Transfer portal QB rankings: Who are the top options on the move this offseason?

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Since its inception, the transfer portal’s ability to change the landscape of college football has only grown in strength.

As of early this week, more than 100 quarterbacks had entered the transfer portal. Here’s a look at my favorite transfer portal QB prospects, grouped into three tiers: players who have started more than 30 games (“veterans”), players with more than 15 games banked (“experienced”) and those who’ve played fewer than 15 games (“unproven”).

As always: I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the portal quarterbacks and what some of your favorite potential team fits are.


The veterans (more than 30 starts)

1. Dillon Gabriel (5 feet 11, 204 pounds; committed to Oregon)

2023 at Oklahoma: 3,660 yards, 30 TDs passing (12 rushing), 6 INTs, 69.3 percent completions, .45 EPA/dropback, 11.2 percent off-target rate

In terms of 2023 metrics, the top passer to hit the portal is Oregon’s new quarterback. Gabriel ranks No. 1 among portal QBs in several areas: EPA per dropback, EPA on pressured attempts, EPA without play action included and EPA with runs included. He was also the best third-and-long passer (45.9 percent) and one of the best vertical-passing quarterbacks available.

At Oklahoma last year, Gabriel was 21 of 39 on attempts of at least 30 air yards — easily the best of any current portal QB.

The limitations are obvious, primarily that Gabriel is 5-11, 204. Still, his decision to replace Bo Nix in Oregon’s uptempo attack feels like a near-perfect one.

2. DJ Uiagalelei (6-4 1/4, 240)

2023 at Oregon State: 2,638 yards, 21 TDs passing (6 rushing), 7 INTs, 57.1 percent completions, .27 EPA/dropback, 18.7 percent off-target rate

A five-star recruit at Clemson, Uiagalelei still has a big-time arm. There are more NFL-caliber throws on his tape from his choppy days at Clemson than a lot of these other guys have in their careers. However, taming that arm talent has long been a challenge.

Uiagalelei’s change of scenery — he worked with new Michigan State head coach Jonathan Smith and OC Brian Lindgren at Oregon State — sparked improvement. He led all current portal QBs in percentage of completions that went 20 yards or more (25.6) and percentage of throws that resulted in a touchdown or a first down (68.9). However, his accuracy issues got worse (18.7 percent off-target rate) and his interception number (seven) stayed the same.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Oregon State's Uiagalelei enters transfer portal

3. Dequan Finn (6-2, 210)

2023 at Toledo: 2,657 yards, 22 TDs passing (7 rushing), 9 INTs, 63.4 percent completions, .18 EPA/dropback, 14.5 percent off-target rate

A three-year starter for Toledo, Finn was a big reason why Jason Candle was able to break through with 20 wins over the past two seasons. An explosive, agile athlete with terrific balance, speed and vision in the open field as a runner, Finn’s ability to keep himself loaded as a passer on the move has improved throughout his college career. It’s also what could make him really intriguing for a Power 5 offense with a good rushing attack.

Finn does have some awkwardness to his game. He releases the ball from his ear, has inconsistent footwork and his accuracy down the field has not been overly dependable. He’s a playmaker, though. He’s not a quarterback who looks to run at the first sign of struggle, either — he’ll stand in the pocket and process. But his ability to be a threat with his arm and legs while defenders are in conflict is as good as you’ll see in the portal.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Tracking the transfer QB market: Best players available, decisions to watch

4. Grayson McCall (6-2 1/8, 207)

2023 at Coastal Carolina: 1,919 yards, 10 TDs passing (1 rushing), 6 INTs, 67.4 percent completions, .23 EPA/dropback, 13.8 percent off-target rate

One of the most experienced players in the portal (40 starts), McCall was limited to seven games this year by a concussion. In those 40 starts for Coastal Carolina, McCall threw for more than 10,000 combined yards with 106 touchdowns against 14 interceptions and a career completion rate of 63 percent. He also played in an offense that worked around his capabilities.

McCall’s a sturdy, springy athlete capable of avoiding the rush in the pocket to keep plays alive. He plays with good vision and has relatively dependable accuracy underneath and at intermediate distances. He is not a reliable downfield passer, however, so fit will be important. And McCall’s health may be the biggest factor.

5. Kurtis Rourke (6-4 1/4, 230)

2023 at Ohio: 2,207 yards, 11 TDs passing (4 rushing), 5 INTs, 63.5 percent completions, .15 EPA/dropback, 14.7 percent off-target rate

A big quarterback with an arm to match, Rourke — younger brother of former CFL standout and current Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nathan Rourke — was a two-year starter at Ohio. He made some big throws for the Bobcats but also dealt with injuries (ACL tear in November of 2022), including having to leave the 2023 season-opener after taking a big hit. He was back two weeks later, though, and finished 8-2 as a starter the rest of the way.

