Virginia Tech Football and the Transfer Portal: Inside the Numbers

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Virginia Tech transfer portal
Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson (who entered the transfer portal in 2019) hands off to Phil Patterson (who is now in the 2020 transfer portal) during action in the 2018 Spring Game. (Ivan Morozov)

With the decision by five Virginia Tech football players to enter the NCAA transfer portal last week, I thought it would be a good time to examine how the number of Virginia Tech players in the portal compares to the rest of the Power 5 teams.

247Sports.com maintains a Transfer Portal database that lists all players who entered the transfer portal for each college football team. I went through that database and compiled the following numbers for each of the 65 Power 5 teams (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, PAC-12, SEC, and Notre Dame):

  • Number of players in the portal
  • Number of players in the portal who were 3-star recruits or higher out of high school

I did this for both the 2019 and 2020 transfer portal cycles, and then I combined the numbers as well.

I compiled the second set of numbers (which I will call 3-star+ data) because it more or less eliminates walk-ons and special teams players from the results and focuses on players that teams, for the most part, recruited and signed out of high school. Yes, there are some 2-star players for some of the Power 5 teams that were recruited out of high school, but most players who sign with Power 5 teams are 3-star recruits or higher.

I did not make any judgments for any teams as to whether a player was a starter or a backup, or whether he left the school from the portal or returned to the school (like Deshawn McClease and Hendon Hooker), or whether a player transferred “up” or “down” from his original school. I simply counted the number of players who were listed in the portal for each team for each year, then counted the subset of 3-star+ high school recruits.

Note that the 2020 transfer portal isn’t closed yet. More players can enter through the spring and into the summer. The data presented here is a snapshot as of Sunday night, January 26, 2020.

Virginia Tech’s Transfer Portal Entries

2019 Portal Entries (18):  Josh Jackson, Hendon Hooker, Deshawn McClease, Eric Kumah, Sean Savoy, Samuel Denmark, Chris Cunningham, Jordan Jefferson*, D’Andre Plantin, Trevon Hill, Cam Goode, Darius Fullwood, Daniel Bailey*, Aundre (Rico) Kearney, Bryce Watts, DJ Crossen, Devante Smith, Jordan Stout*

2020 Portal Entries (14): Caleb Steward, Jacoby Pinckney, DeJuan Ellis, Phil Patterson, Hezekiah Grimsley, Damon Hazelton, Edrick Ward*, John Harris, Joe Kane, Louis Mihota*, Robert Porcher, Houshun Gaines, Nathan Proctor, Khalil Ladler

* – non-scholarship player

You can see that the portal database lists all entries, whether they are starters and major contributors (like Damon Hazelton) or walk-ons who have never played (Edrick Ward, who isn’t even listed on the hokiesports.com roster, not that I could find).

Power 5 Average Number of Transfer Portal Entries

Here’s the chart showing the average number of portal entries per school from each Power 5 conference, and Virginia Tech’s numbers for comparison.

For example, in 2019 ACC teams averaged 7.9 portal entries, 6.9 of which were 3-star+. In 2020 those numbers are 7.6/6.6.  For the two years, that’s 15.6 portal entries, 13.4 of which are 3-star+. (Note that rounding up and down causes the numbers to not quite add up; this table was done in a spreadsheet, and math’s gonna math.)

By comparison, Virginia Tech’s 2019 portal numbers were 18/14 and their 2020 portal numbers are 14/11, for combined figures of 32/25. The 32 is nearly twice the Power 5 average of 16.8 portal entries, while the 25 is nearly twice the Power 5 average of 13.5 3-star+ players.

Power 5 Highest Number of Transfer Portal Entries

For 2019, 2020, and combined, I ranked the schools by highest number of total transfer portal entries. (The number of 3-star+ tracks similarly, though not exact.) Here’s that data.

For example, in 2019 Arkansas had 23 players enter the transfer portal, 19 of which were 3-star+. Virginia Tech tied for third with 18 players overall, but had the fewest 3-star+ entries among that “18” group, with just 14.

In 2020, Virginia Tech and Arkansas both appear in the top seven, and Virginia Tech is third overall with 14, with 11 3-star+ players.

