When previewing NFL Draft classes, the NCAA's graduate transfer rule has always piqued my interest. When a college football player opts to leave one FBS program for another, he typically must sit out a season before suiting up for his new school. The graduate transfer exception allows for a player who has earned his undergrad degree to move on to another team and play immediately, provided the student athlete is enrolled in a graduate program.
The most successful graduate transfer in recent memory is Russell Wilson. His desire to play minor league baseball got him nudged out of NC State, and he went on to star for Wisconsin as a senior. Wilson was ultimately drafted in the third round the following year, and has gone on to wealth and stardom. Last season, quarterbacks Jake Rudock and Jeff Driskel were no longer in the plans at Iowa and Florida respectively, but found starting jobs at Michigan and Louisiana Tech, and went from afterthoughts to sixth round NFL draft picks.
Don't get me wrong. The grad transfer exception isn't some NFL golden ticket. Quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Vernon Adams had to find work north of the border in the CFL. Cornerback Wayne Lyons was touted as Michigan's "Top NFL draft prospect" last summer after transferring in from Stanford, but was ignored by the NFL after seeing only reserve duty as a senior. Still, despite the long odds, I love the idea that a player can take advantage of this provision, reenergize a stalled career in a new location, and parlay that into an NFL gig. With that in mind, here are 10 graduate transfers I expect to leave a mark on their new schools, and garner attention from NFL scouts this fall.
Davis Webb QB Cal 6'5" 224 SR
Graduate Transfer from Texas Tech
Webb is expected to pick up where 2016 number one overall pick Jared Goff left off for the Golden Bears. A 2013 three-star recruit, Webb began his sophomore year as Texas Tech's starting QB, but missed the final four games of 2014 with an ankle injury, and later went on to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. By the time he returned to health, Patrick Mahomes had replaced him as the Red Raiders starter. Webb comes to Berkeley with high expectations, billed as the top senior quarterback prospect by Elder Draftnik, Mel Kiper Jr., and the Cal senior should post big numbers in Sonny Dykes' "Bear Raid" offense this season.
Career: 14 starts 61.4 COMP% 7.4 YPA 46 TD 22 INT 3 rush TD
2015: 22/41 (53.7%) 300 YDS 7.3 YPA 2 TD 0 INT passing, 6 YDS 3.0 AVG 2 TD rushing
Trevor Knight QB Texas A&M 6'1 215 rSR
Graduate transfer from Oklahoma
A four-star recruit in 2012, Knight earned five starts as a redshirt freshman the following year. His stock took off at the close of that season when he posted 348 yards and four touchdowns through the air in an upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Knight got 10 starts in 2014, but wasn't able to hold the job, and last season Baker Mayfield sent Knight to the bench for good. This year, the fifth-year senior gets a chance to rebuild his draft stock. He's expected to walk in and start immediately for an Aggies' offense that had been staggered by the transfers of highly-touted recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, and with a strong showing Knight could sneak into the late rounds of the draft next spring.
Career: 57.1 COMP% 7.0 YPA 25 TD 19 INT 8 rush TD 1 receiving TD
2015: 22/40 (55%) 305 YDS 7.6 YPA 2 TD 2 INT passing, 69 YDS 4.3 AVG 1 TD rushing
Trey Edmunds RB Maryland 6'2" 223 rSR
Graduate transfer from Virginia Tech
Edmunds redshirted in 2012, but the four-star recruit looked like the real deal the following year before he broke his leg against Virginia in the final game of the regular season. Edmunds poor injury luck continued in 2014 when he missed six games with a broken collarbone. After spot duty last year, the fifth-year senior will look to claim the Terps' starting running back job and find his way into the NFL, where his father, Ferrell, spent seven seasons and earned two Pro Bowl bids in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Career: 32 games 957 YDS 4.1 AVG 13 TD rushing, 20 REC 158 YDS 7.9 AVG 2 TD receiving
2015: 185 YDS 3.9 AVG 3 TD rushing, 1 REC 8 YDS receiving
Derrick Green RB TCU 5'11" 234 SR
Graduate transfer from Michigan
Green was a five-star recruit, and Rivals' top running back, when he chose Michigan over archival Ohio State and others back in 2013. But he struggled to get on track as a true freshman, and just as it seemed he might breakthrough, he was sidelined for the final six games of his sophomore year with a broken collarbone. Green was an afterthought last year under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, but he will have an opportunity to take over TCU's lead back duties left open by Aaron Green's graduation to the NFL.
