Who are the Top 5 quarterbacks available in the transfer portal?
It’s no mystery that the transfer portal is evolving into perhaps the primary focus in college football recruiting.
Immediate-impact players are to be found all around, as Michigan State vividly demonstrated with Doak Walker Award-winning running back Kenneth Walker III, who was a Wake Forest Demon Deacon this time last year.
As is the case whether recruiting high schools or colleges, quarterback is the most sought-after position. And the transfer portal is stuffed full of already-accomplished quarterbacks as well as former 4- and 5-star prospects who have yet to prove themselves on the field.
Quinn Ewers fits the latter category. Ewers, who graduated high school early to enroll at Ohio State last spring, is already a former Buckeye. He became the first major QB domino to fall, committing to Texas on Sunday night.
Many consider Ewers to be the top quarterback in this transfer class, though it’s worth noting he was effectively fourth on Ohio State’s depth chart this season.
The most accomplished name on the list took himself off the market Monday night. Former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler surprised many by announcing he will transfer to South Carolina.
Heading into the season, most figured Rattler would be leaving Oklahoma for the NFL Draft. Instead, life came at him fast.
Oklahoma fans turned on Rattler after he struggled in back-to-back games against Nebraska and West Virginia. He was benched in the Red River Shootout, with freshman Caleb Williams coming off the bench and leading the Sooners to a stunning comeback from a 21-point deficit.
From that point forward, it was Williams’ gig.
Rattler will need to cut down on turnovers, but a quarterback who threw for 3,003 yards and 28 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2020 is certainly worth the risk for a program where Connor Shaw is the all-time greatest quarterback.
With Ewers and Rattler off the market, who are the best remaining options? We’ve narrowed it down to the Top 5 candidates.
1. Kedon Slovis
Perhaps this is where my bias in quarterback evaluation becomes obvious.
Give me a guy who has already proven himself, but regressed. A change in scenery could be all it takes to regain the magic.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.
Slovis is just such a player. He appeared on his way to becoming the next great USC quarterback, throwing for 292 yards per game along with 30 touchdowns in his freshman season. Provided he cut down on his 9 interceptions, superstardom was inevitable.
Unfortunately, Slovis mostly cut down on the touchdowns. He threw 17 with 7 interceptions in 2020, then 11 with 8 picks this year.
I’m of the mind that USC football is more broken than Slovis. (Or at least it is until Lincoln Riley gets things moving.)
If you can get a more mature version of Slovis as a freshman, your program is getting a steal.
2. Cameron Ward
You may think to yourself, “Cam Ward … that name rings a bell, but why?”
Google will tell you he’s a goalie who won the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy for leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup. Perhaps that’s what you know it from. The other Cam Ward — Cameron Ward — is still flying under the radar.
That Ward was a sophomore at FCS Incarnate Word this season, where he passed for 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns. Not over his 2-year career. This season.
And now you may be thinking “Incarnate What?,” but Ward is the real deal. Southland Conference rival Bailey Zappe transferred from Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky this season and led the FBS in passing.
Where Zappe walked, Ward may end up running to a Power 5 program.
T-3. Adrian Martinez/Bo Nix
Have Adrian Martinez and Bo Nix ever been spotted in the same stadium? Because I have a hard time believing they aren’t the exact same player.
Scramblers who can both evade trouble and find trouble you never knew existed. Guys who could turn the most routine plays into touchdowns … for either team.
Here’s a look at the career averages for each quarterback:
Adrian Martinez: 63.5% completions, 8.0 yards per attempt, 11 TDs per season, 7 INTs per season, 4.5 yards per carry, 9 rush TDs per season.
Bo Nix: 59.4% completions, 6.9 yards per attempt, 13 TDs per season, 5 INTs per season, 3.3 yards per carry, 6 rush TDs per season.
Martinez has more big-play potential, but comes with greater risks. You got the sense he was usually trying to do too much, and given the pressure he and Scott Frost were under to turn Nebraska back into a winner, that’s understandable.
Martinez could excel at a program that has already gotten over that hump, or simply doesn’t have any expectations.
Nix isn’t quite the athlete that Martinez is, but is smarter with the football. Drives are slightly more likely to end in field goals instead of touchdowns, but also slightly less likely to result in turnovers.
Depending on the situation, either guy could be a great fit. Or drive coaches and fans crazy.
5. Myles Brennan
And now for something completely different, we bring you the quarterback who fits in the Venn Diagram of “veteran player” and “former 4-star prospect who hasn’t done much on the field.”
Brennan’s career has been star-crossed, to say the least. For 5 years, he was the increasingly rare player who spent his entire career in one place: LSU.
Ed Orgeron and company determined Brennan wasn’t ready to start in 2019, so they rather shrewdly plucked Joe Burrow from the portal. Burrow remains the gold standard for immediate-impact transfer quarterbacks.
Brennan finally got his chance to start in 2020, and came out blazing. In just 3 games, he threw for 1,113 yards with 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. But playing behind a makeshift offensive line that was ravaged by graduation, Brennan suffered a season-ending abdominal injury.
He was poised to start again this year, but broke his non-throwing arm on a fishing trip.
For real. Can’t make that up.
Brennan offers an intriguing mixture of mostly untapped potential along with an experienced presence in the locker room.
The other guys
There are plenty of other interesting quarterbacks in the portal who could shine under the right circumstances.
Each is listed alongside the program he is leaving.
- Zach Calzada (Texas A&M): Calzada took over as starter for the injured Haynes King and is the only quarterback to beat Alabama this season. That has to be worth something.
- Max Johnson (LSU): Brennan’s replacement was third in the SEC in passing yardage and touchdowns, but only 11th in completion percentage. He could bloom if he eliminates self-inflicted sacks from a faulty internal clock.
- Jack Miller (Ohio State): Whether it’s Cardale Jones leading the Buckeyes to a title or Burrow leaving to lead LSU to a title, Ohio State’s quarterback room is always deep. Miller’s good enough to start somewhere.
- Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana): When healthy, he was the most electrifying Hoosier since Antwaan Randle El 20 years ago. Unfortunately, he’s been so frequently banged up that it’s hard to know how effective he’ll be.
- Jake Plummer (Purdue): Plummer split time with Aidan O’Connell the past 3 seasons before O’Connell finally took the job by the horns midway through this year. With a total of 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in 2020 and ’21, Plummer’s a strong game manager who pairs terrifically with a great defense.
- Taisun Phommachanh (Clemson): A coach’s dream and an equipment manager’s nightmare. Phommachanh was good enough to get to Clemson, but it’s concerning he couldn’t push the underwhelming DJ Uiagalelei for the starting job. Maybe he can do the Nick Starkel thing and take off with a Group of 5 program.
- Ta’Quan Roberson (Penn State): Roberson looked hopelessly overmatched when pressed into emergency duty at Iowa after Sean Clifford was injured, completing 7 of 21 passes with 2 interceptions. He also looked like he was being forced into a playbook that didn’t take into account that Clifford might get hurt. This 4-star dual-threat will surely find a program better suited to his running skills.