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Transfer Portal Check-In: Cal Football Roster Analysis
How do Cal's tranfers out compare to their transfers in, and what gaps are left on the roster?
Have you been stressed out since the end of the season to open up Write For California, only to see another article about a Cal player transferring away? Well, good news! As of January 18, the deadline for entering your name into the transfer portal has passed, and we can actually look at the state of Cal’s roster situation.
(Note that the transfer portal re-opens May 1-15, which is either bad news or good news depending on your natural outlook towards life.)
While Cal presumably won’t be losing anybody else off the roster, Cal’s coaching staff can certainly ADD players who entered into the portal prior to teh deadline but have yet to commit to a new school. In fact, I’d expect Cal to add multiple players to the roster between now and the beginning of fall camp, because as you’ll see below, there are still some roster gaps.
High Impact players
(Definition: players who were starters or played near-starter level snaps, and would be a likely starter in 2023)
Jack Plummer, QB
J. Michael Sturdivant, WR
Ben Coleman, OL
Femi Oladejo, ILB
Dario Longhetto, K
Medium Impact players
(Definition: players who saw the field in back-up/rotational roles, or developmental players who had the possibility of becoming impact contributors)
Kai Millner, QB
Chris Street, RB
Damien Moore, RB
DeCarlos Brooks, RB
Ashton Hayes, RB
Keleki Latu, TE
Jermaine Terry, TE
Spencer Lovell, OL
Patrick Hisatake, OLB
Orin Patu, OLB
Henry Ikahihifo, OLB
Trey Paster, ILB
Ryan Puskas, ILB
Slater Zellers, LS
Low impact players
(Definition: players who rarely/never saw the field for live action, and were unlikely to develop into major contributors)
Zach Johnson, QB
Nick Alftin, TE
Champion Johnson, FB
Kyle Smith, ILB
High Impact Players
(Players who are highly likely to immediately step into the starting lineup)
Sam Jackson, QB (TCU)
Brian Hightower, WR (Illinois)
Medium Impact Players
(Players who will compete to start/receive rotational snaps)
Asher Alberding, TE (N. Texas)
JT Byrne, TE (Oregon St.)
Byron Cardwell, RB (Oregon)
Justin Williams-Thomas, RB (Tennessee)
David Reese, OLB (Florida)
Sergio Allen, ILB (Clemson)
Kaylin Moore, CB (Colorado)
Nohl Williams, CB (UNLV)
Matthew Littlejohn, S (3 star JC transfer)
Lachlan Wilson, P (Tulsa)
Offensive Assessment and future needs
A quick unit-by-unit in/out run-down:
QB: Plummer ~= Jackson
RB: Cardwell/Williams-Thomas ~= Street/Moore/Brooks/Hayes
TE: Latu/Terry ~= Byrne/Alberding
OL: Coleman/Lovell > **crickets**
WR: Sturdivant > Hightower
The good news is that Cal’s impact out-transfers have largely been replaced like-for-like with in-transfers. Nobody would say that Jack Plummer’s QB style is at all similar to Sam Jackson’s, but I feel comfortable saying that in terms of value, Plummer’s high-floor-low-ceiling certainty and Jackson’s unproven-but-athletic-potential roughly even out.
Cal has traded out two young, low-production tight ends for two different young, low production tight ends, so that’s a wash for now until we see how the respective college careers of all four players develop.
I could see arguing in favor of either side of Cal’s RB transfer activity. Cardwell and Williams-Thomas are more proven players than the four players Cal lost, but Cal certainly has less depth than before. I think three solid players plus future added depth is likely to be fine, but I called this exchange a wash.
I suspect that Cal will decide that Brian Hightower, a veteran WR who played a mjor role on a Big-10 bowl team, PLUS anticipated development from younger WRs on the roster, is sufficient to replace J Michael Sturdivant’s production. But per Jeff Faurado’s interview with Spavital, Cal will still be looking to add a WR or two from the portal, and that makes sense seeing as Spavital’s offense is likely to use more 4/5 WR sets.
Major needs still to address
Back-up quarterback: Sam Jackson is an exciting addition at quarterback, but the QB room is still dangerously shallow and Cal needs to add at least one other QB if not two or three just to have enough bodies for practice, to say nothing of injury insurance.
Offensive line: And we get to the elephant in the room. This was an area of the team that likely needed additions even if nobody left . . . and then Ben Coleman and Spencer Lovell left. Cal has not yet received any commitments from offensive linemen, which is . . . concerning. I took a glance at the 247 transfer portal tracker and sorted by offensive tackles, and it was a struggle to find uncommitted players with anything approaching an on-field track record. Which means that Cal might be stuck with lottery tickets, and have to hope that they are able to scout good players without college level film.
Defensive Assessment and future needs
DL: No departures or arrivals
LB: Oladejo/Hisatake/Paster/Ikahihifo/Puskas/Patu > Reese/Allen
Secondary: Moore/Williams/Littlejohn > no departures
You’ll note that I didn’t tab any of Cal’s defensive additions as high impact additions. It’s ultimately a subjective thing, and if you think any one of Reese, Allen, Moore, Williams, or Littlejohn will end up starting in 2023, I wouldn’t have a good reason to argue with you.
I think Sergio Allen is the most likely guy to break through - he got back-end rotation snaps on a Clemson team that is always loaded on defense, and I’d expect him to start alongside Jackson Sirmon. But he just doesn’t have enough snaps (36 across three seasons) for me to confidently project him into the starting lineup. The same goes for David Reese - while Cal badly needs impact edge rushers, 156 iffy snaps for Florida and a rough injury history means that projecting him to be a major impact player is risky.
Nohl Williams and Kaylin Moore, conversely, are much more known entities after starting all last year for UNLV and Colorado, respectively. But neither was so clearly dominant last year that I’d feel comfortable saying that they will beat out Lu-Magia Hearns, Jeremiah Earby, Collin Gamble, Isaiah Young, and the rest of Cal’s relatively deep CB group.
Major needs still to address
Edge rushers: Cal has Myles Jernigan and Xavier Carlton back at OLB, and has added David Reese, but losing four OLBs from last year’s group that generally struggled means that Cal surely must still be in the market for players who can make the life of a QB tougher.
Best player available? Other than edge rusher, I wouldn’t say that the defense has any gaping holes. Inside linebacker depth is a little iffy, and Cal didn’t get a ton of production from the various defensive linemen that were cycled in and out, but the return of Brett Johnson should help there. It would be fair to worry about replacing Daniel Scott, but there are plenty of options on the roster for what should be an intriguing camp battle.
What Cal has is an ample supply of solid-but-unspectacular contributors. Ultimately, what the defense could use is a play-maker, an impact player. That may or may not exist in the transfer portal, but if the right name pops up, there’s space to make a move.