NFL Draft Daily: How the transfer portal could help NFL draft scouting

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 129 until the 2023 NFL Draft.

Entering the transfer portal is the thing to do these days in college football. Over 1,600 players had entered the portal as of this past Thursday. That staggering number could climb even higher as bowl games wrap up over the next month. The portal will not close until January 18.

What this means is that upwards of one thousand college football players will be looking for new homes, stepping into new programs, learning new systems and working with new coaches. If that sounds anything like NFL free agency, that is essentially because it is. Players are allowed to pick new schools if they are unhappy (maybe they want more NIL money). However, the programs need to be interested as well. It’s basically college free agency.

USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley quickly rebuilt his program through the transfer portal in his first season. (Wikimedia Commons)

It sounds great in theory, but there are plenty of cautionary tales for why the transfer portal does not always work out how players want. Not every player who enters the portal is going to land with a Power 5 program. There are going to be tons of players disappointed by the options they have available to them.

However, there could be a huge benefit down the line for NFL teams with players switching schools. For evaluators, it is an opportunity to see prospects in different systems, which helps answer questions about scheme fit at the next level. For example, if you have a corner that plays in a mostly man-to-man defense before transferring to a school whose defensive coordinator favors zone concepts, you now have way more information on that player than you would have had they stayed at the first school. You can evaluate how they fare in both schemes and better identify both strengths and weaknesses in their game.

There is also something to be said for small school or even non D-1 school players getting the chance to prove themselves against better competition. Jared Verse is the perfect example. Verse dominated at the University of Albany, which competes at the FCS level. We’ve seen several FCS stars in recent years work their way through the draft ranks and wind up as early draft picks, such as Trey Lance, Trevor Penning and Jeremy Chinn.

Unfortunately, those players are often few and far between, facing questions about the level of competition and their ability to make the jump to the NFL level. Verse erased any of those concerns after transferring to Florida State in 2022. He dominated the ACC, racking up 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Under the previous system, we likely would have seen Verse transfer and sit out a year, or wait until he completed his degree before moving as a graduate transfer. Instead, Verse is getting genuine first-round draft buzz for 2023. There will likely be several more to join the ranks of the FCS to FBS to NFL draft pipeline. Washington State’s Cam Ward (formerly at Incarnate Word) and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders (previously with Jackson State) figure to be two high-profile quarterback recruits in 2024 who began their collegiate career playing in the FCS.

Even for players who started out at the FBS level, the portal offers a second chance and a chance to rebuid their draft stock. I wrote about how D.J. Uiagalelei needs to go through that process right now, and how he could follow in the footsteps of Bo Nix (who announced he is returning for another year at Oregon) and Spencer Rattler. Nix in particular is a great example of a player who struggled to find his footing at his first school before really turning it around during his second stop.

Daniels is back in the transfer portal after one season with West Virginia. (TigerNet.com)

On the flip side, the portal helps weed out players who maybe don’t quite make the cut that might have previously been drafted based on potential because coaches believed they could “fix” the player. Former highly-touted quarterbacks like Kedon Slovis and J.T. Daniels stand out here. Both arrived in college football with a ton of fanfare and showed flashes at USC. However, neither managed to prove that the Trojans and the former coaching staff were really the problem, struggling with injuries and consistency in subsequent stops. Daniels is now searching for his fourth college team. Slovis is seeking his third. Neither seems to have legitimate draft hopes at this point due in large part because there is no mystery left surrounding them. No coach can look and believe that he has the perfect system to unlock either of these players after seeing both struggle to take hold in multiple schemes at this point. Hopes of a change of scenery will only get you so far.

For as flawed and maligned as the transfer portal might be at this stage, there could be a ton of good that comes out of it when it comes to evaluating players. Scouting is all about gathering information on prospects, and the more you have, the more likely you are to get the evaluation right. It will never be an exact science, but there is a chance we start to see fewer players fall through the cracks and more players given a second chance because they were able to turn things around at a different school. College football is a rapidly changing landscape, and I think there is plenty to be excited about.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our podcast Draft Season Never Ends, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Draft Daily: Does D.J. Uiagalelei have an NFL future?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft.

What a wild offseason this is shaping up to be in college football. Over 1,000 FBS players entered the transfer portal on December 5th when it opened. One of the most notable names seen on that list is now former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. The former five-star recruit improved on a rocky 2021 season, throwing for 2,521 yards while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He added 545 yards and 7 scores on the ground as well. Despite the clear improvement from the year before, where he tossed more interceptions than touchdowns, he ended up being benched several times down the stretch for the Tigers.

Uiagalelei threw for 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in the 2022 season. (TigerNet.com)

Uiagalelei is far from the first big-time recruit to fall flat. Expectations were sky high for him following Trevor Lawrence’s tenure in Death Valley. Uiagalelei flashed potential and even dazzled at times for Clemson. His 2020 start in place of Lawrence and his incredible performance against Wake Forest this year come to mind.

However, there is no question this is Cade Klubnik’s team now and Uiagalelei will look to start fresh elsewhere. While fans are undoubtedly curious where he will land and its impact on the upcoming college football season, I am more interested in what this means for his NFL future.

It might be a bit hard to see exactly how a player who lost their starting job to a true freshman, despite the coaching staff giving him every chance to keep hold of his role, winds up being an NFL draft pick. I get it. If Uiagalelei were to enter the draft right now, it is hard to imagine he would be anything more than an undrafted free agent. Maybe a team would be willing to take a flier on him in the seventh round given his measurables and pedigree as a five-star recruit.

However, in the modern era of the transfer portal, it is becoming more common to see players rehab their draft stock after landing in a new home. Uiagalelei’s situation immediately makes me think of a pair of fourth-year quarterbacks who have an NFL draft decision to make in the coming weeks: Bo Nix and Spencer Rattler.

Both were highly recruited and seemed poised for superstardom at the NFL level. Unfortunately, Nix struggled with consistency at Auburn, ultimately deciding to leave for a change of scenery at Oregon. Rattler lost his starting job at Oklahoma to the uber-talented Caleb Williams, who won the Heisman trophy on Saturday, now playing for Lincoln Riley at USC. Entering this season, no draft analyst would reasonably tell you that Nix and Rattler had clear paths to the NFL. After both put together strong years at new programs, Nix more so than Rattler, the possibility of reaching the league is once again attainable. Rattler probably needs one more year at South Carolina to really solidify that he has what it takes, but Nix could legitimately be a Day 2 selection for a team looking to add depth at quarterback.

Let’s start with Nix. He had a career completion percentage of 59.4 at Auburn, averaged 6.9 yards per attempt and accumulated 39 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in three years as the starter. At Oregon, Nix completed 71.5 percent of his passes for a career high 3,388 passing yards to go along with 42 total touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. He showcased his immense growth as a passer and his talents as a rusher, racking up 504 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. At this point, I think Nix will likely be one of the seven or eight passers selected in the 2023 draft, but we will have to see if he definitely leaves and, if so, how he fares in the pre draft process, which could include the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.

For Rattler, he seemed poised to be the next great NFL quarterback after a stellar 2020 campaign. He threw for over 3,000 yards and amassed 28 touchdowns through the air with just 7 interceptions. Then he lost his job in 2021 to the aforementioned Williams and ended up at South Carolina. I will admit that I was ready to right off Rattler after a rocky start to his career in Columbia, but after leading the Gamecocks to seven wins in their final nine games, including impressive performances against Tennessee and Clemson to end the season, he is at least back on the radar. I think Rattler needs one more year to prove he can consistently play at a high level. He had some great games this year, but still tossed 11 interceptions, including four multi-interception outings.

I highlight both Rattler and Nix to point out that a change of scenery might be exactly what Uiagalelei needs. It worked great for Nix, who faced the same exact questions almost exactly one year ago. Landing at a school like UCLA, Purdue or hell, even Oregon, if Nix enters the draft.

The other example Nix set that Uiagalelei should follow would be working with a quarterback guru like Jordan Palmer. Nix spent the offseason working with Exos, putting in the work to improve his footwork, technique and accuracy. It paid major dividends this year and I think it is important that Uiagalelei does the same. Watching him play, he has a ton of arm talent, great size, impressive athleticism. However, his footwork is all over the place. His accuracy suffers big time as a result. Spending time with a quarterback specialist to fine tune those attributes will go a long way. He has already shown that he is willing to put in the offseason work as well, dropping 15 pounds heading into this season, which allowed him to move a lot better in the pocket and be more productive running the ball.

