December 5th marked the beginning of a new era in college football. The transfer portal window opened for the first time, and boy was it wild. Personnel departments across the country were glued to social media and the NCAA transfer portal website looking for announcements. The first day was the busiest day in transfer portal history.
In the past, when the transfer portal was open year-round, there was a steady trickle of entries throughout the year. There were a few times of the year that the portal was a little busier – right after the season, and right after Spring Ball – but generally, the slow trickle of players gave personnel departments adequate time to research players, prepare reports for coaches, and get any other information they needed.
Before the transfer portal window opened, recruiting expert Bud Elliott talked about why this would be the craziest portal season ever and gave two reasons:
- Players signed before the NIL deals are taking shape.
- The 2021 signing class had such a weird recruiting cycle because of Covid. Schools, and players, may not have been able to get an accurate picture of the situation.
2 reasons why this transfer portal cycle might be the wildest we’ve seen. pic.twitter.com/7jI2Fa6Fbe
— Bud Elliott (@BudElliott3) November 16, 2022
Another addition to the craziness comes as players have an extra year of eligibility from the Covid season. This means you have basically two signing classes worth of graduate transfers (5th years, and 6th years) transferring at the same time. All of this means that personnel departments and recruiting staffs need better tools than ever before.
Soccer (Sorry European StatsBomb Employees!) Player Evaluation
Let’s start with a little history lesson. StatsBomb was founded in 2017, and we started collecting soccer data. We are now one of the biggest (if not The Biggest) soccer data companies in the world. One of the most recognizable things, and well-loved things, we do on the soccer side is radar plots. These charts help give teams and analysts a lot of information in a quick time period. One example of these radars is recent World Cup Champion and Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi.
These have helped change the game in the soccer world of the transfer market, and are going to do the same in college football with the transfer portal.
Quarterbacks are always the highest-profile players that enter the transfer portal. Similar to when coaches change jobs, quarterbacks moving from school to school can have a major impact on the trajectory of programs. This season, almost half of the starting quarterbacks in FBS were transfer players. A number of notable quarterbacks entered the transfer portal this cycle: Cade McNamara, Drew Pyne, Shedeur Sanders, Hudson Card, and about half the starting ACC quarterbacks. Although it is incredibly difficult to project success at the quarterback position, data can help teams as they sort through this ever-important position.
One of the more compelling quarterbacks in the transfer portal is Brennan Armstrong. In 2021 Armstrong finished with the 4th highest total yards per game in the last 10 years, as well as 40 TD’s in only 10 games played. His 2022 numbers were nowhere close to recreating his 2021 numbers, and it shows in the radars. The above radars show just how different his past two seasons have been. Will his next team get 2021 or 2022 Brennan Armstrong?
Offensive line is one of the most sought-after positions in the portal, and also one of the hardest to analyze. Each offensive line coach has traits they look for when recruiting the position: quick hands, plays low, nasty blocker, finishes every play, athletic feet, etc. But there haven’t been many statistics for offensive lineman at the college level.
Another difficult factor is the number of offensive lineman in the portal. Offensive lineman account for almost 50% of the players that play on offense, but only 25% of the number of offensive players in the transfer portal. There is a dearth of offensive lineman in the transfer portal. An outcome of this is how frequently offensive lineman transfer up multiple levels (FCS to Power 5 for example, skipping the group of 5 level).
One of the top lineman in the transfer portal this year was Ladarius Henderson. He played at Arizona State last season, but transferred to Michigan, the home of the Joe Moore Award winners (Top OL in the country).
Looking at the radar for Henderson shows a few metrics that look familiar: pressure %, sack %; even double team % and 1-on-1%. Some new metrics from our line battles data also show up in the radar plots. Run disruptions, and run behinds are key metrics that will help coaches and decision-makers make better decisions while evaluating offensive and defensive lineman.
Many of the new metrics that are referenced in the offensive lineman section above show up in the defensive line radars as well. Run disruptions, 1-on-1 %, pressure %, and more. QB proximity is one of the new metrics on the defensive line radar. This is the average distance the rusher is from the quarterback at the time of the pass.
Not only will college teams be able to use this data to analyze players in the transfer portal, but this will also give NFL teams a chance to analyze players for the NFL Draft with data that is unavailable anywhere else, including the QB proximity measure mentioned above. The above radars are for two potential early draft picks Calijah Kancey and Tuli Tuipulotu.
The position with the highest number of players in the transfer portal last season (and it’s looking like it will be the same this transfer portal window as well) is wide receiver. Using StatsBomb data tools can help cut down on the work of going through all the wide receivers, and narrowing down analysis and recruitment to a few players.
One player who needed no real analysis (though it is fun to look at his radars, as you will see below) was Jordan Addison. Addison was one of the most high-profile transfers in all of college football last season. He was the top non-QB transfer according to 247 sports, and was also the reigning Bilitnekoff winner. It was shocking when he entered the transfer portal, but his destination did not come as a surprise to many people when he picked USC.
The above radars are from his time with Pitt in 2021, and his time with USC this past season. Although his overall numbers were down this year, his rate-based stats were actually better in most areas. He received a higher percentage of targets, his yards per target were up, and his success rate was up as well. Using these radars we can also see a few differences. This season Addison had a lower target separation and higher YAC per attempt. Let’s assume he did not suddenly become a worse route runner, or better at making people miss tackles. This shows a change in how he was being used by USC.
It seems like Oklahoma State’s entire offense has entered the transfer portal. Starting running back Dominic Richardson is one of those players that entered the portal and is going to play for Baylor next season. Although he was hampered by injuries last season, it’s easy to see why he was a top target on the transfer market. Being a good receiving target out of the backfield, while also being a really good running back will do that for you.
StatsBomb radar charts and recruitment tools have changed the way that the soccer world analyzes players in the transfer market. The obvious next step is for StatsBomb to help personnel and recruiting departments take over the transfer portal as well.
Head of American Football Analysis