When you combine 2019 and 2020 portal activity, Arkansas is in front with 35 entries, 30 of which are 3-star+, and Virginia Tech is second with 32 entries, 25 of which are 3-star+.

The Full Set of Transfer Portal Data

The table below lists data for all Power 5 teams and Notre Dame for 2019 and 2020. This is a free article, so please share it as you wish, including the tables (which are graphics screencapped from Excel.) If you share the data, please include the TSL logo when you do.

Remember this data is current as of Sunday, January 26, 2020 and is subject to change.

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50 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Sounds like a lot of guys writing in are football coaches. Wonder why they aren’t coaching at a P5 school.

  2. Wow those numbers tell a story – we are trying to figure out which story. I think the portal is so new, another 3 years worth of data would be better to have to judge what motivations are. An NCAA survey of all portal enterers would be something to go on. Absent that – we don’t really know much. Except that many players are transferring from VT to other schools. Almost the most in the country.

    Doesn’t leave ya with a warm fuzzy, do it?

  3. This is a complicated, yet oversimplified (and more importantly, flawed, look at the portal) – which just lends itself to feeding the pitchfork crowd’s confirmation bias. In short, an answer in search of a question. Largely because it ignores that departure of players from the previous roster and the addition of new players to the roster is an inherent, voluminous and relatively frequent part of college athletics.

    So if you really want to provide useful information (rather than just data points), ask yourself “what is the important question?”. And the question should be “what is overall turnover from year to year?” in order to ascertain the real impact on the program. The number of players are entering the portal is largely meaningless in and of itself.

    If you try to answer that question, you would also include departing seniors (and other non-portal departures – NFL, injuries, etc.) and incoming portal players in the equation to get a more complete picture of program impact and how VT does or doesn’t differ from the norm.

    And if you really want to dive more deeply, you’d parse the data by differentiating starters from non-starters. Or two-deep from non-two deep. Or both.

    Only then can you get a real picture of where VT fits in the scheme and what the impact may or may not be on the program. And my guess if you do just a slightly deeper dive, you’d find VT hasn’t differed significantly from the norm since the advent of the portal.

    1. That analysis would have to be done for all 65 teams. That is an enormous project, not a “slightly deeper” dive. This article was an oversimplification on purpose. It took 3 hours to compile the data as-is. There was no way I was going to do a deep dive for all 65 teams.

      It’s a conversation starter, and a set of data points for people to wonder about the exact things you listed. At some point, if VT is “just like everyone else,” then the Hokies need to fall out of the top 5-7 teams in terms of annual transfer portal activity. If this persists for another year or two — VT being among the top teams in transfer portal activity — then it becomes a different issue other than “they’re just cleaning out players from the previous staff, or early recruits they were using to just round out the roster.” High levels of portal activity year after year after year indicate something else.

      At this point it’s only two years of data, so to me, it’s a “hmmm….” set of data, not one I’m willing to draw conclusions from. In the summer of 2021, as the 2021 portal activity is closing out, we’ll have another set of interesting data, three years’ worth, to peruse.

      1. Great article, but I can also see @marcbvtgm’s overly-wordy point. Also your point that what he’s mentioning isn’t an easy task to track down for 65 teams.

        Not saying this is the ONLY reason for the transfer portal, but if we were losing normally-sized senior classes the past two seasons, it’s unlikely we’d be seeing so many portal entries because (in theory) guys would be moving up and closer to significant playing time as seniors exit. But since we have so much youth on the roster, there are logjams and we’re losing guys to the portal instead of to graduation – but perhaps the OVERALL roster turnover is in-line with other teams. Interesting thought.

    1. We’ve had tiny senior classes 2 years in a row. If we were losing more guys to graduation, we’d be losing less to the transfer portal. Actually pretty easy to rationalize.

  4. A data point to help with the analysis: How many of those that left landed at another P5 school? My sense is this is a low number, and supports the early rumor that we did not have ACC caliber players on the team. It seems many have left for a much smaller, non-P5 school.

    I am personally ok weeding out those that won’t compete on the field for VT, or are not willing to put in the time/effort to improve their skills/ability.

