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NFL Draft: Ten players that helped themselves by transferring

Tyree Wilson
Tyree Wilson (© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The transfer portal has been a significant change in how recruiting works and now how the NFL Draft works as well. Here is a look at 10 of the most significant transfers in college football in recent years and how it helped those players in last week’s NFL Draft.


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A three-star prospect out of New London (Texas) West Rusk, Wilson signed with Texas A&M but never really got much traction in College Station. He redshirted his first year and then played in 12 games the following season but only totaled 12 tackles.

After that year, Wilson transferred to Texas Tech and while it was slow his first season there as well, he really began to blossom into an elite edge rusher in his final two seasons in Lubbock in which he had 99 tackles and 14 sacks.

With an influx of high-end defensive line prospects at Texas A&M over the last couple seasons, one wonders if Wilson would have ever reached his potential if he stayed with the Aggies. It’s certainly unlikely he would have ended up as the No. 7 overall pick.



Ranked as the second-best all-purpose back in the 2020 class, Gibbs committed to Georgia Tech over South Carolina, North Carolina and others in the spring before his senior season. He stuck with the Yellow Jackets and in his first season there he rushed for 460 yards and four touchdowns and also caught 24 passes for 303 yards and three scores. The following year, Gibbs went for 746 rushing yards and four scores and again was active in the receiving game with 35 catches for 465 yards and two scores.

But after those two seasons, Gibbs was looking for more - and more opportunities to run behind a great offensive line and possibly win a national championship. He spent one season at Alabama where his average per carry went up by nearly a yard and he totaled 926 rushing yards and seven TDs. He added 44 catches for 444 yards and three scores.

In a surprising move with the No. 12 pick overall, the Detroit Lions selected Gibbs and that would not have been probable if the former four-star decided to stay at Georgia Tech his entire career.



Through 18 games over two seasons at Colorado, Gonzalez had no interceptions. He had 78 tackles. The former four-star had five pass deflections each season but the Buffaloes defense was so weak in other areas that opponents never saw any reason to really attack Gonzalez because he was too good and so many of his teammates were nowhere near his level.

After transferring to Oregon, Gonzalez had his most active season because the Ducks’ defense had other top-end cornerbacks and opponents had to throw his way sometimes. The super athletic cornerback had 50 tackles, all four of his career interceptions came with the Ducks and seven pass deflections.

That kind of work put Gonzalez even more on the radar and he ended up being the No. 17 overall pick and the third cornerback taken. One wonders if he transferred earlier, would he have been even higher on draft boards?



After two phenomenal seasons at Pitt including a sophomore year where he was completely unstoppable, it’s not clear that Addison needed to transfer to improve his draft stock. But it certainly didn’t hurt to get more exposure at USC.

The former high three-star receiver caught 60 balls his first season but really broke out the following year when he had 100 catches for 1,593 yards and seven touchdowns. Following some coaching changes at Pitt and with more national attention from Texas, Alabama and others, Addison transferred to USC.

Playing in coach Lincoln Riley’s offense for the first season Riley was in town, Addison finished with 59 receptions for 875 yards and eight scores. In a busy first round for receivers, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TCU’s Quentin Johnston and Boston College’s Zay Flowers were taken ahead of him.


Maybe no transfer on this list epitomizes maximizing their opportunities as much as Kincaid, who went to San Diego out of Las Vegas (Nev.) Faith Lutheran and had no FBS offers at all. He had two strong seasons with the Toreros and he decided to transfer to Utah.

But his first season with the Utes was cut short because of COVID-19 so he only played in five games. Then Kincaid absolutely blossomed into one of the most productive tight ends in college football. Over the next two seasons, he totaled 106 catches for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Even if Kincaid posted those types of numbers at San Diego, would he have been the first tight end taken with the No. 25 overall pick? Probably not. That Power Five exposure was huge to him and paid off in a big way.



An unfortunate storyline of the NFL Draft’s opening night was Levis sitting backstage waiting for his name to be called – and it never happened. A projected first-round pick who was rumored to possibly go in the top few picks, Levis had to wait until the second pick of the second round to be taken off the board by the Tennessee Titans.

It could have been worse. The three-star quarterback signed with Penn State out of high school but could not beat out Sean Clifford for the starting job. If he stayed with the Nittany Lions, he would’ve been in line to start this upcoming season but possibly competing against Drew Allar for the starting job.

Instead, Levis transferred to Kentucky where he threw for more than 5,200 yards with 43 touchdowns and 23 picks over two seasons. If the former three-star stayed at Penn State, all that SEC success and all that talk of him moving up into the first round probably would have been impossible.



Brents chose Iowa over Louisville and Michigan State in high school and his career with the Hawkeyes started off really well, playing in 11 games and starting in five as a freshman. The next season he was injured though and never really got back into full form at Iowa.

Deciding to transfer to Kansas State was a risky bet but it paid off huge for the former four-star defensive back as he tallied 94 tackles and five interceptions over the last two seasons and propelled himself into the early-round conversation of the NFL Draft.

Four corners went in the first round and then Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. was the first pick in the second. Brents was the next cornerback off the board at No. 13 in the second round and his move to Manhattan helped enable that.



A two-star tight end from Garner, N.C., White started his college career playing offense at Old Dominion. After one season, White moved to defense and tallied 62 tackles (19 for loss) including 3.5 sacks. Things were picking up nicely for White as a defensive end but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he transferred to Georgia Tech where his career was delayed again after an ankle injury while playing basketball.

When he finally got back on the field for the Yellow Jackets, White totaled 54 tackles (14 for loss) and 7.5 sacks that helped him become a mid-second round draft pick. The numbers were good at Old Dominion but once he started producing in the ACC, NFL teams really took notice.



The four-star running back from Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian committed to Michigan over USC and many others in the summer before his senior season and then immediately exploded on the scene with 726 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman. It looked like he would be the workhorse back in Ann Arbor over the coming years but as a sophomore his workload was reduced as Hassan Haskins started to shine in the Wolverines’ offense.

Instead of dying on the vine or becoming a role player in Michigan’s backfield, Charbonnet returned closer to home and starred at UCLA over the next two seasons where he rushed for 2,496 yards and 27 touchdowns.

After Bijan Robinson and Jahymr Gibbs went in the first round, Charbonnet was the first running back taken in the second and that probably would have never been possible if he didn’t transfer to play for the Bruins.



The former four-star defensive back from Miami (Fla.) Southridge had a really promising start to his Georgia career where he saw the field often and finished with 47 tackles over 19 games in Athens.

But rumors started that Stevenson was headed to the portal and he landed at Miami where his college career really took off. In a similar way to Gonzalez, who saw more action once he went to Oregon, Stevenson was much more productive in Miami, where he totaled 68 tackles and three picks during two seasons.

In a loaded cornerback draft that saw four drafted in the first round and another six picked in the second, Stevenson landed later in that second round. His production while at Miami was a big reason why he didn’t fall into the third or later.


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