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A Dream of Spring- Offense Edition

Looking back at which players became available during the spring portal session last year

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington recently got back to 70 scholarship players on the roster for 2024 and it has taken a monumental effort to do so. The combination of draft departures, transfer portal entries, and high school decommitments following Kalen DeBoer’s move to Alabama left the Husky roster extremely depleted. There’s a chance that UW gets up to 75-80 by the time that spring ball kicks off but there will still be at least 5-10 openings to fill via the spring portal window.

Husky fans certainly would love to dream of a number of all-conference type players becoming available and coming to Washington during that time. But what’s realistic?

Luckily, or idiotically, I’ve been tracking the transfer portal and creating my own ranking system for the last several years. Part of that effort in my magic spreadsheet is noting whether transfers entered the portal during the winter or the spring. Which means I can look back at last year and detail what caliber of player might be there in April.

We’ll go position by position to look at which players were highest rated by my system as well as who actually performed the best this year. To do the latter, I put together my productivity score which is based on number of starts, number of snaps, and PFF grade for the recently concluded 2023 season. Some players have multiple years of eligibility and will pay off further down the road but we’re looking at instant impact right now.

At each position I put the number of players who had a transfer grade of 70.0 or higher which usually should correspond to someone expected to start at the P5 level. I also include the number who had a productivity score of over 40.0 at the P5 level which corresponds roughly to players who started an average of about 10 games with at least an average PFF grade.

Note that I am including players who signed with an FBS or FCS team after entering the portal. I’m not looking through JUCO or including players that withdrew from the portal.

Quarterback

# of players available in spring with 70+ transfer grades: 6

# of players who had 40+ productivity score at P5 level: 3

Washington already added Will Rogers in the portal this offseason and has 2 freshmen coming in competing for playing time but could use someone with some experience who is okay with being the backup for 2024.

There were 36 spring portal entries at the quarterback position and only 13 of them ended up at the Power 5 level. Most of the movement was in the other direction with players losing P5 competitions and deciding to move down a level to try to earn a starting job. There was a clear top-4 in my ranking’s view:

Casey Thompson- Nebraska to FAU (85.3 grade)

Ben Bryant- Cincinnati to Northwestern (81.4 grade)

Tyler Buchner- Notre Dame to Alabama (79.0 grade)

Payton Thorne- Michigan State to Auburn (78.3 grade)

That group was hit or miss in their results but mostly correct. Casey Thompson won the job at FAU but tore his ACL after 3 games. Ben Bryant started 9 games for Northwestern to help them earn a stunning bowl berth, and Payton Thorne started every game for Auburn putting up more than 2,400 total yards. The lone true miss was of course Buchner who followed Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees to Tuscaloosa and lost the job to Jalen Milroe (though Buchner technically got 1 start).

There were only 6 QBs that finished with a productivity score over 35.0 which were also the only QBs to start at least 6 games for their new teams. Both Thorne and Ben Bryant are on that list. Two of them were at the FCS level (Elon and Alabama State). The other two players who led the way in productivity score were:

TJ Finley- Auburn to Texas State (70.0 grade)

Thomas Castellanos- UCF to Boston College (61.0 grade)

Both of these players were viewed by my system as potential starters and went on to put up over 3,400 total yards while starting 12+ games. Finley had started multiple games in 3 straight seasons at Auburn but was held back by injuries and general dysfunction around him (a situation not totally dissimilar from Michael Penix Jr.) while Thomas Castellanos was a fringe 3/4-star who played well in limited reps as a true freshman.

Running Back

# of players available in spring with 70+ transfer grades: 2

# of players who had 40+ productivity score at P5 level: 0

This might be one of the spots where the Huskies least need to add talent as things currently stand (with New Mexico transfer Jacory Croskey-Merritt seemingly leaning towards Washington). There were 28 portal running backs last spring and 13 of them ended up at the P5 level.

My system’s far and away #1 option was Alton McCaskill from Houston (83.8 grade) who ended up committing to Colorado. But I don’t have a way to account for injuries and he had been coming off an ACL tear and ended up only paying 56 snaps for the Buffs.

The only player who ended up doing anything of consequence for a P5 team was also my system’s #2 overall: Logan Diggs (79.4) who went from Notre Dame to LSU to follow former coach Brian Kelly. Diggs ended up starting 8 games and had 735 total yards for an explosive LSU offense.

Other than that the only other players to finish with more than 400 total yards among spring transfer RBs all did so at the FCS level. Relying on premium RB talent to become available in the spring isn’t smart.