  5. I think it’s fair to say this doesn’t look good in the snapshot that it is.

    However, predicting the future from it is risky, and frankly pointless since clearly Fuente will be given the time to complete whatever it is his end result will be.

    Perhaps we will look back and say, this was an early sign of real trouble, perhaps it will be a symptom of a long transition.

    Working on large enterprise projects that span years in some cases, predicting success or failure or even the dates and timelines for either, based upon a point in time symptom is rarely a good idea.

    It’s not a good look for us, certainly, but time will tell if it’s growing pains or decay, because it could be either.

  6. I think the numbers show exactly what you’d think it shows-that a lot of guys didn’t like their experience at VT as compared to other schools. One individual transfer can be explained away for all kinds of reasons but 2 years in a row to be at or near the top of the list is an alarming trend about the culture at VT.

  7. I know it doesn’t matter but I wouldn’t count anyone who was asked to leave the program, like Hill in our portal numbers. The other thing it suggest to me is, we find it easy to recruit at some positions & difficult at other positions. If we get overloaded in any one position you’re going to have players from that position shuffling schools hoping to find the field.

  8. Man, take off the freaking orange and maroon glasses.

    Something b stanky in Fu’ville.

    No denying it.

  9. Seems to me that some of the reason we have high numbers can be explained by having so many young guys starting. if you are an upper class men and someone younger than you is ahead of you on the depth chart – it a significant data point that signals your future playing Is probably going to be limited.

    I would expect that the number of players entering the portal will decrease in the next few years as incoming players see a more straight forward path to playing time as older guys ahead of them on the depth chart graduate.

  10. Question: is high portal use a result of style rather than necessarily tied to success? Some employers prefer to be heavily selective in hiring and retention, others hire young and cheap, develop talent and are happy when they move up and on. These are styles that require different resources and manager skills, but either can be successful. TSL has had articles talking about this with coaches and staff. So do Arkansas and VT have a different style with respect to the portal or is this an unplanned effect? The answer can be figured out over time—not now with so few data points and so many potential explanations. But it’s good to compile the data and ask the questions even when you cannot answer them yet. Thanks Will.

  11. Great info, but lets be honest. Our last recruiting classes under Beamer were not great and Fuente has actually been worse. We don’t have the horses whether they enter the portal or not. When you say guys that leave weren’t playing anyway – are just more missed opportunities to develop players. One only has to look at the top players in VA – none are coming to Tech.

  12. I am curious as to why so many subscribers are wearing their orange & maroon glasses while viewing VT being in the top five with number of players in the transfer portal. I am concerned that this makes VT look bad to new & potential recruits. Like don’t go there you’ll end up in the portal. (Maybe they will never know) I am also concerned that our coaches are not recruiting the right players. Most schools have coaching changes (Alabama, Penn State etc.) so that is not the answer. IMHO this IS a real problem.

    1. My thought has been that when Fuente got here, he realized he needed to recruit a lot of players, some of whom were not the best fits schematically, talent-wise, or culturally. Now, as his system is being more introduced, those players who were not fits are now heading where they might be more successful. As far as the receivers are concerned, the loss of Wiggins appears to also be a cause for some of these transfers.

  13. For everyone saying “I’m OK with losing so and so, etc.. They weren’t really contributors.. ” or. “Fuente runs a tight ship and some players can’t cut it…

    I don’t think that’s the point of Will’s analysis. I’m sure people who follow a team who averages 8 players comes away with the same thought “oh I’m OK about all of them but 1 or 2”.. Or, is Fuente really thr only coach running a tight ship?

    Bottom line is tech has double the number of players in the portal.. What with the program? Coaches? Perception? Is driving players away at an alarming rate?

  14. Ultimately to the points made is to what extent were they players that really contributed and to want point we are backfilling with ones from portal or free up scholarship room with equal or better players Obviously there has been much discussion around the lack of numbers this past recruitment cycle as well as the distribution of our scholarships (once over extended at WR and RB some of that has to be right sized). I don’t think we can keep the pace of the last two years and see any consistent performance

  15. I think the title should be much ado about nothing. The number is high because Fuente doesn’t tolerate crap. If you screw up on the field or off, you tend to lose playing time. Yes…..the more critical a player, the more leeway. That isn’t Fuente or Beamer being a hypocrite. That is us as fans. We apply the monetary pressure thus the job security pressure. Kids also want to play, if they don’t honk they are going to get on the field enough, they will leave if hey think they can get time elsewhere.