Kurtis with the keeper 🔥

📺 https://t.co/1Aqg7qqje3 | #OUohyeah pic.twitter.com/SgKsfues9P

— Ohio Football (@OhioFootball) November 16, 2023

When Rourke’s feet are set in the pocket and he steps into his throws, great stuff happens. That looked to be the case more consistently in 2023, although instances of throwing off flat feet or playing with poor timing can be found on Rourke’s tape. He’s a capable runner who also can really spin it on the move, so long as he’s under control.


The experienced options (at least 15 starts)

1. Riley Leonard (6-5 5/8, 212; committed to Notre Dame)

2023 at Duke: 1,102 yards, 3 TDs passing (4 rushing), 3 INTs, 57.6 percent completions, .10 EPA/dropback, 17.0 percent off-target rate

In terms of total package, Leonard is the most talented quarterback in the transfer portal. A big-bodied athlete who is a dangerous runner in the open field, Leonard throws a really pretty and catchable downfield ball. And though his arm isn’t the strongest in the country, his anticipatory skills — throwing to just about anywhere on the field — are outstanding.

His 2023 season was derailed by an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame in late September. He started just two more games before shutting it down.

When healthy, Leonard can be a very accurate downfield thrower and fit the ball into tight windows. Still, he still struggled to find answers against pressure and had a tendency to be off with timing before the injury. There’s work to do, but Leonard has early-round traits.

2. Cameron Ward (6-1 3/8, 216)

2023 at Washington State: 3,735 yards, 25 TDs passing (8 rushing), 7 INTs, 66.7 percent completions, .08 EPA/dropback, 9.5 percent off-target rate

From a technique standpoint, Ward looked like a different player than the one we saw as a first-year starter in 2022 (after a transfer from Incarnate Word). Ward’s footwork and pass drops were so much more consistent, which led to terrific passing results. He played with middling accuracy and limited pocket discipline in ’22, but his off-target rate fell to a career-best 9.5 percent in 2023.

A lot of what Washington State asked Ward to do entailed underneath work, but his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately was top-shelf. Ward is a legitimate run threat, although he still struggled with pressure. If he can improve as much in 2024 as he did in ’23, he’ll be a star.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Wazzu QB Ward enters portal, to consider NFL Draft

3. Will Howard (6-4, 244)

2023 at Kansas State: 2,643 yards, 24 TDs passing (9 rushing), 10 INTs, 61.3 percent completions, .18 EPA/dropback, 14.8 percent off-target rate

A burly, powerful athlete with quick feet, Howard is a capable runner, both in the downhill-read game and as a pocket maneuverer. His footwork in the pocket, though, is not as consistent as he’d like it to be — resulting in misses, often high. He’ll throw off his back foot, his front foot and flat-footed. But his arm talent is legit, and he can really drive the ball.

The needed areas of improvement for Howard are in his footwork, general field vision and feel/response versus pressure. If he can land with a QB coach/offensive coordinator who can tame all of his traits, he could be a game-changer. There is work to do, though.

4. Jordan McCloud (6-0, 199)

2023 at James Madison: 3,413 yards, 32 TDs passing (8 rushing), 9 INTs, 68.9 percent completions, .33 EPA/dropback, 10.8 percent off-target rate

A diminutive passer (6 feet, 199 pounds — both generous measurements), McCloud had a terrific season at James Madison and was the portal’s best downfield passer in terms of accuracy and consistency. A good athlete who can flip his hips and get the ball out quickly, McCloud — who is quicker than fast — plays with really good vision and overall football IQ.

A 24-year-old player who also has played at South Florida and Arizona, McCloud has seen a ton of football and generally makes the next right decision on the field. If he can find a team with a sturdy offensive line in front of him, he could have a big 2024.

𝐒𝐔𝐍 𝐁𝐄𝐋𝐓 𝐏𝐋𝐀𝐘𝐄𝐑 𝐎𝐅 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐘𝐄𝐀𝐑.

Jordan McCloud. The best of the best in Sun Belt football!#GoDukes | @Jordan_McCloud3 pic.twitter.com/QKMGW6uJzv

— JMU Football (@JMUFootball) November 30, 2023

5. Tyler Van Dyke (6-3 1/2, 224; committed to Wisconsin)

2023 at Miami: 2,703 yards, 19 TDs passing (1 rushing), 12 INTs, 65.8 percent completions, .19 EPA/dropback, 11.7 percent off-target rate

Van Dyke had three different offensive coordinators in three years at Miami, and he lived to tell about it. A big, physical passer, Van Dyke’s season started hot and eventually faded, as there were — once again — too many inconsistencies with his vision and passing mechanics. A tall player who throws from multiple angles, Van Dyke has shown processing issues throughout his time in college.

