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The Two Sides of the Transfer Portal

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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While critics of the portal decry it as collegiate free agency, just as free agents can be hit or miss in the NFL, so too will they be at this level.

The transfer portal was arguably the biggest ongoing storyline in college football this past offseason. Mercifully, the offseason is no more -- done away with by a thrilling opener that saw five lead changes before the Florida Gators ultimately hung on to beat Miami 24-20 in Camping World Stadium -- but the transfer portal will nonetheless have a lasting, widespread impact on the season as it unfolds.

While critics of the portal decry it as collegiate free agency, just as free agents can be hit or miss in the NFL, so too will they be at this level.

Florida’s experience with the transfer portal was almost exclusively of the negative variety. Eleven players departed, only one arrived.

That one was former Louisville edge rusher Jon Greenard. The Gators sought Greenard’s services to try to fill the void left behind by Jachai Polite. Though Greenard missed almost all of last season due to injury, he, in 2017, was a dynamic defensive playmaker for the Cardinals. Greenard ranked in the top five in the ACC in tackles for loss that fall, recording 15.5, adding seven sacks and six quarterback hurries.

Still, it was no given that he would be able to step right in and replace a guy that had just put up 17.5 tackles for loss of his own, and largely against more challenging competition than Greenard had previously faced.

Some players thrive in certain schemes, but flounder in others. Some are the beneficiary of a superior surrounding cast, but ill-equipped to shine as the focal point. Sometimes, people just aren’t a good fit. That’s the risk teams run when acquiring talent via the transfer portal. As a means to supplement homegrown talent, sure, it has utility. However, attempting to build through transfers does not seem like a recipe for success.

His teammates and coaches sang his praises throughout the spring and at SEC Media Days.

“Jachai Polite was more of a ‘run around you guy’ while Jon Greenard is more of ‘run through you guy’,” Jabari Zuniga quipped, back in Hoover last month. That was reason for optimism.

His OAYP projection as the SEC’s top 2019 edge defender was, as well. Nonetheless, it’s better to operate within a prism of cautious optimism until one actually sees it on the field.

Tonight, in Orlando, everyone saw it on the field. The Gator defense wreaked havoc upon an overmatched Miami offensive line, racking up an incredible 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and 5 QB hurries. And Greenard was right there leading the way, tied for the team lead with 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, which only trailed Ventrell Miller, and two TFL’s, just off Zuniga’s pace of three. He could have had more, too. There was one play in the first half, for example, where Miami quarterback Jarren Williams escaped Greenard’s grasp by the skin of his teeth, only to be brought down by a pair of his teammates about millisecond later.

This is the good side of the transfer coin flip.

Miami, conversely, was one of the more active teams in all of college football when it came to transfer acquisitions. They did have six guys leave the program, but brought in eight.

Among them were a former blue chip quarterback, Tate Martell, who got beat out by Williams, but did see the field a few times tonight, mostly as a sort of all-purpose receiver/ball carrier. He finished with one carry for -1 yards.

Another one was defensive end Trevon Hill who, not dissimilar from Greenard, was also a highly productive edge defender for his old team, Virginia Tech. He also, like Greenard, projected to be among the top five edge rushers in the conference for his new team, per OAYP.

However, unlike Greenard, he didn’t end up winning the starting job. Scott Patchan started the game where he presumably thought he would be when he decided to go to Miami, and while Patchan put together a nice performance of his own, Hill played only as a rotational piece, and quietly finished with two tackles. Now, it’s not time to chalk up Hill as a miss, far from it, but he’s hardly off to a roaring start.

Same story for former UCLA defensive lineman Chigozie Nnoruka and USC safety Bubba Bolden. The only difference is that, while Hill did at least contribute, these guys names won’t show up in any box score.

This is the bad side of the transfer coin flip.

Or at least it appears to be. It’s still early. Some of Miami’s transfers were ineligible for this season, so there are a few more coins waiting to be flipped next year.

The portal giveth and the portal taketh away, and sometimes what the portal giveth isn’t what you thought you were getting.

Yet, by that same token, sometimes you can find a difference maker to complement the existing talent.

If tonight was any indication, Jon Greenard will keep playing heads up.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP