Graduate transfer are here to stay but will they change the way Notre Dame football recruits and manages its roster?
The current state of the college football transfer market reminds me of a Discover card commercial circa 2010. “Peggy” answers the phone then “transfers” the call around the office. The motley crew of characters each say “transfer” as they pass the phone around. It is a perfect metaphor for how many players, especially Quarterbacks, transfer from their original school.
The Notre Dame football program rarely takes the traditional transfer player but does pursue the occasional graduate transfer. This year, the Irish added four graduate transfer players in Safety Isaiah Pryor, Wide Receiver Bennett Skowronek, Cornerback Nick McCloud and Running Back Trevor Speights.
Each players has an opportunity to significantly impact the 2020 season. McCloud, a former captain at N.C. State, likely lands one of the starting Cornerback spots. This allows Tarik Bracy to play more naturally to the wide side of the field. It also gives Clark Lei the option of playing sixth year athlete Shaun Crawford more judiciously.
Regardless of whether Pryor starts, he definitely plays significant minutes at the Safety position along with all-star Kyle Hamilton, Junior Houston Griffith and Junior D.J. Brown.
Believe it or not, Skowronek is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver. During his Northwestern career, Skowronek caught 110 passes for 1417 yards and 8 touchdowns. With the departure of Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet, Tony Jones Jr., and Chris Finke, fifth-year Senior Javon McKinley enters 2020 as the top returning receiver who has donned the blue and gold in an actual game.
Former Stanford Running Back Trevor Speights is the final graduate transfer for the 2020 season. Speights, in limited opportunities, failed to breakthrough – only rushing for 363 yards in his Cardinal career. The addition of Speights is a reflection of how poorly Notre Dame recruited over the past few seasons.
These four players add important depth and skill to this year’s roster. In the past, Brian Kelly added Punter Alex Wulfeck, Cornerback Cody Riggs, Safety Avery Sebastian and Wide Receivers Freddy Canteen and Cam Smith as graduate transfers. Each played experienced varying degrees of success with Riggs playing the biggest role. In this year, the Irish signed almost as many graduate transfers as the previous seven seasons under Brian Kelly. This begs the questions – will Notre Dame continue to add more graduate transfers each season?
This is definitely more of a trend than a fad. More and more players will continue to enter the transfer portal – both graduate and traditional transfers. With more options for Notre Dame to select and recruit, Brian Kelly and his staff will probably add at least one graduate transfer each year.
For Notre Dame football, the graduate transfer is ideal. Over three to four years, the student-athlete proved that he is able to navigate the academics and athletics. Notre Dame typically does not over-sign players. This leaves gaps in the roster. Graduate transfers help the team fill in the holes.
However, there is a paradox. Will a quality player be available at a position of need? A player who is good enough to play for Notre Dame would probably not need to transfer and would depart for the NFL. For example, three of the four transfers suffered an injury in 2019 allowing them to redshirt and play in 2020. Under the correct circumstances, the Irish will definitely add a graduate transfer.
This year, the circumstances were perfect.