Miss defense under new leadership without an abundance of top-tier talent, there is to be a presumptive shuffling of personnel. Should that be the case, Swann’s versatility is an asset, especially as one of those guys whose presence may be lesser felt in numbers, but more in the ability to create chaos and make plays.
My man Jovan Swann getting some huge love this morning on Sportscenter. I had to trim the video a few seconds and cut out what they said at the end, “Plus he has a cool name.” Can’t wait to watch him tear things up again in the PAC-12 this year! @_jswann @CGTrojanFootbal pic.twitter.com/YJg6456wkS— Jason Mueller (@VoiceOfTrojans) August 21, 2019
Despite a down year for the Cardinal program as a whole, Swann finished the 2019 season with 31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Two of those sacks came against California Berkeley, a team that Ole Miss lost to at home.
Assuming that Kiffin will prioritize transfers with the ability to play right away, keep an eye on the ‘Harvard of the West’ graduate to be a top target for the ‘Harvard of the South’ as the recruiting period continues.
Michael Thompson (DT) — Oklahoma
Moving inside, replacing the production of Jones at interior lineman in 2020 will be a tall task. Fortunately, there is viable talent at the position in need of a new home.
Defensive tackle Michael Thompson signed with Oklahoma as a defensive tackle, but suffered a torn ACL and redshirted in 2018. Lincoln Riley and staff attempted to move him to the offensive side of the ball this past spring, but despite progress, the transition didn’t work out.
Thompson, a four-star from Saint Louis, is a 6’3, 291-pound presence that could return to the zero, one, or two technique spot at Ole Miss. It will be a relearning curve of sorts, and his immediate eligibility would require the NCAA board’s approval, but the raw talent ceiling is one worth exploring.
Issac Walker (DT) — UCF
Isaac (Ike) Walker, a former three-star recruit from Gainesville, Florida, is a big dude. Though the scheme that Durkin and Partridge plan to run is unknown, having a 6’4, 350-pound defensive tackle can never be a bad thing. Walker, who enters the portal by way of UCF, has size that could likely translate to the SEC in the right system, under the right guidance.
While Walker did not see action with the Knights, he racked up 106 total tackles as a three-year starter in high school, and was ranked as high as the No. 48 defensive tackle in the nation. Whether he will have to sit out a year or not is to be decided, but Kiffin could take a look at Walker as a late addition to help round out his class.
Brant Lawless-Sherrill (DT)** — North Carolina
Another intriguing name, true freshman and Nashville native Brant Lawless-Sherrill has had a tumultuous time finding the right program, with stops at Tennessee and North Carolina. The 6’1, 290-pound defensive tackle was the 2017 Tennessee Mr. Football Award winner and has received praise from his coaches and offensive line in Chapel Hill. The plus-side with Lawless-Sherrill is his three years of eligibility and untapped potential, but the caveat is a cloudy transfer status.
**Because of his stint with Rocky Top, he likely will not be able to jump within the SEC.
Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin never quite reached the level of their predecessors at Ole Miss, but their departure leaves a significant unknown as to who might step into the tight end position. As an offensive-mind, Kiffin’s reliance on the position at FAU led Harrison Bryant to lead the team in receiving, and be named the nation’s top tight end. The Rebels do not have a clear-cut replacement or incoming freshman to replace the graduating seniors, and to imagine that a transfer that can play in 2020 could fit nicely is very realistic.
Anthony Roberson (Receiving) — UCF
Should Kiffin and Jeff Lebby pursue a transfer tight end, this seems like a no-brainer. Anthony Roberson, who stands 6’5, 240-pounds, played three years at UCF, where Lebby was the former offensive coordinator, and is followed on Twitter by Ole Miss running backs coach Kevin Smith.
Although he was primarily featured on special teams in Orlando, he has significant size and is faster than one might expect. Having played wide receiver in high school, he could be featured off the tackle, or pushed out to toward the numbers. Kiffin often uses his tight ends in the slot or as a third receiver, and it is very possible that Roberson is the next in line.
