Transfer portal breakdown: The 15 most impactful defensive back transfers of 2022

Mike Hugueninby:Mike Huguenin07/25/22

MikeHuguenin

Here’s a projection of the 15 most impactful defensive backs to emerge from the transfer portal this offseason. This is not a measure just of sheer talent. Instead, it’s a mix of a player’s importance, his potential and, most important, his expected production.

This is part 8 of our transfer portal impact series; we already have looked at quarterbacks , running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, edge rushers, defensive linemen and linebackers.

15. CB Ryan Watts, Texas

The particulars: Transfer from Ohio State
The skinny: Texas nabbed two players from Ohio State in the transfer portal who are Dallas-area natives. QB Quinn Ewers is the one who has gotten all the attention; Ryan Watts, a big corner at 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, is the other one. Watts had a strong spring and figures to be at one of the corner spots when Texas is in its nickel package. Watts played in 19 games in two seasons, with one start, at Ohio State.

14. S Patrick Fields, Stanford

The particulars: Transfer from Oklahoma
The skinny: Patrick Fields was a three-year starter for Oklahoma and had 193 tackles and three interceptions in four seasons as a Sooner. He was a team captain in 2021, when he was second on the team with 71 tackles and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Fields is expected to pair with returning starter Kendall Williamson at safety, giving the Cardinal an experienced duo on the back end. Stanford has one of the best corners on the West Coast in Kyu Blu Kelly, so the secondary could end up being a team strength.

13. CB Jordan Perryman, Washington

The particulars: Transfer from UC Davis
The skinny: Both of Washington’s starting corners last season now are in the NFL, and Jordan Perryman – who earned some FCS All-America acclaim in 2021 – almost assuredly will nab one of the starting spots. Perryman, who will be a sixth-year senior, was a three-year starter at UCD, playing for former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. He had 63 tackles, one interception, 12 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries last season, when the Aggies lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs. He needs to play well because there is a glaring lack of experience at corner for the Huskies.

12. CB Azizi Hearn, UCLA

The particulars: Transfer from Wyoming
The skinny: Azizi Hearn is expected to be a starter in a Bruins secondary that was shredded at times last season. Just one starter returns in the defensive backfield, which might be a good thing. Hearn, from the San Diego area, is a one-time walk-on at Arizona who transferred after the 2018 season and became a three-year starter for Wyoming. He had 30 tackles and five pass breakups in 2021.

11. S Devonni Reed, South Carolina

The particulars: Transfer from Central Michigan
The skinny: Central Michigan had two standouts transfer into the SEC – LB Troy Brown to Ole Miss and Devonni Reed to South Carolina. Reed was a four-year starter for the Chippewas; he was a third-team All-MAC selection in 2020 and a second-team pick in 2021, when he had 73 tackles, two interceptions (including a pick-six against LSU) and six pass breakups. Reed had 286 career tackles in 43 games at Central Michigan; his tackles total is seventh-most among active players. He will step into the shoes of departed S Jaylan Foster, who was a first-team All-SEC performer last season. That’s a bit much to expect from Reed, but he brings a ton of experience and looked good in his new defense during spring practice.

10. CB Keidron Smith, Kentucky

The particulars: Transfer from Ole Miss
The skinny: Kentucky needed secondary help, and picking up Keidron Smith from another SEC school was a key addition. Smith started 29 games in his four-year Ole Miss career and was a fulltime starter in 2019 and ’20. He had 223 tackles, five picks and 21 pass breakups with the Rebels; he was a corner in his first three seasons, then saw time at safety last season. He will be a corner for UK, whose secondary struggled late last season. Carrington Valentine is a returning starter at corner, and Smith – who won Ole Miss’ prestigious Chucky Mullins Courage Award last season – will line up next to him. There basically is zero experienced depth behind them.

9. S Mark Perry, TCU

The particulars: Transfer from Colorado
The skinny: TCU’s defense was woeful last season, and the Horned Frogs’ new staff went looking in the transfer portal for an immediate contributor at safety. Enter Mark Perry, who was second on Colorado with 66 tackles last season, and added three picks and three pass breakups. Perry played a lot as a reserve in each of his first two seasons before becoming a starter in 2021. He proved a good fit in new coordinator Joe Gillespie’s 3-3-5 set and should be one of the defense’s best players this fall.