Wide Receiver

# of players available in spring with 70+ transfer grades: 8

# of players who had 40+ productivity score at P5 level: 3

Washington could definitely use another receiver, even after bringing in Cal transfer Jeremiah Hunter, after losing their top-4 from last year to the draft and portal. There were 66 spring receiver portal entries and only 22 of them ended up at a P5 program. That included several big names.

My rankings did a good job of identifying the premium talent. Keon Coleman (86.2) was my #1 pick and he went from Michigan State to Florida State and put up 658 yards for a 59.2 production score. He’s expected to be an early draft pick in April. The only player to top that was my ranking’s #2 spring WR Xzavier Henderson (82.7) going from Florida to Cincinnati and compiling 762 yards for a 64.6 production score.

In addition to that group there were another five receivers that ended up going for 500+ yards this season. Only two of them happened at the P5 level. Jahdae Walker went from D3 Grand Valley State to Texas A&M and promptly had 540 yards across 7 starts. AJ Henning did the opposite, going down a tier of the Big Ten from Michigan to Northwestern and started 8 games with 523 total yards.

In the end there were seven P5 receivers to start at least seven games which represents more than half a season. That includes Walker, Henning, Coleman, and Henderson. Two of the other three came from intra-Pac-12 transfers. Montana Lemonious-Craig took advantage of a highly publicized Deion spring game to transfer to Jedd Fisch at Arizona. While fan favorite Taj Davis of course left UW to go to California where he had 399 receiving yards. The last went to Javon Antonio who upgraded from FCS Northwestern State to Colorado.

It’s not impossible to add a premium wide receiver in the spring portal session but it’s more likely to be able to find a 3rd/4th guy who maybe was 5th/6th on a particularly loaded receiver depth chart elsewhere.

Tight End

# of players available in spring with 70+ transfer grades: 1

# of players who had 40+ productivity score at P5 level: 0

Washington could probably use another tight end given that there are only 4 on the roster right now. They’re probably not going to add one who qualifies as instant impact.

There was only one tight end with a transfer grade that even remotely profiled as a P5 starter. North Texas’ Var’Keyes Gumms (72.3 grade) had put up 458 receiving yards and 5 TDs as a sophomore before transferring to Arkansas in the spring. He only had 26 receiving yards there this fall.

No one else in the tight end group had a transfer grade over 50 and the 2nd place finisher was Casey Kelly at Oregon who went on to have 43 receiving yards as their backup tight end.

Not only did no P5 tight end have a production score of at least 40.0, only one at any level even surpassed 20.0! Turon Ivy Jr. went from Coastal Carolina to Idaho and started 4 games while having 276 receiving yards. Jacob Newell at Akron had 124 yards. No one else hit triple digits. Don’t look for a major TE in the spring portal session.

Offensive Line

# of players available in spring with 70+ transfer grades: 0

# of players who had 40+ productivity score at P5 level: 10

Well I saved the best for last given that Washington is in the position of having to replace its top-7 offensive linemen from this year. And the 8th, Landen Hatchett, came back from the portal but is recovering from a serious knee injury and likely won’t be available for the start of the season.

Looking at those numbers above suggests maybe a flaw in the system, huh? Why were there so few highly rated linemen but so many that played a ton this year? It likely speaks to the fact that very few teams have quality offensive line depth and that continuity is more important there than anywhere else. If a running back isn’t playing well, you bench him and there’s probably another option available. If your left tackle isn’t playing well, he’s probably getting trotted back out there still. Especially if you were still looking for a starter in the spring portal session.

It’s not impossible to completely remodel an offensive line in the spring. Last year Louisville added 4 players who had a 55.0 transfer grade in my system which usually suggests they can be at least a quality depth piece for a P5 school. Two of them (Eric Miller from Purdue and Willie Tyler from Rutgers) ended up starting all 14 games for the Cardinals as they made the ACC title game.

California picked up a pair of 10+ game starters as well (Barrett Miller from Stanford and Matthew Wykoff from Texas A&M). Each had a 50.0 grade or higher in my rankings.

The problem with the offensive line group, and where the 0 transfers above a 70.0 grade makes sense, is that you didn’t really find eventual all-conference candidates. No one who played at least 200 snaps among the spring OL transfers had a PFF grade of better than 70.

For context, there were 16 OL in the Pac-12 last year to play more than 200 snaps and have a 70.0 or better PFF grade. On average every team had at least one and a few teams had a second of that quality. The midpoint OL PFF grade in the Pac-12 was about 63.0 last year. There were seven total spring P5 OL transfers to play at least 200 snaps and eclipse that PFF grade. They’re out there but they aren’t quite falling off of trees.

Washington has a good shot to land at least one average starter on the offensive line through the portal this spring. It’s not totally impossible that they find a second one. If the coaching staff is hoping for more than that though then they’re not being realistic.