Career: 28 games 898 YDS 4.2 AVG 7 TD rushing, 3 REC 33 YDS 11.0 AVG receiving
2015: 157 YDS 3.3 AVG 2 TD rushing, 1 REC 7 YDS
Barry J. Sanders RB Oklahoma State 5'10" 198 rSR
Graduate transfer from Stanford
Despite lofty status as a four-star recruit in 2012, Sanders has always lived in an impossible shadow. His father is NFL Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, a man generally considered among the top two or three players of all time at his position. The younger Sanders comes to Oklahoma State with a chance to seize lead back duties, or at least carve out a bigger piece of a backfield rotation.
Career: 36 games 672 YDS 5.8 AVG 5 TD rushing, 12 REC 89 YDS 7.4 AVG receiving
2015: 315 YDS 6.2 AVG 4 TD rushing, 1 REC 11 YDS receiving
Geno Lewis WR Oklahoma 6'1" 205 rSR
Graduate transfer from Penn State
Lewis was a four-star recruit in 2012, and during his redshirt sophomore season he finished second on the Nittany Lions in receptions and receiving yards. Last year, however, he was a forgotten man, dipping to fourth on the team in both categories as part of an often disjointed and slow-developing passing offense. Lewis now moves on to a high-efficiency attack that produced over nine yards per pass attempt last season, in an effort to rebuild good will with pro scouts.
Career: 38 games 90 REC 1181 YDS 13.1 AVG 8 TD, 1 pass TD
2015: 17 REC 196 YDS 11.5 AVG 3 TD receiving, 1/2 32 YDS 1 TD passing
Gehrig Dieter WR Alabama 6'3" 207 rSR
Graduate transfer from Bowling Green
Dieter is a double transfer who began his career when he played 10 games as a three-star freshman for Southern Methodist University in 2012. Last season, at Bowling Green, he was named Second Team All-MAC and led the team in receptions. Though not yet officially on the Tide's roster, Dieter is expected to be granted a special waiver to be allowed to play this season.
Career: 32 games 139 REC 1661 YDS 11.9 AVG 12 TD
2015: 93 REC 1033 YDS 11.0 AVG 10 TD
Zac Morgan OT Oregon 6'7" 280 rSR
Graduate transfer from Dayton
Morgan is a former high school champion wrestler who is making the rare move to transfer up from the FCS ranks. At Dayton, he spent time starting at both right and left tackles, and was named First Team all-conference last season as a junior.
26 starts in three seasons
Hardy Nickerson Jr. LB Illinois 6' 225 rSR
Graduate transfer from Cal
The undersized Nickerson is a former three-star recruit who has opted to spend his final season of eligibility playing for his father, Hardy Sr., a 16-year NFL veteran and four-time All-Pro linebacker who is currently serving as the Illini's defensive coordinator.
Career: 35 games 121 solo TKL 9 TFL 2 SCK 2 FF 1 PBU 1 INT
2015: 111 TKL (54 solo) 2 TFL 1 SCK
T. J. Neal LB Auburn 6' 235 rSR
Graduate transfer from Illinois
With Nickerson moving in at Illinois, Neal, a 2012 three-star recruit, is moving on to the SEC, where he is likely to step into a high-profile starting job.
Career: 37 games 89 solo TKL 21.5 TFL 2 SCK 1 INT 5 PBU
2015: 109 TKL (43 solo)14 TFL 2 SCK 2 QBH 1 PBU