Ranking the top 50 college football transfers from the portal era

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Sometimes momentous anniversaries somehow pass without much attention. Five years ago, the concept of roster building in college football was flipped on its head because of two words: transfer portal. Transfers became easier and more player-friendly, later rules adjustments (namely, first-time transfers no longer having to sit for a year) made that even friendlier, and college football was permanently changed.

A five-year anniversary is as good an excuse as any to look back. Below are the top 50 transfers of the portal era. (We'll loosely define that as anyone who transferred between 2018 and 2023, even though technically the portal itself didn't become a thing until October of the 2018 season.) Some trends have developed. In 2021, we saw an epic run of skill corps talent -- the Kenneth Walkers and Jameson Williamses and Zach Charbonnets of the world (plus the whole Houston Christian transplant experience) -- making massive differences for their new schools. In 2022 came a class of transfer quarterbacks who produced a shift in the sport's overall balance of power and created a Pac-12 resurgence.

In 2023 ... we haven't seen much impact yet. Perhaps if I were to remake this list a year from now, more 2023 transfers would show up after longer opportunities to make an impact, but for now only three made the list, two from Deion Sanders' Colorado makeover. Was it a one-year blip? A sign of future dilution? We'll find out. But there's no questioning the impact the portal had in the first five years of its existence.

Here are the best of the 50 best of the era:

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Top 10 players

50. Michael Turk, P, Oklahoma Sooners

Transferred from: Arizona State and Lafayette
Years at new school: 2021-22

Relevant stats: 48.4-yard punting average, 44.1 net average over two years

We start with some special teams love. When you dip into the portal for a punter, "NFL special teams lineage and a 48-yard average" is pretty much exactly what you're looking for.

49. Ricky White, WR, UNLV Rebels

Transferred from: Michigan State
Years at new school: 2022-23

Relevant stats: 137 catches, 2,150 yards and 12 touchdowns in 24 games (and 53, 989 and seven, respectively, in his last seven games)

Brought to Vegas by former coach Marcus Arroyo, White ended up a heck of a gift for Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Brennan Marion. Since October 1, he leads the nation in receiving, and UNLV is in its first MWC Championship.

48. Mekhi Wingo, DT, LSU Tigers

Transferred from: Missouri
Years at new school: 2022-23

Relevant stats: 68 tackles, 9 TFLs, 5.5 sacks and four breakups in 21 games

After a standout true freshman campaign at Mizzou, Wingo headed south and immediately put together a third-team All-American campaign in Baton Rouge. He was the anchor of this year's LSU line, too, before an October injury.

47. Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA Bruins

Transferred from: Michigan
Years at new school: 2021-22

Relevant stats: 3,014 scrimmage yards and 27 touchdowns in 22 games

Program changer: In the three years prior to Charbonnet's arrival out West, Chip Kelly's Bruins went a combined 10-21. In two years with Charbonnet and Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the backfield, they went 17-8.

46. Anthony Johnson Jr., CB, Virginia Cavaliers

Transferred from: Louisville
Years at new school: 2021-22

Relevant stats: 95 tackles, five TFLs, five interceptions and 18 breakups over two years

From a depth piece at Louisville, Johnson landed in Charlottesville and turned into an all-ACC performer and, at the moment, Green Bay Packer.

45. Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado Buffaloes

Transferred from: Jackson State
Years at new school: 2023

Relevant stats: 3,230 passing yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games

Granted, the product trailed off over time and injuries took their toll on him, but Sanders still finished his first season in Boulder with a 69% completion rate and a 27-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio, and Colorado still improved from 1-11 to 4-8.