Saturday, May 25, 2024

Best college football transfer portal fits: Colorado adds star EDGE, Ole Miss lands stud RB in spring window

Though the spring college football transfer portal window hasn’t produced the fireworks that some expected, a significant number of talented players have changed roster affiliations since it opened on April 16. The weekend, in particular, was quite busy. As has become the norm under Deion Sanders, Colorado had a jam-packed couple of days filled with visits that produced a string of commitments. The Buffaloes added three key trench players — two on the defensive line and one on the offensive line. This after a week that saw more than 15 players officially depart the program. 

Schools like Auburn, Texas A&M and North Carolina also tallied significant additions over the weekend, putting an exclamation mark on the first week of the second transfer period. 

Not all transfer acquisitions are equal, though. Some stand apart from others, whether it be a team addressing a significant area of need or adding a player that blends perfectly with the scheme in place. Now that the dust has settled from a busy few days, it felt appropriate to look at the best transfer fits of the spring window thus far. Player rankings are according to 247Sports’ transfer portal rankings. 

Dayon Hayes, EDGE, Colorado 

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 30 DL

For those who didn’t tune into Deion Sanders’ first year, Colorado’s defense was pretty bad. The Buffaloes finished in the bottom third of the Pac-12 in pretty much every major defensive metric, allowing 453 yards per game. In particular, the defensive line was a huge issue. Opponents pushed Colorado around at the point of attack. The Buffs also lacked disruptive trench options, which allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick apart a rather talented secondary. Hayes immediately solves that problem and boosts the profile of Colorado’s defensive line. 

The latest in a long line of productive pass rushers from Pittsburgh, Hayes entered the transfer portal after leading the Panthers with 10.5 tackles for loss. He also finished second on the team with four sacks. Those numbers would both rank first among returning Colorado defensive linemen. He should pair with former Pitt teammate Samuel Okunlola — who transferred to the Buffalos in the winter window — to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. 

Jacory Croskey-Merritt, RB, Ole Miss

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 27 RB

Ole Miss has been hard at work trying to replace bell-cow back Quinshon Judkins, who transferred to Ohio State in January. Though Croskey-Merritt, who initially committed to Arizona in the portal before flipping to Ole Miss, is capable of handling a large workload (he logged 189 carries with New Mexico in 2023) the Rebels are likely to take a “by committee” approach to the backfield. That works just fine for Croskey-Merritt, who rushed for 1,190 yards and 17 touchdowns (third-most in a single season in program history) in a feature role for the Lobos last season. Croskey-Merritt’s shifty running style is a perfect fit for Ole Miss’ up-tempo spread offense. He and returning contributor Ulysses Bentley IV are a great start as the Rebels attempt to rebuild their backfield. 

Branson Hickman, OL, Oklahoma

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 11 IOL

Offensive line has been a point of emphasis for the Sooners this offseason. They have to replace five players with starting experience entering their first year as an SEC program, which is less than ideal during such a monumental transition. That includes starting center Andrew Raym, who’s off to the NFL. Appalachian State transfer Troy Everett was his expected replacement, but he suffered a knee injury in the spring that’s expected to sideline him well into fall camp. So this addition is a blessing not only for a position of need but for the offensive line as a whole. Hickman started 33 games at center for SMU over a three-year span, establishing himself as an intelligent leader with the ability to read defenses and shift protection as necessary. Adding that kind of experience to a green Oklahoma offensive line makes Hickman an absolute gem for coach Brent Venables and his staff. 

Damien Alford, WR, Utah 

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 103 WR

The 6-foot-6 Alford led Syracuse in receiving with 33 catches for 610 yards and three touchdowns last year, but he was dismissed by first-year coach Fran Brown ahead of the Orange’s spring practice slate. That led to a few month’s stay in the portal and an eventual commitment to Utah, where he should have plenty of opportunity to expand on those numbers. Not only does Alford boast an immense catch radius with his long frame, but he’s also a legitimate deep threat. His career average of 19.2 yards per catch ranks third in Syracuse’s history. That size-and-speed combo should make Alford a headache for any defensive back he faces. He will team with the likes of Dorian Singer, Money Parks and Mycah Pittman to give veteran Utes quarterback Cam Rising one of the best receiving corps in the Big 12. 

Philip Blidi, DL, Auburn 

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 29 DL

Defensive tackle is a huge position of need for a lot of hopeful contenders in the spring window, so props to Auburn for going out and getting one of the best before another program could swoop in. The Tigers are looking to replace All-SEC performer Marcus Harris and — while Blidi isn’t a ready-made successor — he’ll certainly help in that regard. Blidi spent the first three years of his career at Texas Tech before transferring to Indiana in 2023 and emerging as a starter. He graded out as one of the Hoosiers’ best run-stuffers while tallying 30 tackles and four tackles for loss from the interior. 

Romello Height, EDGE, Georgia Tech

Position Ranking in Transfer Portal: No. 33 EDGE

A native of Dublin, Georgia and former Auburn signee, Height transferred to USC in 2022, suffered a season-ending injury two games into the year and spent 2023 as one of the Trojans’ top defensive reserves. Despite not holding a consistent starting job, he still finished with four sacks (third on the team) and six tackles for loss (fifth). With an increased role in mind, Height entered the portal and transferred closer to home by committing to Georgia Tech. He immediately becomes one of the Yellow Jackets’ most important defenders. Kevin Harris is Tech’s only returning EDGE with any meaningful experience and he had one sack last year. The Yellow Jackets lost leading sack artist Kyle Kennard to the transfer portal and linebacker Paul Moala to the NFL Draft; those two were responsible for ten of Georgia Tech’s paltry 21 sacks last season. If Georgia Tech wants to take another step after a solid first full year under coach Brent Key, Height needs to play like a star. 

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