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It’s no longer a red flag for prospects to play for multiple schools before NFL draft

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass on Nov. 18.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass on Nov. 18.

DENVER >> Playing for multiple schools no longer raises a red flag for NFL talent evaluators in this day and age of the ever busier transfer portal and financial windfalls available to college football players before they’re even old enough to buy a round of drinks.

That’s a good thing for the nearly one-third of the 398 prospects invited to the NFL scouting combine in February who switched schools on their way to catching the attention of pro scouts ahead of this week’s NFL draft.

The list of players who capitalized on relaxed transfer rules includes USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the odds-on favorite to go first overall to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night. Williams spent his freshman year at Oklahoma before following coach Lincoln Riley to Los Angeles, where he threw for 72 touchdowns in two seasons with the Trojans.

Another is Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, who spent two seasons at LSU after playing three years at Arizona State.

“Transfers, in terms of impacting guys and grades, no, that’s not really an issue anymore,” said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former pro scout. “I know once upon a time it would come up in draft meetings. But I’m old enough to remember when I first started in ‘03 we had discussions in the draft about a player having tattoos!

“Think how silly that is when we fast-forward 20 years. Some things become less important. And nobody really cares about the transfer thing anymore.”

Players also can make money long before declaring for the draft nowadays and there’s still an influx of athletes who took advantage of the NCAA’s decision to give them an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

One player who capitalized on that extra season was Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Johnson, who caught just one touchdown pass in five seasons at Tennessee, including one year that he ended up redshirting after four games.

Johnson, the son of former major league catcher Charles Johnson, transferred to Central Florida, where he caught 11 touchdown passes in 13 games in 2021, catching the attention of the Broncos, who signed him as an undrafted free agent.

“I think a lot of guys transfer for circumstances that everybody may not know about. There’s a lot that goes into it,” Johnson said. “So I’m glad the negative stigma is gone.

“Before, they were looked at as though, ‘Oh, this guy’s afraid of competition or he can’t stick it out if it gets tough. So, yeah, I can definitely appreciate this new era.”

Johnson said he never would have reached the NFL were it not for the chance to play an extra season close to home.

Of the 398 players invited to this year’s combine, 121 of them attended more than one college or university.

Four of them transferred multiple times, including quarterbacks Kedon Slovis (USC, Pitt, BYU) and Jack Plummer (Purdue, Cal, Louisville). Outside linebacker Ovie Oghoufo played at Notre Dame, Texas and LSU and defensive end Eyabi Okie-Anoma played for Alabama, UT Martin and Michigan before finishing up at Charlotte.

In future drafts, there’s likely to be even more players who bounce around to several schools on their way to the pros. College athletes are now eligible to play immediately no matter how many times they transfer — as long as they meet academic requirements — after the NCAA fast-tracked legislation to fall in line with a recent court order.

The Division I Board of Directors formally ratified the change to the transfer rule Monday and approved a tweak that allows schools to identify name, image and likeness opportunities and facilitate deals between athletes and third parties.

Transfer windows, which are sport-specific, remain in place and require undergraduate athletes to enter their names into the portal at certain times to be immediately eligible at a new school. Graduate students already can transfer multiple times and enter the portal outside the windows while maintaining immediate eligibility.

A coalition of state attorneys general late last year sued the NCAA, challenging rules that forced athletes who wanted to transfer multiple times as undergraduates to sit out a season with their new school.

By eliminating the so-called year-in-residence for transfers, an athlete must be academically eligible at the previous school and not subject to any disciplinary suspension or dismissal to compete immediately at a new school.

While transferring is no longer the taboo it once was, the nascent NIL frontier provides the pro talent evaluators with another inflection point, giving them a chance to see how prospective picks might handle fame and fortune.

Jeremiah said that when talent evaluators go back to “self-scout” and see why a certain player didn’t work out, two things usually come up: “They don’t know how to handle adversity and then the other thing is sometimes they don’t know how to handle money, fame, all that kind of stuff that goes along with it, all the distractions that money can bring.

“So, now you’re getting a chance to see them in that situation, basically being a professional before they even get to you and see how they handle themselves,” Jeremiah said. “I think it can be a plus.”

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