Weighing the Good and Bad of Virginia Tech’s Transfer Turnover

It’s reasonable for Virginia Tech fans to worry about what feels like an abnormal amount of attrition  hitting the program. But when you look at the entirety of the situation, it isn’t as dire as some might think.

 

Virginia Tech has had several players hit the transfer portal in the last week or so — wide receivers Hezekiah Grimsley, Jacoby Pinckney and Phil Patterson, running back Caleb Steward and safety Khalil Ladler all put themselves on the market. These transfers came shortly after Damon Hazelton announced he would be hitting the transfer market as well, leaving the Hokies with well over a dozen players who have left the program for various reasons over the last few months.

But again, a deeper dive into the situation shows this isn’t quite a doomsday scenario.

Attrition is becoming more common everywhere

Thirteen different players have left the program since the season began. There were fourteen more transfers the year before. And this isn’t uncommon.

Here are the amount of players transferring from other Coastal teams…

  • Duke: 11
  • Georgia Tech: 4
  • Miami: 12
  • North Carolina: 9
  • Pittsburgh: 6
  • Virginia: 3

Other programs across the country who are more successful have the same kind of roster attrition. Oklahoma has had 12 players in the portal. Michigan has 11 players who have transferred or are looking to transfer. Stanford’s number is 15, most likely due to the program’s rough 2019 season.

The NCAA’s transfer portal, combined with loosened graduate transfer rules and an increasing amount of waivers has made it easier for athletes to transfer to what they perceive as better opportunities. There are literally hundreds of players in the portal right now, all looking for the same thing — a better opportunity for their careers.

No, it isn’t ideal that there is so much roster turnover going on. It means that there’s a sizable portion of the roster that either isn’t contributing at a high level, or a portion that feels like their talents aren’t being used properly. Neither of those things are good.

But this is a problem that is affecting programs across the country. Coaches are taking full classes almost every recruiting cycle, making it easier and actually necessary to flush kids out when they aren’t contributing. It’s a vicious cycle that has made it nearly impossible to project what a roster will look like two-to-three seasons in the future. But Virginia Tech isn’t the only program experiencing this.

Transfers don’t generally make big impacts once they leave

When players transfer, it’s not often they become impact players at other programs. There are plenty of examples of players who have done well at other programs, but when you take into account the amount of players who transfer, the percentage is quite low.

Here are some notable players who have transferred from Virginia Tech, and we’ll see what they’ve done once they’ve left Blacksburg.

2017: Travon McMillian — The grad transfer running back posted a 1,000-yard season in his only year at Colorado, averaging five yards per rush and totaling eight touchdowns. McMillian is one of the few cases of a transfer going somewhere and performing well.

2017: DuWayne Johnson — Johnson transferred to JUCO Arizona Western and played a season there before going to Syracuse. Johnson just wrapped up a two-year stint with the Orange in which Johnson served mostly as a special teamer.

2018: Jarrett Hopple — Hopple left the program and enrolled at South Florida. Since then, the giant offensive lineman has yet to earn consistent playing time.

2018: AJ Bush — After transferring to Tech from the JUCO level, Bush graduated and left for Illinois, his third Power 5 school in his collegiate career. Bush played in 10 games for Illinois in 2018, throwing six touchdowns and 10 interceptions while adding another eight touchdowns on the ground. Illinois finished the season 4-8.

2018: Kalil Pimpleton — The Michigan native transferred before the end of his freshman season. He sat out the 2018 season at Central Michigan and in 2019, Pimpleton caught 82 passes for 894 yards and six touchdowns.

2018: Cam Goode — Goode never played a down in Blacksburg. Goode enrolled early and left the program before spring practices even began, leaving for Central Florida. Goode redshirted in 2018 and this past season, he played in just six games and failed to register a tackle for loss.

2018: Eric Kumah — Kumah graduated early and left for Old Dominon, where he experienced a career low 10.7 yards per reception. Kumah shut it down after four games to use 2019 as a redshirt season.

2018: Chris Cunningham — Cunningham played four seasons in Blacksburg before leaving for Old Dominion, where he played in seven games and caught nine passes. None of those receptions went for touchdowns.

2018: Josh Jackson — Jackson broke his leg in the middle of the 2018 season, giving way for Ryan Willis to assume the starting quarterback role. Jackson left for Maryland at the ends of the season. Jackson started off strong in 2019 but failed to throw for more than 183 yards for the rest of the season.

2019: DeJuan Ellis — Ellis transferred from Tech prior to the start of this past season and enrolled at Maryland.  He sat out this season due to transfer rules.

There are plenty of other players who have transferred elsewhere, but a very select few have left Virginia Tech and gone on to play impactful roles at a similar level of competition elsewhere.

Virginia Tech is taking transfers

There isn’t a one-way pipeline of players leaving the program. Virginia Tech is still benefitting from the transfer market, even if players are leaving.

Think about all of the transfers that have made a positive impact at Virginia Tech in recent seasons. Jerod Evans was the engine that drove the Hokies’ offense to a record-setting season in 2016. Hazelton and Ryan Willis were two of the only reliable players on the Hokies’ 2018 team. DaShawn Crawford might have been Virginia Tech’s most productive defensive lineman last season.

The Hokies have been more active in the portal over the last two years and the 2020 will benefit from a few transfers. Brock Hoffman is now eligible and should be the Hokies’ starting center. Braxton Burmeister is eligible as well and gives Tech added depth at quarterback. Graduate transfers Raheem Blackshear and Khalil Herbert will both be fighting for carries and Crawford will be back to anchor the interior of Tech’s defensive line.

Tech is still pursuing help on the market. 247Sports is reporting that Marshall wide receiver Obi Obialo is visiting Virginia Tech this weekend. Obialo entered the portal on Jan. 17 and has 81 career catches for 998 yards and four touchdowns. Obialo isn’t a game-changer, but he would add value to the roster.

It’s rare that an elite talent finds themselves in the transfer portal, meaning the goal should be to supplement the roster with contributors and depth where the depth chart looks thin. Justin Fuente has done well in that regard and the Hokies would benefit from engaging further in the transfer portal.

Better get used to it

College football’s de facto free agency isn’t going anywhere. Players are going to utilize their ability to transfer more and more, especially as the NCAA grants more and more waivers for immediate eligibility. And if the NCAA decides to grant all student-athletes a one-time transfer with immediate eligibility, then free agency will have effectively arrived.

It’s never going to be a good look when several players transfer out of your program within a short amount of time. However, its happening at more programs across the country than ever before and there are no signs of it slowing. Roster attrition comes with good and bad, exposing a coach’s missed prospects while also giving that coach a chance to backfill that scholarship with a contributor, either immediate or down the road.

Virginia Tech’s offseason attrition has no doubt affected the team’s depth heading into 2020, but the Hokies will need to adapt to it. Like every other coach, Fuente has the chance to fill holes in his roster through the transfer market. Let’s see if he’s able to do so.

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