Ohio State Among the Big Winners in First Year of NCAA's Transfer Portal

By Dan Hope on February 26, 2019 at 8:35 am
Justin Fields

As the transfer portal filled up with talented players from all over the country this offseason, 247Sports released its first-ever transfer rankings in January.

Two of the players who were ranked in the top five chose to transfer to Ohio State.

Ohio State landed the biggest prize of this year’s transfer market when former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields, the No. 2 overall recruit from the class of 2018, enrolled at Ohio State in January. Then, on Monday, the Buckeyes landed former Rutgers offensive lineman Jonah Jackson – who was ranked by 247Sports as the fifth-best player on this year’s transfer market – when he announced his transfer to Ohio State.

New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes set out to land two specific transfers over the past two months – a quarterback who could come in and immediately compete for the starting job, and a graduate transfer interior offensive lineman who could bolster the Buckeyes up front in 2019 – and they landed the best player available at both positions.

As transfers become increasingly commonplace in college football, with the transfer portal making it easier for players to explore transfers than even before and the NCAA becoming increasingly lenient in granting waivers for immediate eligibility, it’s too early to say what the long-term net impact will be for Ohio State. While the Buckeyes should always have the ability to attract top talent to Columbus, they also have to deal with the reality that players could now be more inclined to leave Ohio State if they are not satisfied with their playing time.

What we can say now, though, is that Ohio State appears set to benefit from the first year of the transfer portal as much as just about any other school.

Fields, of course, has the potential to make as big an impact as any transfer in college football this year. Ohio State’s starting quarterback job will be his to lose now that he has received his waiver for immediate eligibility from the NCAA, and he has the physical tools to be elite as a passer and a runner.

Even though he’s never started a game and spent just one year at Georgia, Fields is among the early betting favorites for the Heisman Trophy. It might be wishful thinking to expect Ohio State’s offense to pick up right where it left off following Dwayne Haskins’ departure, but if Fields can perform up to his potential, the Buckeyes could have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks once again.

The Buckeyes need to have great quarterback play if they’re going to be a national championship contender in 2019, and they also need to have a strong offensive line, which is where Jackson comes in. After losing four starting offensive linemen from last season, including all three of its starting interior offensive linemen, Ohio State was lacking in experience up front – and that’s what Jackson can provide.

Jackson earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition as Rutgers’ starting right guard last season, and started five games for the Scarlet Knights at center in 2017. He was also a captain for the Scarlet Knights last season, so he should provide valuable veteran leadership for Ohio State’s offensive line in 2019, while offering the potential to start at any interior line spot.

Ohio State certainly isn’t the only team that stands to benefit from a strong transfer haul. Oklahoma, which has had back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray after they transferred to the Sooners from other schools, landed another quarterback who could lead the Sooners to another College Football Playoff run this year in Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts. Few teams have made a bigger splash in the first year of the transfer portal than Miami, which landed four of 247Sports’ top-11 transfer prospects, including former Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell as well as former five-star recruits Jaelen Phillips (UCLA) and Bubba Bolden (USC).

You won’t find many other teams, though, that landed two transfers with the potential to make as much impact this upcoming season as Fields and Jackson could for Ohio State. And the Buckeyes landed those players without suffering many losses of their own. Martell’s transfer hurts the Buckeyes’ quarterback depth, but his departure wasn’t shocking after Fields transferred in to likely start ahead of him. The Buckeyes’ only other transfer departure this offseason is Keandre Jones, who had not started a game in three years at Ohio State and was likely to be a backup on the linebacker depth chart once again.

Ohio State, which currently sits at 87 scholarships for the 2019 season, should anticipate losing a few more players to transfers between now and the start of the season. Those players, though, will likely be players who find themselves buried on the depth chart after spring practice and face the possibility of never seeing significant playing time for the Buckeyes.

Altogether, the Buckeyes’ gains of Fields and Jackson should outweigh what they’ve lost and will lose to the transfer market, improving their chances to make another run at a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff berth.

Going forward, Ohio State still plans to proceed with caution in the transfer market, as Day wants the Buckeyes to continue to prioritize recruiting high school players, only turning to the transfer portal when they see players who they believe fit their culture and address areas of specific need.

“It has to be a need, it has to be a fit,” Day said on National Signing Day earlier this month. “Because we spend a lot of time recruiting these kids ever since they've been freshmen and sophomores, most of them. We bring them into a culture that we really take seriously. So to bring somebody in, has to be a great fit.”

In Jackson and Fields, the Buckeyes landed two players who should be exactly that: great fits at positions of need.

The transfer additions combined with Ohio State’s efforts in recruiting the high school class of 2019, which included landing defensive linemen Zach Harrison and Jaden McKenzie on the first day of the Early Signing Period and offensive linemen Enokk Vimahi and Dawand Jones on National Signing Day, demonstrate Day’s ability to hit home runs on the recruiting trail and set the Buckeyes up for success in 2019 and beyond.

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