Ranking the SEC's top transfer portal additions for 2022
Today we kick off a weekly series examining transfer activity across the Power Five, beginning with the SEC. Here's our ranking of the 10 biggest transfer portal additions in the conference over the 2022 offseason.
10. S Isheem Young, Ole Miss
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin dubbed himself the “Portal King” back in January, and at least on paper, the results back up the moniker. Kiffin added 17 transfers to the Rebel roster, including a few high-profile signees on the offensive side of the ball, some of whom we will get to later in this list.
But one under-the-radar addition who should be able to help improve a porous Ole Miss defense was Young. The former Iowa State safety played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2020, starting nine, then he started all 12 games a year ago.
Young earned Big 12 Co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2020, when he racked up 54 tackles. He bested that number with 55 as a sophomore. The hard-hitting Young also grabbed three interceptions across the past two seasons.
9. WR Jermaine Burton, Alabama
Nick Saban found a gem in the transfer portal last year when he lured Ohio State backup Jamison Williams to Tuscaloosa and then turned him into a top-10 NFL Draft pick. Burton is more established than Williams was a season ago, having led Georgia’s wideouts with 26 catches for 497 yards last season. But he will look to boost his draft stock in a more pass-happy offense in 2022.
While not as fast as Williams, Burton has proven that he has big-play ability, as he averaged 19.1 yards per catch last year.
8. WR Antwane Wells, South Carolina
Another coach who cleaned up in the transfer portal during the offseason was South Carolina’s Shane Beamer. While Wells was not one of Beamer's more high-profile additions this offseason, he should have a big impact on the Gamecocks' offense this season. Wells comes to South Carolina from James Madison, where he rewrote the record book last year.
As a redshirt freshman in 2021, Wells set school records for receptions (83), yards (1,250) and touchdowns (15) in a single season. Despite playing just 20 games in his college career, Wells ranks ninth on the James Madison all-time list for career receptions and yards and third in receiving touchdowns.
Wells will likely face a bit of a learning curve as he transitions from FCS ball to the SEC, but clearly he knows how to produce.
7. RB Zach Evans, Ole Miss
Often, optimism about a transfer is based more on potential than proven results — the hope that a change of scenery will allow a player to tap into his full potential. We’ve tried to make this list more results-based. However, Evans is too talented not to warrant inclusion.
The former five-star running back wound up at TCU after a roller-coaster recruitment. He never emerged as the clear-cut leader of the Horned Frogs’ backfield, but he did average a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry across two seasons, rushing for 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games.
Evans will likely once again split carries in Oxford, as Ole Miss also brought in former SMU running back Ulysses Bentley IV from the portal, and at this point, it’s fair to question whether Evans can stay in the good graces of the coaching staff.
But if Evans can finally turn his talent into consistent production, he could be one of the best backs in the SEC.
6. QB Max Johnson, Texas A&M
The position that has been impacted the most by the transfer portal nationwide has been quarterback. Every offseason, signal-callers shuffle schools en masse, looking for a place to start. Our first quarterback on this list would be higher except that it’s not yet guaranteed that he will indeed earn the starting job at his new home.
Johnson comes to Texas A&M after two seasons at LSU, where he started 14 games. Johnson was solid for the Tigers, completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,815 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions a season ago. If he can indeed beat out Haynes King, who played one game a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury, and four-star freshman Connor Weigman and then elevate Texas A&M’s talented offense, Johnson could wind up looking like the transfer addition of the year.
5. WR Tayvion Robinson, Kentucky
Kentucky had pretty good results with a wide receiver named Robinson last season. All Wan’Dale Robinson did in his lone season as a Wildcat was set school records for both receptions and receiving yards in a season and turn himself into a second-round pick in the NFL Draft. To lay similar expectations on the newest Robinson in the Kentucky receiving room would be unfair.
But Tayvion Robinson comes to Lexington with a track record of proven production at Virginia Tech. Robinson played in 35 games during three seasons as a Hokie, starting 30 of them. He caught 113 passes for 1,555 yards and nine touchdowns during that span. Last season, he snagged 44 receptions for 559 yards and five scores. He should also provide a spark in the return game, as he averaged 12.6 yards per punt return last season, seventh-best in the country.
4. RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Gibbs was one of the most unique offensive weapons available in the transfer portal during this cycle. He should not only help replace departed Alabama starting tailback Brian Robinson Jr. but also factor into the receiving game.
Across two seasons at Georgia Tech, Gibbs averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns as a rusher. He also caught 59 passes for 768 yards and another five scores. The Crimson Tide will surely be able to find a way to use Gibbs within their uber-talented offense to create favorable matchups.
3. QB Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
Prediction: Out of all these rankings, Rattler’s placement will generate the most angst. The former Oklahoma quarterback has admittedly been a lot more hype than substance so far during his college career. Rattler lost his starting job to freshman Caleb Williams a season ago, and it’s fair to question whether a player who struggled at times with decision-making can be better after leaving Lincoln Riley’s quarterback-friendly system.
But that said, we’re still talking about a guy who completed 70.2 percent of his passes and threw 39 touchdowns across the past two seasons. The talent is there; there’s a reason Rattler was at one point being talked about as a Heisman Trophy contender and potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Plus, regardless of how he performs next season, he helped Beamer overhaul the Gamecock offense and attract other playmakers to South Carolina. Rattler almost certainly won’t turn into that Heisman contender or first-round draft pick this season. But he’s given South Carolina fans reason for optimism and should be talented enough to elevate an offense that finished No. 95 nationally in passing and No. 104 in scoring a year ago.
2. QB Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss
Dart is another quarterback who feels like a risk to rank this high because his reputation is based more on hype than production at the college level. But if he can live up to the billing, Dart could put up huge numbers in Kiffin’s offense. Dart appeared in six games as a true freshman for USC last season. He flashed his talent, like when he completed 30 of 46 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Washington State in his debut, but also struggled at times. On the year, he completed 61.9 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
But considering Dart was a true freshman who was thrust into action during conference play due to Kedon Slovis getting hurt, it’s fair to expect Dart to continue to progress. And it’s difficult to imagine him landing in a better spot. While Ole Miss hasn’t officially announced him as its starting quarterback, it would come as a surprise if he loses the battle to Luke Altmyer.
And Kiffin has proven that he can put quarterbacks in a position to succeed. Matt Corral threw for more than 3,000 yards and logged more than 30 total touchdowns in each of Kiffin’s two seasons in Oxford.
1. CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
Topping our list is Ricks, who looked to be the next man up in a long line of defensive backs out of LSU drafted in the first round before he transferred to another SEC West power in December. A five-star prospect in the class of 2020, Ricks immediately backed up the hype when he outplayed Derek Stingley Jr. on the same defense. Ricks picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns as a true freshman.
And while his 2021 season was cut short by injury, Ricks was arguably the most sought-after non-quarterback in the country when he entered his name into the transfer portal following last season. Ricks looks like a lock to start at cornerback for Alabama this season. His only question mark is durability, as he’s played just 14 games across the past two years.