Carl Tucker (Blocking) — North Carolina
Having spent his first three years of eligibility in Chapel Hill, Carl Tucker made a significant contribution for the Tarheels with 17 starts under his belt. The 6’2, 248-pound graduate transfer is the only other tight end in the transfer portal with the ability to play upon arrival at his new school. Tucker’s best season came in 2018 when he secured 16 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns, and though he is not the type to be split out with frequency, he is a good blocker and could do a solid job holding down the position.
Ole Miss was tasked with replacing NFL talent Javon Patterson and Greg Little, as well as tenured center Sean Rawlings on the offensive line in 2019. As a result, a young group of underclassmen were thrust into the mix, and did an okay job holding down the fort. Even with Colquitt and Tuitt staying put, the line needs help, and veteran experience is few and far between. It may not be the top priority on Kiffin’s radar, but securing a transfer at the position might help with a real lack of depth.
Terrance Davis (OG) — Maryland
Terrance Davis, a 6’4, 305-pound guard, was a four-year starter at Maryland and played in 37 games as a Terp. After struggling with injuries throughout his senior season, Davis shut down his season after a sprained MCL, early enough to retain his redshirt status and will be instantly eligible as a graduate transfer. He is arguably the top non-skill position player in the transfer portal, and will be a massive get for whichever team gets him to sign the dotted line. As a junior he helped block for the 17th best rushing offense in the country and third best in the Big Ten, and in his four games as a senior, he blocked for a team that scored 142 points in first two games of season and had two 100-yard rushing games.
Davis was a monster in high school, and has only matured along the way. As a proven veteran in a Power-5 conference, he is being recruited by many of the top programs around the country. What makes his courtship interesting to Ole Miss is his ties to Durkin, who served as Davis’ top recruiter as the head coach of Maryland. Durkin landed him once, and there is a distinct possibility that he could go after him again.
Liam Smith (C) — Duke
Eli Johnson will be a senior for Ole Miss this year, and has the starting center spot locked up. He struggled with ankle injuries in 2019, but will presumably be at full strength next season. However, the depth behind him is unsure. And beyond that, there is uncertainty to either side at guard. Former three/four-star Liam Smith could sure-up all of the unknowns with his versatility.
Having played up and down the offensive line at Duke, the 6-foot-4, 270 pound former Blue Devil moved south by way of New Jersey, where Partridge is known to have a recruiting pipeline in the state. More than likely, Smith will head to a program that can offer him proper playing time, and if Ole Miss pursues an offensive lineman, it will be someone who can step in right away while the younger guys continue to learn and develop. But if he chooses to remain at a reserve role, Smith could be a great candidate to come in and provide solid depth at just about any spot on the line.
Best of the Rest
Ole Miss’ offensive weapons are locked in, and the primary needs come in the trenches. Still, missing on four-star safety Eric Reed, who decommitted from Ole Miss and signed with Auburn in December, was disappointing for a defensive back group that has a lot of turnover and youth. And years of misses at linebacker leaves a lot to be desired on the second level. Perhaps Kiffin could get after a couple of hard-hitters beyond the line.
Christian Bell (OLB) — Wisconsin
Christian Bell is a 6’4, 246-pound linebacker from Hoover, Alabama. Having transferred to Wisconsin after a quick stop in Tuscaloosa, Bell has SEC-level physicality and played a prominent role in the Badgers’ depth in 2019. Having recorded four tackles and a sack in seven games last season, his immediate eligibility (depending on SEC regulation) and ties to the south could be of interest for Durkin and Partridge as they take a long look at 2020.
Andrew Pryts (ILB/S) — Stanford
Recruited out of high school as a safety, Andrew Pryts has played inside linebacker for Stanford over the last couple of seasons. He started all 12 games in 2019 and led them with a team high 72 tackles. The 6’1, 225-pounder recorded a career-high 10 tackles against California, and could play in the same linebacker role for Ole Miss. He also could be asked to move back to a strong safety position, where he could crush anyone over the middle like Cody Prewitt did for the Landshark defense of old.
There is no telling whether Kiffin and his new staff will sign anyone from the portal to fill out the 2020 roster, but there is certainly a large talent pool to pull from should he choose to do so. Expect one or two of these transfer players to end up in Oxford next season.