Power ranking the 10 best transfer portal additions across the Pac-12
USC has one of the top transfer classes in the country, according to 247Sports, but the entire conference has done well to add talent from the portal this offseason.
With the transfer portal booming, and everyone around the league dipping into it in order to either address needs, bolster depth, or, in USC’s case, flip a roster, here’s a ranking of the 10 best transfer additions Pac-12 squads have made so far.
(Updated, Feb. 1: A new No. 1 takes over and slides everyone down a spot)
HM: QB Jayden de Laura, Arizona
As Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch added talent through the portal and the 2022 high school signing class, one hole remained. The talent level around the quarterback position had clearly risen, but the Cats had not yet addressed the quarterback spot for the immediate present. Cowing is an immediate impact player, and 2022 signees Tetairoa McMillan and Rayshon Luke have the potential to be the same.
Arizona is high on quarterback signee Noah Fifita, but would he be ready to have the offense turned over to him in his first year? None of the three quarterbacks who started in 2021 looked like longterm options—Will Plummer posted a total QBR of 39.5, 106th among qualified quarterbacks. Jayden de Laura, the reigning Pac-12 freshman offensive player of the year, provides a roadmap to immediate improvement and future development. He got better as the season progressed at Washington State and represents an immediate upgrade at the position over anyone the Cats played last season.
No. 10: LB Jackson Sirmon, Cal
A sure-thing kind of tackler, Jackson Sirmon left Washington this offseason to play for his dad at Cal. (Sirmon’s father coordinates the Golden Bears’ defense.) Sirmon made 33 appearances for the Huskies in four years with the program; he totaled 91 tackles (fifth in the Pac-12), two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and an interception during the 2021 season.
Sirmon is a sturdy and reliable linebacker. Among Pac-12 linebackers to play at least 100 snaps in 2021, the 6-foot-3 Sirmon had the 15th-best overall grade per PFF and the 12th-best grade as a run-stopper.
No. 9: DT Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona State
A mountain of a man in the middle, Nesta Jade Silvera was a key contributor for the Hurricanes during his four years in Miami and played immediately as a true freshman. He finished the 2021 campaign with 38 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Over his career, Silvera appeared in 41 games for the Canes, earning 18 starts over the last two seasons. He totaled 105 tackles, 16 TFLs, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup.
Among ACC defensive linemen to play at least 100 snaps in 2021, Silvera graded out as the sixth-best d-lineman in the conference, per PFF. He had the third-most stops—plays constituting a failure for the offense—among ACC defensive linemen. He was the seventh-graded ACC lineman (min. 100 snaps) in 2020. As ASU looks to replace DJ Davidson (NFL Draft entrant), Silvera seems like the favorite in the middle. This feels like an impact transfer situation.
No. 8: LB Darius Muasau, UCLA
Maybe a bit under the radar, the former Rainbow Warrior ranked as the 80th available transfer player this cycle. A two-time All-Mountain West First Team selection, Darius Muasau was one of the most productive and experienced defenders in the portal. In the last two seasons for Hawaii, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker totaled 213 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, five pass breakups, five forced fumbles (all in 2021), and two interceptions. Over that span, no one on Hawaii’s roster had more tackles, TFLs, or sacks. In 2021 alone, he had the third-best defensive grade (PFF) among Mountain West linebackers (min. 100 snaps) and the best pass-rushing grade. UCLA needed some serious help in the pass-rushing and havoc-creation department, and Muasau ticks both boxes.
No. 7: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Christian Gonzalez was a 4-star high school prospect when he committed to Colorado, and then he was rated as a 4-star transfer after deciding to leave CU two years in. The cornerback was viewed by Buffs fans and media alike as one of, if not the best player on the Colorado defense.
Among Pac-12 corners who played at least 150 snaps, Gonzalez scored the 11th-best coverage grade from PFF—ahead of anyone from Oregon in 2021. He allowed receptions just 54.5% of the time he was targeted (ninth-best). Per PFF’s tracking data, Gonzalez allowed a catch every 14 coverage snaps, the fifth-best mark in the conference. Gonzalez has good length for the corner spot and a pretty high ceiling; he’ll have a legitimate chance to shine in new UO coach Dan Lanning’s defense.
No. 6: WR Mario Williams, USC
Mario Williams was a top-50 recruit from the 2021 cycle in the 247 Composite. Rivals had him as a 5-star player. As a transfer a year later, he was rated as the eighth-best available player. PFF tabbed him as the sixth-best returning wideout in all of college football. With nearly 90% of his snaps coming from out wide in his lone season with the Sooners, Williams could fill the Trojans’ No. 1 option vacated by the NFL-bound Drake London. He was one of only five Power Five wideouts with at least 40 targets and no drops last season.
USC has an abundance of talent at wideout after Lincoln Riley and Co. hit the portal hard for skill position reinforcements. The Trojans have also added Washington vet Terrell Bynum and Colorado wideout Brenden Rice. That’s in addition to CJ Williams, the top-100 Class of 2022 signee. All three stand at least 6-foot-1. How Riley puts the pieces together could lower the individual ceilings of each, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the pure talent addition Mario Williams represents.
