With the arrival of the transfer portal, college football coaches have adjusted the way that they recruit and build their rosters. Adding in a sure thing through transfer can often be a better option than taking a chance on an unproven high school prospect, especially at a position like quarterback.
But with the NCAA's waiver allowing immediate eligibility to all transfers, there are plenty of non-quarterbacks available for pickup on the market, too. These impact transfers can, at the very least, build out depth or, at best, be the missing piece a team needs to take the next step.
With spring practices over and just about every major name in the portal off to a new program, our college football team made their picks for the top impact transfers that can help their teams make a push for the College Football Playoff in 2021.
Florida DL Antonio Shelton, Daquan Newkirk
Poor defense held Florida back from reaching its full potential last season, but the secondary was mostly to blame. The defensive line, led by star end Zachary Carter, was not bad. The arrivals of Daquan Newkirk from Auburn and Antonio Shelton from Penn State will only make it better. Both play on the interior and could be an upgrade from departed tackles Kyree Campbell Tedarrell Slaton.
Shelton racked up 3.5 sacks last season in just seven games during his second full season as a starter on the interior of the Nittany Lions defensive line. He'll be 24 when the season starts and should be a stabilizing force. Newkirk amassed 28 tackles, including three for loss with Auburn last season. He is a sixth-year senior like Shelton after spending two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and three at Auburn.
Defensive tackles rarely generate headlines, and the focus entering this season is rightly on Florida's secondary and new starting quarterback Emory Jones. But the Gators would have been in a tight spot at defensive tackle if they hadn't snagged two proven veterans from the portal. Shelton and Newkirk will help Florida's defense improve, and that could bring the CFP into play for this team. -- David Cobb
North Carolina RB Ty Chandler
The Tar Heels won't be the preseason favorites to win the ACC or make the College Football Playoff -- that nod still belongs to Clemson until proven otherwise -- but there's a lot to like about them in 2021 as a dark-horse candidate. First among those reasons is quarterback Sam Howell. But North Carolina needs an impact player in the backfield to complement the passing game. Running back Ty Chandler fills a nice void here left by Michael Carter and Javonte Williams.
A former top-100 recruit, Chandler gives North Carolina a veteran back with four years of production under his belt. He was Tennessee's primary back in 2018 and 2019 and a sound second option to Eric Gray last year. In all, Chandler amassed over 2,000 career yards and 13 touchdowns in four years with the Vols. With a veteran O-line, a top-tier quarterback and a competent coaching staff, Chandler can help the Tar Heels at least be a playoff contender come November. -- Ben Kercheval
Florida RB Demarkcus Bowman
There's been a lot of focus on everything Florida loses from the 2020 team but not much on what's replacing it. What was odd about the 2020 Florida team was that it was much more pass-heavy than we've typically seen from Dan Mullen teams. The Gators offense ranked only 11th in the SEC in rushing yards per game, but that was primarily due to volume.
The only team in the conference that ran the ball less often was Mike Leach's Air Raid offense at Mississippi State. I'm betting on the Gators offense looking a lot different in 2021 with Emory Jones likely starting at quarterback and running back Demarkcus Bowman transferring in from Clemson. Bowman was one of the top players in the 2020 recruiting class and will bring a dimension to the Florida offense that was absent last season. It could also be a dimension that helps propel the Gators to their first CFP appearance. -- Tom Fornelli
Oklahoma RB Eric Gray, OL Wanya Morris
Going to two-time it here since the Sooners not only have two impact transfers for their playoff push but got them both from the same place. Morris and Gray were the No. 2 and No. 7-ranked players, respectively, in a 2019 Tennessee recruiting class that ranked No. 13 in the country. Morris was a two-year starter for the Vols and Gray became one of the top running backs in the SEC last season.
Now Morris adds a huge boost to an offensive line losing multiple starters and Gray steps in ready to contribute immediately in the running back rotation. There's easy explanations for the Oklahoma hype because of Spencer Rattler, but just as important is how the rest of the offense around the quarterback has improved. -- Chip Patterson
LSU LB Mike Jones
Mike Jones was ranked No. 7 among the top 100 transfers in the nation according to 247Sports, but his impact to the LSU defense could be a massive part of a College Football Playoff push. He isn't your ordinary defensive transfer -- the dude had 26 tackles and two interceptions last year for a Clemson team that made the College Football Playoff for the sixth straight season. He joins an LSU defense that was atrocious last season, but should be better due to the experience younger players got and the absence of former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who was an abject disaster in 2020.
LSU's offense is loaded with weapons and all it needs is a defense that's adequate in order to make a run at Alabama. Jones has experience at nickel and should play more of an inside linebacker spot on the bayou. Speed, experience and versatility ... Jones has all of it. -- Barrett Sallee