There’s a lot to like still, as Van Dyke’s physical tools are more than enough to work with. This was probably his best season in terms of accuracy, and he’s really never been in a stable situation. He’ll start over again in 2024, so fit will be important.


The untested (fewer than 15 starts)

1. Dante Moore (6-3, 210)

2023 at UCLA: 1,610 yards, 11 TDs passing, 9 INTs, 53.5 percent completions, .08 EPA/dropback, 14.4 percent off-target rate

There aren’t too many players, regardless of position, with more upside than the 18-year-old Detroit native. Moore was a part-time starter last season for Chip Kelly at UCLA, often rotating with junior Ethan Garbers. A tall, agile passer with electric arm talent, Moore was a five-star prospect and showed off his downfield passing ability more than a few times.

DANTE MOORE 62-YARD TD PASS TO J.MICHAEL STURDIVANT!!

📺: @ESPN
📲: https://t.co/nZyOC9HyQI #GoBruins pic.twitter.com/u7BZcenYbF

— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) September 3, 2023

He also put his youth on display. Moore was not a disciplined passer last season, as his turnovers ranged from careless to downright foolish. The system fit with Kelly felt a little awkward, too. If Moore can get with the right coaching staff, he has All-America-level ability — just perhaps not right away.

2. Aidan Chiles (6-3, 212)

2023 at Oregon State: 309 yards, 4 TDs passing (3 rushing), 0 INTs, 68.6 percent completions

A true freshman last season, Chiles has terrific athletic potential as a big-bodied runner who can make people miss in space. He’s still a little skinny but could be a very dangerous runner if he fills out. Chiles played as Uiagalelei’s backup last season and got more experience on a good team than most true freshmen his age.

His delivery has gone through some work since a wrist injury in high school — and still might need more. He’s a good intermediate thrower and gets rid of the ball fast.

He’s also a competitor. Chiles came in and turned heads immediately in Corvallis last season and has a lot of poise for a teenager. Same as Moore: If he lands in the right hands, he could be a star.

3. Kyle McCord (6-3, 215)

2023 at Ohio State: 3,170 yards, 24 TDs passing, 6 INTs, 65.8 percent completions, .34 EPA/dropback, 12.1 percent off-target rate

It was a weird year for McCord and the Buckeyes, but hardly the disaster it may have felt like at the end of the regular season. The former five-star prospect had some really nice days driving the talent machine that is Ohio State’s offense, but he also had some really rough stretches — and nowhere near enough great days.

No. 1 Ohio State strikes first. 💥@Geescottjr x @OhioStateFB

📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/0LgxqlNxtt

— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) November 4, 2023

A big passer with above-average arm talent, McCord was at his best in quick situations and from a clean pocket. In those moments, he was outstanding. When he was pressured or things went off-script, he struggled. If someone can reinject confidence into McCord’s game, we’ll be talking about how he might have been the best of the “untested” options.

4. Brock Vandagriff (6-3, 210; committed to Kentucky)

2023 at Georgia: 165 yards, 2 TDs passing, 0 INTs, 66.7 percent completions

Another former five-star recruit, Vandagriff is a very good, bouncy athlete who runs and moves with a lot of twitch. Once a wide receiver, Vandagriff was a big-time off-platform playmaker and made his name as a dual-threat passer. His arm talent is good enough to make most throws, even if it wasn’t quite elite in high school.

Kentucky struck gold when it snagged a big-bodied, twitchy passer in Will Levis out of the portal a few years back. The Wildcats are hoping for the same here.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Georgia backup QB Brock Vandagriff to enter transfer portal

5. AJ Swann (6-3, 228)

2023 at Vanderbilt: 1,457 yards, 12 TDs passing (1 rushing), 7 INTs, 54.6 percent completions, .01 EPA/dropback, 20.9 percent off-target rate

A big passer who shows good footwork and mechanics for his age, with a very quick release and a good amount of mobility in the pocket, Swann is another young QB who could have a bright future. A sophomore in 2023, Swann began the year as Vanderbilt’s starter before dealing with an injury and turnover issues.

Still, he’s not afraid to push the ball vertically. In six games last season, Swann had 16 completions of 20 yards or more — seven of them for at least 30 yards.

(Photos of Dante Moore and Dillon Gabriel: Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images; Scott Winters / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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