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Kansas State Football: Into The Portal!

Drew is back to break down the benefits of graduate transfers.

NFL Draft - Red Carpet Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

Happy New Year everyone, I’m back after a little fight with something similar to the flu and not quite pneumonia. I’ve used my convalescence to do some research into the ever growing transfer portal, and I’m using this article to pass this information on to Coach Klieman.

I’m sure he’s been waiting patiently for my input.

To give you a little background, I haven’t always been on the graduate transfer train. I wasn’t sure that you could just inject seniors into a team and fix problems. Then I watched Jeff Brohm turn around a moribund Purdue program in one year on the strength of graduate transfers. Now I’m the conductor on the grad transfer train.

A Brief History of Recent Purdue Football History

When Jeff Brohm took over the Purdue program in 2017 the Boilermakers were coming off 9 4 years. The roster didn’t just have holes, it had craters so deep you could toss a stone into them an not hear them hit the bottom. I thought 4 wins would be a miracle with the decimated roster, but then Brohm dove head first into the graduate transfer portal, and managed to piece together a semi-coherent depth chart.

2017 Purdue Graduate Transfers

Dave Steinmetz - RT - Transfer from Rhode Island - 13 starts

Shane Evans - LG - Transfer from Northern Illinois with 2 years of eligibility - ‘17 - 13 starts - ‘18 - 11 starts

Josh Okonye - CB - Transfer from Vanderbilt - 13 starts - 57 tackles, 10 passes defended

TJ McCollum - LB - Transfer from Western Kentucky - 9 starts (lost 4 games to injury) - 69 tackles, 6 tackles for l0ss, 3 sacks

Shane Evans - K - Transfer from Baylor with 2 years of eligibility - ‘17 - shared place kicking duties - 16-17 XP, 8-11 FGs - ‘18 - full time place kicker - 42-45 XP, 18-23 FGs

Corey Holmes - WR - Transfer from Notre Dame with 2 years of eligibility - Injured, left team midway through the season

Brohm hit on 5 out of 6 of his graduate transfers. Ironically enough, Holmes came in with the biggest reputation as a former 4* wide receiver, but never found his footing at Purdue and retired from football midway through the season.

The other 5 players played a huge role in Brohm leading Purdue to a 7-6 season in his first year at the helm. Purdue hadn’t had a winning season in 6 seasons.

Graduate transfers can function in two ways for Kansas State.

First and foremost, they can immediately inject talent into the roster.

When I watched film this year, there was an obvious talent gulf between K-State and most opponents. Simply put, it’s hard to win when the other team is bigger, faster, and stronger at most positions. Graduate transfers obviously won’t close the gap between K-State and Oklahoma, but they could give the Wildcats a fighting chance against the middle of the Big12.

The second benefit of graduate transfers is less immediate, but vitally important for teams that recruit mainly “developmental” players. Graduate transfers give “developmental players” a chance to develop. It’s going to take time for Coach Klieman to get his recruiting up and running, and for the talent level of the Wildcats roster to increase. At the same time, I hope I’m not being too pessimistic when I say that Manhattan is probably never going to be a prime location for top 100 recruits.

Whooooooooah, Whooooooooah, Whoooooooooah, hold up, before you get your EMAW dander up, that doesn’t mean Kansas State can’t compete at a high level. It just means that it usually takes their recruits an extra year or two to get the kinks worked out. You might not be able to win a National Championship with a roster composed of mainly 3 star players, but you can certainly compete.

The blue chip ratio is important (click for more info), but teams like Northwestern manage to play for the Big 10 Championship without having a stellar ratio. The Kansas State Wildcats can absolutely compete on the same level as the Northwestern Wildcats.

What Klieman needs right now is space for his players to grow without having to rely on them to win football games. I know the conventional wisdom is that you throw guys out there and eventually they figure it out and get better, but if you’re losing games, the reality is that you might not survive the “waiting to get better” process. Also, sometimes getting your brain beat out on the football field because you’re not ready to play, doesn’t actually inspire growth.

To step back to Purdue quickly, Jeff Brohm hasn’t used any of his offensive line recruits in a game in his first two seasons because he’s been able to plug holes with graduate transfers to buy his developmental offensive line recruits time to develop. This season, his offensive line recruits will hit the field as redshirt sophomores, and should be significantly more prepared to play.

I see Kansas State as a great draw for graduate transfers this year. The Wildcats have what all graduate transfers are thirsty for, namely, available starting positions.

Wide Receiver

I actually like a few of the young guys on the roster, and Hunter Rison coming on-line (if he can get and stay healthy) should help, but there wasn’t a WR1 option on the roster last year, unless you count Zuber.

I’m not sure I see one on this roster either.

Adding a guy that could take over one of the outside wide receiver positions for a year and give Skylar Thompson a legitimate downfield threat would help out the entire offense. Having a guy that can threaten deep should keep the safeties from walking up to the line of scrimmage and squishing the field.

As an example (not saying there is any interest on either side), former 4* WR Juwan Johnson from Penn State is looking for a 1 year home where he can feature. At 6’4, 220 pounds Johnson is a physical specimen who specializes in winning 50/50 balls. A player like Johnson would make Skylar’s job significantly easier. If I were Klieman, I would be looking for a player like Johnson to add to the roster.

Running Back

Klieman has already picked up Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert to help fill the vacant depth chart at running back, but I think picking up another grad transfer to help shoulder the running load would be ideal. The Kansas State offense will be predicated on establishing the run, and I’m not sure Gilbert is the type of back that can handle 20+ carries a game.

Clemson running back Tavien Feaster is a player you may want to keep on eye on. He hasn’t announced his intentions, and could return to Clemson for his senior year, but no one at Clemson would be surprised, or blame him, for searching out more carries. At 5’11, 215, the former high 4* recruit is an explosive back who could be deployed at variety of different spots for the Wildcats. His elite speed ( he holds the South Carolina state record for the 200 and ran a 10.42 in the 100 in high school in high school) would provided much needed juice to K-State offense.

He won’t graduate until after the spring semester, so a team with available scholarships and a need at running back like Kansas State could be an attractive landing spot.

Defensive Back

There are some options on the roster, but I could see a graduate transfer corner or safety (possibly both) being an option. Corner in particular is a plug and play position that lends itself to graduate transfers. If you can cover, you can cover. Safety, on the other hand, is a little more involved and requires a deeper grasp of the defense.

That said, it’s a new defense for everyone, so a graduate transfer safety wouldn’t necessarily be at a disadvantage if they made it on campus for spring practice. A late arriving safety (someone who graduates in the spring) might struggle to get up to speed in time.

I don’t have any particular prospects in mind at the moment, but the graduate transfer portal is constantly adding new players as depth charts become solidified in the spring and players actually graduate. In this case, I could see an established player looking to step up a level of competition for exposure in their final season to be a real possibility in the defensive backfield.

Sometimes getting a guy with starting experience from a small school is better than picking up a guy trying to break into the starting lineup as a Grad transfer.

In Conclusion

Other than quarterback, I can’t think of a position group that couldn’t absorb at least 1 more starting caliber player. I expect the new staff to have their ears to the ground this spring and summer. This roster needs talent, and this staff needs to win sooner rather than later.

I’m not sure anyone has the stomach for a multi year rebuild, and I’m not sure Klieman has the sort of confidence cache with the fans to buy that sort of time. Bringing in graduate transfers could help win sooner rather than later.