Uiagalelei’s future still very much seems like it will be in the NFL. He will have two years to prove he can progress as a passer and improve the technical side of his game. He is a 6’4″, 235-pound prospect with tons of experience playing in a Power 5 conference. He will undoubtedly land at another Power 5 school and be in position to start again.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our podcast Draft Season Never Ends, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Draft Daily: An early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 346 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

We are still months away from the start of the college football season, but it is never too early to start looking at the prospects for this upcoming draft. Where else could I possibly start than at quarterback? After a down year without many exciting passers, the 2023 draft class has the potential to be one of the deepest classes we have ever seen. With a ton of upperclassmen quarterbacks and some super exciting juniors, this is a class we can start to be excited about.

Just to be clear, these are not rankings. I put out my Way-Too-Early 2023 mock draft a couple weeks back that at least gives a sense of how I rank the top quarterbacks right now.

Also, in the interest of not having a nearly 4,000 word post, I decided to split up the quarterbacks I am keeping an eye on this year into two separate posts. I will have part two out tomorrow. So with that, let’s start to familiarize ourselves with the quarterbacks sure to be discussed in this 2023 draft cycle.

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
My top quarterback heading into the 2023 draft cycle, Stroud put together a really strong 2021 season and should be well positioned to build off it in 2022. He posted the highest passer rating of any Power 5 quarterback in the country, tossing 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions. More importantly, he completed nearly 72 percent of his passes. He passes the eye test from a physical perspective, listed at 6’3″, 218 pounds. I will be curious to see how he does without his top two targets from a year ago. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will now be playing on Sundays. If his Rose Bowl performance against Utah, where Wilson and Olave sat out, is any indication of what Stroud can do this season, he will likely win the Heisman. Jackson Smith-Njigba might be better than Wilson and Olave, plus Marvin Harrison Jr. is ready for a bigger role.

Bryce Young, Alabama
Just behind Stroud is Young, who needs no introduction after winning the National Championship as a freshman and the Heisman as a sophomore. He is a proven playmaker who dominated the SEC, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns. Both marks were second in the country, trailing only Bailey Zappe. He will have plenty of opportunity to prove his talent without his top two targets from a year ago. Jameson Williams and John Metchie III are both in the NFL now. Hopefully, Alabama’s offensive line will be a bit better in pass protection after allowing 39 sacks a season ago. My biggest concern is his size. Young has a slight frame, listed at 6’0″ and 194 pounds. That is a bit of a red flag, but he hasn’t let it impact his game to this point.

Tyler Van Dyke, Miami
I watched Miami play Pittsburgh this past season and came away more impressed with the quarterback wearing orange and white than the one in blue and gold. That’s right, Van Dyke outplayed Kenny Pickett, who was drafted in the first round just a few weeks ago. He looked sharp down the stretch, taking over for the injured D’Eriq King permanently in October. He got off to a rocky start, but Miami went 5-1 over its final six games with Van Dyke leading the offense. From a size perspective, he checks all the boxes. At this point, he is solidly in the first-round conversation, but that is a bit of projection that he takes the next step in his development this season.

Will Levis, Kentucky
The Penn State transfer made a name for himself in 2021 with an impressive debut season for Kentucky. He posted solid numbers as the Wildcats went 10-3, including a Citrus Bowl win over Iowa. Levis looked sharp and has a lot of the NFL measurables, including a clear pro-caliber arm. Now, he does need to cut down on the interceptions, he had 13 this past season, but it is easy to see how he could translate to the next level. He has a big season to prove himself ahead, hopefully, featuring more downfield passing and less focus on throwing the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Another SEC quarterback that is on the rise, Hooker quietly had one of the best statistical seasons of any passer in 2021. He threw for just shy of 3,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing 68.2 percent of his passes. His passer rating for the year trailed only CJ Stroud and Grayson McCall. He also racked up 620 yards rushing. So a clear dual threat with an NFL body who takes care of the football? Consider me intrigued.