    One thing does have to change. You get a scholarship, stay on the team. Leave the team by your decision, lose the scholarship. If he other team wants you enough, they can give you a scholarship. It is rare that a great player doesn’t see the field. If you aren’t getting time in a couple years at your school and no one else will offer you a scholarship, best take advantage of the scholarship and get your degree. I despise this gimmick where the institution you are abandoning is still footing the bill.

    1. You would have to get the academic side to return the scholarship money paid on the first day of the semester after the player enters the portal. VT doesn’t even cut the athletic side a break on in-state tuition for out of state scholarship players, like many schools do, so the chances of a refund for portal guys is nil.

  16. There are a few it would be nice to have kept around for 2 deep, but most losses are guys passed on depth chart with little shot of playing. Hard to blame them. I have a theory that one reason VT has alot of turnover is that Fu is blunt with them about their prospects likelyhood of playing time, etc. Instead of blowing smoke and putting lip stick on their piggy prospects for PT.

  17. 2 returned, 5 were non scholarship, 2 were shown the door and 1 reportedly did not want to compete to play. The others who did transfer went to a lesser team for playing time.

    We’ll see how many actually transfer this year. Personally, I don’t see a problem.

  18. Looking at the 14 2020 portal entries via the VTSCOOP link in the article, I see the biggest loss was Coach Holmon Wiggins to Alabama. Could explain the some of the WR interest in the portal.

    I believe Pickney (4 star) had an Alabama offer.

    Looking at the new landing spots for the ones that have found a new home tells me not to worry and to wish them the best.

  19. We have a high number of people that left, but when looking at the names, most of them I would not want to give a scholarship to to get them to come back. I would rather take my chances with giving the scholarship to an incoming recruit or transfer. Maybe one explanation for the high number is a coaching change that resulted in recruiting getting better year after year. Therefore upperclassmen got beat out by underclassmen. Of course that would not explain every portal entry, but would add to the expected number of people leaving. With this years recruiting class being down, maybe the portal entries will decrease in coming years.

    1. Exactly. I don’t see players that are necessarily the ones we need to build a program on.
      I’d also comment that when you have a young team, no one graduates and opens up more spots for playing time. It’s a log jam of great kids but not players that can start. I wish those kids well…understand where they are coming from

  20. Great article and thank you for the research. I am wondering the following: is Virginia Tech still a preferred place to land, and are we better off following the red shirt formula with lots of developmental three (Sometimes 2) stars and think about depth and flexibility versus trying to compete with the Alabama’s & Clemson‘s (even the next tier down) That have the ability to attract three and four stars even though they do not play regularly if at all. Finally, is it not possible that we could, assuming we are active and aggressive,That we might benefit more from the portal then we lose. I do know that in the pros after free agency settled out, chasing every free agent became something that the NFL guys did not like to do. Most of the time growing them at home still made the most wins in the most sense.
    I think we are just now beginning to understand, as fans, how spoiled we were for a long time with continuous wins. Not trying to be a pessimist, but it looks like College Football has become 100% about the money if you’re going to stay near the top. Not sure the Virginia Tech story as it happened could ever be repeated.The world changed. Your thoughts?

  21. As noted by others responding to this article, I think the “story” (reasons) behind the numbers needs to be investigated before we can make any real conclusions. At this juncture, I’m not convinced that having low turnover (via the portal) is beneficial to the program.
    Having lived in Nebraska (Lincoln) for more than 35 years, I can tell you that it was critical for Frost to “weed” out roster and bring in new players that were more talented and bought into the new culture.

    1. It might prove interesting to examine how many of those players were hold overs from the Beamer years as well as to whether of not they played.

