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Breaking down Florida State’s transfer portal additions and strategy

The methods behind the madness.

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat
Rock on, Mike!
Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Following his second season at the helm of the Florida State football program, Mike Norvell continues to overhaul a roster that was in even worse shape than most of us realized. The transfer portal has changed recruiting forever, and perhaps no program has embraced portal recruiting more than the Seminoles this offseason.

As of this writing, FSU currently has the top transfer class for this cycle per 247. Nine transfer players have enrolled for the spring 2022 semester:

OT Bless Harris (Lamar)- two years of eligibility remaining

OC Kayden Lyles (Wisconsin Badgers)- one year of eligibility remaining

WR Mycah Pittman (Oregon Ducks)- two years of eligibility remaining

WR Johnny Wilson (Arizona State Sun Devils)- three years of eligibility remaining

CB Greedy Vance (Louisville Cardinals)- three years of eligibility remaining

WR Deuce Spann (Illinois Fighting Illini)- four years of eligibility remaining

LB Tatum Bethune (UCF Knights)- two years of eligibility remaining

DE Jared Verse (Albany)- three years of eligibility remaining

WR Winston Wright, Jr. (West Virginia Mountaineers)- two years of eligibility remaining

Let’s take a deeper dive into FSU’s strategy in bringing in the transfer class above (trust me, there will be several more names added to the transfer class before September rolls around).

Some folks still equate the transfer portal with graduate transfers, so let’s clear up the differences between the two.

Graduate transfers typically have one year of eligibility remaining and often represent a stop-gap measure for roster management. Have a unit in need of experience and/or maturity? Have a player you think will be great, but is still a year away? Have a small senior class and need to balance out scholarship allocation? Want to take a “best player available” scenario? Any of these could be reasons to bring in a graduate transfer. If coaches roll the dice on a graduate transfer, it’s only a one year gamble, which helps take the sting away from disappointment if he doesn’t work out the way anticipated.

The transfer portal goes well beyond graduate transfers, however. With the Covid year factored in, some of the players in the portal have upwards of five or six years of eligibility to exhaust. If you signed a small prep class two years ago and want to even out your scholarship distribution, you can target players with the same amount of remaining eligibility to balance your roster. Miss on a top target? Make sure you finish in second place because he could very well be in the portal later and ba-da-bing, you have another shot to land him. Completely whiff on a position group during one cycle (cough **Dugans** cough)? You can use the portal to remedy the situation.

Transfer portal wide receiver strategy

A perfect example of this is what Mike Norvell has done with the wide receiver position this offseason. FSU failed to land a single prep wideout, which in pre-portal cycles would be damning. However, Norvell has since landed four transfer wide receivers, and he has done so while filling strategic needs. A quick breakdown of the group:

Though he has two years left, Winston Wright is most likely to be a one-and-done among the group assuming he stays healthy. He is the most proven, polished, and productive of the four incoming receivers and should immediately challenge for starting roles on offense and in the return game. I expect him to take command of the wide receiver room as well.

Mycah Pittman has the best chance to be an all-around WR, meaning he is solid and dependable in all aspects if not spectacular in one. FSU is desperate for a guy like that. He can also impact the return game and though he has injury history, FSU will count on him to provide leadership and earn significant playing time on offense and special teams. He’ll likely be around for two seasons.

Johnny Wilson has size that can’t be taught and his blocking looks to be outstanding. He will immediately impact in the red zone and in WR screen packages. He will likely be a hybrid TE/WR of sorts and will line up in multiple places. While still somewhat raw, FSU will have him for up to three years and he could finally allow FSU fans to glimpse what Norvell loves to do with his tight ends.

Deuce Spann likely has the highest upside of the four, but he is also the biggest gamble. Being a former quarterback gives him intimate understanding of route trees, timing, etc. but he is still extremely raw as a wide receiver. He has up to four years remaining so FSU can afford to bring him along more slowly, but he also has a size/speed combination that can’t be taught. I consider him a rawer version of Tamorrion Terry at this stage. Look for him to stretch the field as a deep threat and red zone mismatch whenever he starts getting reps.

Norvell was able to bring in four receivers with varying years of eligibility remaining, each of whom fulfills a different need but all of whom have spent time in a college-level strength and conditioning program. He would not have been able to get the same results through high school recruiting alone. Winston and Pittman are ready to contribute as soon as they learn the playbook, while Wilson will also likely earn plenty of reps this season. The same could not have been said about the vast majority of prep wide receiver prospects FSU was involved with this cycle.

How the other transfers impact their position groups

When discerning the strategy behind the additions, there are five other incoming transfers to discuss.

Kayden Lyles, the only incoming transfer to date who fits the mold of a traditional grad transfer, allows FSU to integrate an experienced and talented center into the offensive line, something that has been a significant need for years. Lyles has injury history but he also comes from one of the strongest and most reputable places around for offensive linemen: the University of Wisconsin. His presence will allow backup centers like Maurice Smith and Bryson Estes more time to develop and the ability to learn from an established true center while simultaneously strengthening the interior of the line. Lyles and Gibbons should be a formidable duo.

FSU brought in a large offensive line class from the high school ranks this cycle, so while searching for transfer help, they prioritized guys who were older. Bless Harris should be able to come in and provide functional depth at tackle and guard, raise the floor of the room, and also give more time to younger prospects to develop. FSU has been forced to play young offensive linemen earlier than anticipated or preferred, so having Harris helps re-establish time for development.

Tatum Bethune comes into a linebacker room that desperately needs experience and talent. Bethune has two seasons remaining and will be counted on to immediately enter the rotation. He should be able to learn schemes quickly thanks to his familiarity with Randy Shannon, and he brings a boatload of experience with him to the unit. He will also be counted on as a leader for the much-maligned position group.

Greedy Vance is a talented and savvy defensive back the staff felt it couldn’t pass up. He has several years remaining to develop, and FSU likes him in a nickel role. Outside of Asante Samuel Jr., Seminole cornerbacks have been uneven in performance over the past several seasons. The defensive staff has shown a penchant for letting younger players gain significant reps, and the potential for a Vance/Cooper/Knowles trio to grow and learn together is something FSU likes quite a bit. Vance should enter the rotation quickly and is familiar with ACC football.

The most intriguing, and perhaps the most important, transfer addition is defensive end Jared Verse. Verse proved to be the hottest non-QB name in the transfer market and FSU won a hard-fought battle to land his services. Verse entered Albany as a virtually-unknown tight end that weighed 210 pounds. He is now up to 247 pounds and has yet to reap the benefits of a P5 strength and conditioning program. FSU is in need of playmakers who can get consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback and while Verse will not likely be an immediate impact player, his ceiling is incredibly high and it will be fun to watch what the staff can do with him over the next few seasons.

So, to recap, Mike Norvell and his staff have thus far added nine transfers, only one of whom has a single year of eligibility remaining. Norvell has used the transfer portal not just to plug his team’s immediate glaring holes, but also to balance out a roster that is currently being flipped in terms of needs, scholarship distribution, and to address bad misses in prep recruiting.

Whether or not this is a strategy that can be successful year after year is unknown, but most agree that the portal should be used in deference to traditional high school recruiting. While adding transfers often means adding players who have already adapted to the college athletics lifestyle, it also comes at the expense of all the benefits to be gained by adding prep players instead. This creates a balance that is different each year based on roster attrition and staffing changes.

We will see who else the staff adds between now and September. For now, let us know your thoughts below. Be sure to check out the most recent iterations of the Transfer Portal Thread and Official Recruiting Thread for news, as always.