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
Small-school quarterbacks are in right now in the NFL. Or at least, quarterbacks from non-traditional powers, because Coastal Carolina is quickly shedding its small school persona. McCall led the nation in passer rating and yards per attempt while finishing third in completion percentage. He has the size and mobility to translate to the next level as well. I like his ability to put some touch on his throws as well. He hasn’t faced the best competition in the Sun Belt, but his accuracy is incredible regardless. His game is a bit Patrick Mahomes-esque with his ability to make plays on the run and throw off platform. His arm strength is nowhere near that of Mahomes, to be clear, but I definitely notice some similarities.

Bo Nix, Oregon
What a journey Nix has been on. He was supposed to be the savior of Auburn when he arrived. The son of Tigers great Pat Nix never quite lived up to the hype. He has yet to eclipse 16 passing touchdowns in a season and a career completion percentage south of 60 percent. Now, he will get a chance to resurrect his career and draft prospects at the school he opened the college career against back in 2019. Nix unquestionably has talent, but consistency has been a bit of an issue. We will have to see if a change of scenery at Oregon will be enough to put him back in the NFL draft conversation.

Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh
Another quarterback looking for a fresh start, Slovis burst onto the scene in 2019, but has failed to live up to the expectations that have followed. His completion percentage has slipped each of the past two seasons and he has thrown for fewer touchdown passes in the past two seasons combined than he did in his impressive freshman year. On top of that, he has struggled a bit with injuries. If he can get back on track replacing Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh, Slovis has every chance to push himself back into the first-round conversation. He has the prototypical size and good arm. The issue will be showing he can put those attributes to good use on a consistent basis.

Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
Welcome to 2022, where pretty much every quarterback has transferred. Rattler is another quarterback looking to turn his career around after things went wrong in his first stop. He entered 2021 as a Heisman candidate and a projected No. 1 pick at Oklahoma. Then he lost his starting job to Caleb Williams and ended up transferring to South Carolina at the end of the season. I am very excited to dive deeper into his film to find out why he struggled this past year and how he can get back on track.

JT Daniels, West Virginia
This is school number three for Daniels. He started at USC, lost his job to Kedon Slovis after tearing his ACL as a sophomore, went to Georgia to be the starter, struggled with injuries and lost his job to Stetson Bennett. Needless to say, Daniels needs to show he can stay healthy first and foremost. His inability to be on the field is the biggest red flag for a player that has a couple of them. When he does play, he has a strong arm with decent accuracy and enough mobility to extend plays. He has a lot to prove this season if he legitimately hopes to be drafted.

Devin Leary, NC State
A rising star in the ACC, Leary had a fantastic junior season. This came on the heels of a horrendous freshman year and an injury-shortened sophomore campaign. His 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions gave him one of the best ratios in the country in 2021. Now, Leary will be out to prove he is not a one-year wonder. He is one of the players I am most excited to watch this upcoming season. I would not be shocked if he finds himself in the first round next April.

Anthony Richardson, Florida
People are expecting big things from Richardson after he flashed some otherworldly potential in limited action this past season. He appeared in just seven games and attempted only 64 passes. He is incredibly mobile, evidenced by an 80-yard touchdown run against South Florida. He did injure himself on the play though. What’s more, he threw just six touchdown passes and had five interceptions. He will need to show growth as a passer for a team to take a chance on him in the 2023 draft, but his athleticism is something teams will be happy to bet on.

Cameron Rising, Utah
A sleeper I think people should keep an eye on in this quarterback class, Rising reinvented himself after transferring from Texas. He redshirted in 2018 and 2019 and only played in one game in 2020. He patiently waited for his chance to shine. At long last, he got a chance to showcase his abilities. He accounted for 26 total touchdowns, 20 through the air and six on the ground, while throwing just five interceptions. Entering his fourth season at Utah, he has a good grasp on this offense and should be well positioned for an even better season. I don’t know if he has elite traits, but there is enough there that I am very intrigued.

Jake Haener, Fresno State
One of the older prospects in this draft class, Haener turned 23 in March and will be 24 by the draft next year. Age is less of a factor with quarterback prospects, but Haener will need to show he is pro ready, because a 24-year-old developmental quarterback might be a tough sell. Good thing is, he seems like he will be pretty close. He threw for over 4,000 yards this past season and an impressive 67 percent completion percentage. On top of that, he had 33 touchdown passes. He started his college career at Washington and has grown into a solid prospect over the past two seasons at Fresno. He faced some good competition and I’m excited to watch more of him.