  22. I have decided that I have to accept that this is part of the new found leverage that players have in this situation. I also don’t want someone taking a seat at the table that isn’t 100% committed to VT when they are here. I does trouble me that we spend a lot of resources training and helping these athletes be the best they can be, and then they just take that knowledge and move on to what I can only assume they believe is a better situation. But that is truly a part of the “new norm”, that I need to adjust to, in most endeavors in this time. It is rare for someone to stay in one place for an extended time, especially when they are enticed by “the shiny new toy” down the road. I know it is a waste of time and effort, but would be interesting to see how the transfer thing worked out for those who left VT. and also understand that if we take a portal transfer, they are here for one reason that is because VT is the shiny new toy…….
    We have benefitted from some transfer, but the ones I am thinking of (Michael Brewer) were before the portal. I’d say that all things considered, Josh Jackson would have most likely had a better season at VT than he did at Maryland…..but of course that is just speculation. Just a couple of recent transfer I could think of…..

  23. I am actually ok with the number of transfers. VT is going through a philosophy change. Last year was the year of turmoil. This year, it’s Bud’s retirement and CJF really trying to change things fundamentally. Like others have said, there haven’t been a lot of players who would have A) Started or B) Contributed that transferred. I will trust in the process for now and see how this plays out. Standing pat is not an option and I am glad that VT is doing something to improve.

    1. Perhaps we should be asking, are the recruits being over sold? Are we taking chances on marginal players in hopes of developing them? Are we taking marginal players who don’t fit scheme wise or culturally? It would be interesting to see how many are offensive and how many are defensive.

  24. Maybe there’s an article to be written a couple of years from now based on interviews with those who entered the portal in years one and two. Why did they do it? With the benefit of hindsight, are they glad they did? Etc.

  25. It would be interesting to track “program status” against number of transfer portal players over a longer time. The player turnover should indicate programs with recent coaching changes (typically due to poor results) or programs that had a coaching change during the last few years and are trying to get the program back to a higher level, but must shake out players that do not support that level of play. The misses keep leaving while a smaller core group stays until the recruiting gets better. One year of high transfers happens, but two years is a trend that tells us that recruiting is still struggling. One year can change that though. We have some good core players on the team. We do need some of these players to stay around to play as RS Jrs/Srs. However, can programs build like that anymore. “Program Players” were pretty much forced to stay around before. Now, they can move and possibly start earlier.

    1. Thanks for the article, Will. Good comment, DhokieW. There’s a lot to speculate on why there’s more attrition at one place than another. And those reasons will vary from year to year. One consistent could be that a kid that goes to Wake expects a different athletic/cultural/academic experience than if he went to Big State U. (Then again, Wake lost their star QB to Georgia.) I look forward to more discussion about this topic.

  26. So I’m OK if Hard Smart Tough is not for everyone.
    Im also OK if the players we play behind the ones that leave are better…
    Who would we have missed year 1: Hooker, McClease, Stout…and 2 stayed thank goodness.
    Who will we miss year 2: Heze, Haze, Ladler –> but we will fill the WR gap in 20 and I think and our D is moving away from smaller players (Ladler gave us some great plays, but regressed it seemed).
    I think its a case that we have too many players in certain areas and the writing was on the wall for them…Heze has to get family worked out – God Bless Him! Haze wants something else – Mizzu?
    GO HOKIES!

  27. I know I am in the minority, but I actually feel better reading this article.
    Not as bad as I thought.

  28. Wow. Maybe the article stopped because Will was so devastated when he saw that VT is effectively leading the nation in transfers, that he had take a moment to compose himself.

    So, yea. Wow. Some things you can sweep under the rug, and look the other way. This you cant.

    1. Effectively? Idk about leading but we’re top 5. I’d like to see breakdown of destinations like P5 to P5, P5 to G5, P5 to FCS or below

    1. Definitely, poor player evaluation or the decision to load up on the two early recruiting classes and the players with limited PT are leaving.

    2. That’s what I was waiting for the answer to in this article. We knew they were high, though not exactly how high. Why are they so high?

      1. Something doesn’t add up …
        First table in article may have some issues with significant figures. Combined Portal Entries should be 16.5 and Combined 3-star+ should be 13.5; although it’s common to carry one additional significant figure through extended calculations and to round off the final answer at the end. Remember, we are a “Tech”nical University.

        1. From the article:

          “(Note that rounding up and down causes the numbers to not quite add up; this table was done in a spreadsheet, and math’s gonna math.)”

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