No. 5: LB Mohamoud Diabate, Utah
Mohamoud Diabate was a high 4-star prospect coming out of the 2019 class and just outside the top 100. As a transfer, he was again rated a 4-star by 247Sports. With 89 tackles in 2021, he was Florida’s second-leading tackler. Though he only had 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks on the year, the Gators didn’t deploy him as an out-and-out pass-rusher very often. When they did, he was effective at creating pressure. Diabate posted the eighth-best pass-rushing grade among SEC linebackers (per PFF) and had a pressure rate of nearly 18%, one of the best numbers for a linebacker with at least 50 snaps as a pass-rusher.
How Utah chooses to use Diabate will be a storyline to watch in the spring and throughout fall camp. The Utes will need to replace All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd and all-conference linebacker Nephi Sewell. Diabate could be a candidate for both roles, as his usage at Florida last season would fall more in line with the way Utah used Sewell, but his skillset might allow him to play more on the edge as he did earlier in his career. Either way, he fills a major need and bolsters an already talented group of Utah linebackers.
No. 4: WR Jacob Cowing, Arizona
Another player taking a proverbial step up in competition, Jacob Cowing comes to Arizona from UTEP after leading the Miners in receiving yards in 2021. On only 19 more receptions than UTEP’s No. 2 wideout, Cowing had more than twice as many yards (1,367). Cowing ranked ninth nationally in receiving yards and 11th nationally in yards per catch.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Cowing—an Arizona native who starred at Maricopa High—led UTEP in receiving each of the last three seasons, and put up 2,608 yards and 13 touchdowns for his career. He’s a big-play threat every time he’s on the field. In 2021, per PFF’s data, Cowing averaged 3.8 yards gained per route run, the second-best mark among receivers with at least 40 targets. In that same group, he earned the seventh-best season-long grade. None of the Pac-12’s top six receivers (by yardage) will return for 2022; expect Cowing to fill one of those spots on the receiving leaderboard.
No. 3: RB Travis Dye, USC
In Lincoln Riley’s five seasons at Oklahoma, the offense produced multiple running backs with at least 50 rushing attempts every year. In 2017 and 2018, Riley had two backs with 100 carries each. The USC offense, according to The Athletic’s Antonio Morales, wanted to get its scholarship number to five in the backfield this offseason, and transfer additions of Oregon’s Travis Dye and Stanford’s Austin Jones accomplished that this past week. It seems likely that all of Dye, Jones, and 5-star 2022 signee Raleek Brown have roles within the offense during the 2022 season, but Dye is the favorite to earn the No. 1 spot.
Through four years with the Ducks—all as either the No. 1 or No. 2 back on the depth chart—the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Dye totaled 3,111 rushing yards, 869 receiving yards, and 29 total touchdowns. He led the Pac-12 in scrimmage yards in 2021 (1,673) while rushing for 1,271 yards (second in Pac-12).
One thing that’ll be interesting to watch is how Riley chooses to use his backs as receiving threats out of the backfield. Dye had 46 receptions for 402 yards last season and 83 total as a Duck. His skillset makes him a unique threat out of the backfield. But in five seasons at OU, Riley’s running backs made up just 12.5% of all team receptions. Only one back in five years averaged multiple catches per game over the course of a season.
Dye brings experience, talent, and flexibility to USC.
No. 2: QB Cameron Ward, Washington State
The stigma about FCS players is lessening, which is good. All throughout that level, but especially at the top, there are ballers. Players jump from the FCS level to the FBS level, see their stock somewhat undervalued, and then “come out of nowhere” once the season begins. Cameron Ward is getting the proper amount of love, but don’t be surprised if he surpasses expectations at Washington State.
The former Incarnate Word quarterback threw for 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this past fall, helping UIW to the second round of the FCS playoffs. He owns school records for career passing touchdowns (71) and yardage (6,908). He was ranked as the 14th-best overall transfer available this cycle, and Washington State was able to land his services in part because his former coach at UIW is now running the offense for coach Jack Dickert in Pullman. A 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback with multiple years of eligibility, Ward is the total package at quarterback—good size, strong arm, accurate ball, quick release.
No. 1: QB Caleb Williams, USC
The seventh-ranked player overall in the 2021 class, Williams has now committed to Lincoln Riley’s offense not once but twice. The Washington D.C. area star chose Riley at Oklahoma coming out of high school even in spite of the presence of another 5-star quarterback already on the roster in Spencer Rattler. Williams opened the season as the Sooners’ No. 2 quarterback behind Rattler, but supplanted him as the clear-cut leader after sparking a 21-point comeback win in the Red River Shootout against Texas.
Williams was named to the 247Sports and ESPN True Freshman All-America teams after throwing for 1,912 yards, 21 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for 442 yards and another six scores. He finished the season fourth nationally in total QBR. His 86.5 rating was the 10th-best season by a qualified Big 12 quarterback in ESPN’s database, going back to 2004.
Riley has done quite a bit of reshaping with USC’s roster since taking over as the head coach, and Williams’ commitment to USC on Feb. 1 makes all the pieces fit together nicely. Given the work still to do in the trenches on both sides of the ball, it might not yet be time to start looking at tickets for the 2022 College Football Playoff, but Williams instantly elevates USC into the conversation for contending with Utah for the Pac-12 South.
***This list will continue to be updated as needed