Malik Cunningham, Louisville
Possibly the best runner in this draft class, Cunningham has been a solid player at Louisville capable of dazzling at any moment. 20 touchdowns on the ground is incredible. He has the ability to throw passes on a rope, but he needs to improve his accuracy. His completion percentage dipped down to 62 percent in 2021. I really like his game, but I think he needs a bit more polish to push him into the conversation with the top quarterbacks in this class.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Draft Daily: Does Bo Nix have a future in the NFL?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

In a somewhat surprising move, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix announced he is going to enter the transfer portal after graduating from the university. Nix had been a three-year starter and won SEC Freshman of the Year back in 2019.

After arriving in Auburn with a ton of fanfare, Nix is the son of former Auburn quarterback Pat Nix, it seemed like Bo was set to deliver on the hype. He helped take down No. 11 Oregon in his first collegiate game and capped off the regular season with a win over No. 5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. NFL scouts were certainly paying attention, waiting to see if Nix could take the next step in his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, injuries, inconsistent play and questionable decision making all side tracked Nix over the past two seasons to the point where the NFL does not even seem to be an option at this point. There is zero draft buzz around him despite being a former five-star recruit who just started for three years in the SEC.

His level of play has not really merited much draft consideration, Nix has yet to top 16 passing touchdowns in a season and often struggles with accuracy, but he checks pretty much all of the physical boxes to be an NFL quarterback. At 6’3″ with a strong arm and plus athleticism, he has many of the things quarterbacks coaches crave. Don’t get me wrong, he needs a ton of work on his footwork, processing and decision making, but those are aspects of the game that often improve with repetition and good coaching.

However, Nix was already working with one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country. Jordan Palmer works with a number of the top college and pro quarterbacks to help them improve their fundamentals and reach their potential. He’s worked with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and more in his role at EXOS. Palmer is a huge believer in Nix, saying he thought Nix would be the No. 1 overall pick in this upcoming draft back in March. That obviously won’t come true, but could a change of scenery and continued tutelage from Palmer finally lead Nix to realize his potential?

The NFL seems to have this fascination with the unknown. It’s what makes prospects like Trey Lance and Davis Mills so enticing. It’s why Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold can still net a second-round pick in a trade despite horrible play on the field. The idea of potential is addictive to NFL general managers, scouts and owners. The potential to hit on a prospect no one else saw, or to see a player finally reach their full potential makes them look like the smartest person in the room. They love that sensation.

With that in mind, Nix still has potential. He is only 21 years old and has rare physical gifts that you cannot teach. If he can find a new team and show some development in 2022, he will be worth a draft pick come the 2023 NFL draft. Maybe not in the first round, depending on just how much improvement we see in this hypothetical, but in the second or third round.

The question then becomes where could Nix go to take that next step and get himself on NFL draft boards. Notre Dame immediately comes to mind as Jack Coan will not be back next year. UCF also makes some sense with Nix’s former coach Gus Malzahn calling the shots down in Orlando. I don’t love this one because of Nix’s previous struggles in Malzahn’s system. Cincinnati could also make sense with Desmond Ridder in his final year with the program.

I would love to see Nix land somewhere with a good quarterback coach who can help simplify the game for him and help him grow as a passer. Pairing him with Lincoln Riley at USC feels like a dream, but I have a feeling Riley will stick with one of the young quarterbacks he already has in house. I like UNC as a potential fit with Mack Brown and Phil Longo turning Sam Howell into a solid draft prospect. Perhaps Pittsburgh could be a good fit as well given Kenny Pickett’s development this season. Mark Whipple definitely made a huge difference in his game. Maybe a move to LSU could work, but Brian Kelly does not have his full coaching staff in place yet, so it is hard to tell if that would really be a great fit for Nix.

Ultimately, the chances Nix ends up being a high draft pick or NFL starter look pretty bleak right now. Every year though, we see a quarterback rise up the ranks that just hasn’t put it together yet. This year it looks like Pickett. The year before it was Zach Wilson and the year before that was Joe Burrow. The point is, the door is not closed on Nix’s NFL future. He just needs to get this next move right if he has hopes of playing pro football.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.