8. CB Mekhi Blackmon, USC

The particulars: Transfer from Colorado
The skinny: All the transfer attention at USC has been on the offensive additions. But Mekhi Blackmon was a two-year starter for Colorado and will play a key role in a revamped USC secondary; the Trojans need four new starters in the secondary, and Blackmon has the ability to be an all-conference player. He had two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in the past two seasons. Blackmon began his career at a junior college in 2017, then moved on to Colorado in 2018. He started five games in his first two seasons with the Buffs before becoming a fulltime starter the past two seasons.

7. CB Greg Brooks, LSU

The particulars: Transfer from Arkansas
The skinny: LSU hit the transfer portal hard in an attempt to rebuild its secondary, and grabbing Greg Brooks away from a division rival was a big deal. Brooks, who is from the New Orleans area, was the starter at nickelback for Arkansas since he stepped on campus in 2019. He had 112 tackles, four interceptions and eight pass breakups in his three seasons with the Hogs. He’ll start at nickel for LSU, which returns just one starter in its secondary.

6. CB Jay Shaw, Wisconsin

The particulars: Transfer from UCLA
The skinny: Jay Shaw started 16 games in his five-year Bruins career (he redshirted as a true freshman in 2017) and is one of three corners Wisconsin brought in via the transfer portal. Shaw was a full-time starter in 2020 and a part-time starter in 2019 and last season; he earned some second-team All-Pac-12 acclaim last season, when he tied for the Bruins’ lead with three interceptions. Shaw seems likely to line up as the starter next to holdover corner Alexander Smith. Justin Clark (from Toledo) and Cedrick Dort (Kentucky) are the other transfer corners.

5. S Tanner McCalister, Ohio State

The particulars: Transfer from Oklahoma State
The skinny: Tanner McCalister was a two-year starter at Oklahoma State. He signed with the Cowboys as a cornerback and played extensively as a reserve corner in 2018 and ’19. He moved to safety in 2020 and became a starter, and kept his starting spot in 2021. McCalister had 34 tackles, an interception and five pass breakups last season for one of the nation’s best defenses. He will re-join defensive coordinator Jim Knowles in Columbus, as Knowles left Oklahoma State for Ohio State. McCalister’s versatility, experience and knowledge of Knowles’ scheme will make him an important part of a Buckeyes secondary that struggled at times in 2021.

4. CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

The particulars: Transfer from Colorado
The skinny: Oregon lost both starting corners from last season, and intra-conference transfer Christian Gonzalez could end up being the Ducks’ best defensive back this season. Gonzalez started every game the past two years for Colorado, and he followed Buffs cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin to Eugene. Gonzalez was fifth on the Buffs with 53 tackles last season; he also had five pass breakups, giving him 10 in his Colorado career. He and former national top-40 prospect Dontae Manning are the likely starting corners for a Ducks secondary that was torched often last season.

3. CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse, LSU

The particulars: Transfer from Oklahoma State
The skinny: CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021 for one of the nation’s best defenses, and is one of four corner transfers for LSU. He is the best of the quartet and should be counted on to be both a physical and emotional leader. Bernard-Converse, from Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian, led the Big 12 with 11 pass breakups and also had 51 tackles in 2021. He was a part-time starter in his first two seasons in Stillwater before becoming a fulltime starter in 2020, when he had seven pass breakups. In his four seasons with the Cowboys, Bernard-Converse had two interceptions and 24 pass breakups.

2. S Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame

The particulars: Transfer from Northwestern
The skinny: It’s not often you can add an All-American through the transfer portal, but Notre Dame has done just that. And the Irish have replaced one All-American with another. Brandon Joseph was a first-team All-American as a redshirt freshman at Northwestern in 2020, when he had 52 tackles, six interceptions and two pass breakups. In 2021, he had 80 tackles, three picks and four pass breakups in earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Notre Dame lost safety Kyle Hamilton, who was an All-American in 2021, to the NFL draft. Joseph is a talented ballhawk who should fit nicely in the Irish defensive scheme.

1. CB Eli Ricks, Alabama

The particulars: Transfer from LSU
The skinny: Eli Ricks, a former five-star recruit, earned some All-America honors as a true freshman at LSU in 2020, when he started seven games and had four picks, including two he returned for touchdowns. He started the first six games in 2021 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Truth be told, he scuffled a bit last season before his injury. But his potential as a legit shutdown corner is unlimited, and he and holdover Kool-Aid McKinstry might be the best corner tandem in the nation. Alabama’s secondary had some issues last season, but the group looks stronger this season.