There have been some good linebackers that decided to transfer after the 2021 season and even before it ended. For whatever the reason, many of them quickly decided on their next college destination. As it stands today, Wednesday, Jan. 12, there are simply no expected impact linebackers to be had in the Transfer Portal.
Keep in mind, this situation could change at a moment’s notice. The Transfer Portal is a year-long process. There is no specific date like a National Signing Day for high school and junior college players. With that in mind, here are a few of the key linebackers that entered the Transfer Portal already and a few that are definitely ones to watch.
Top Players Off the Board
Note: Eligibility for each player includes the NCAA offered extra COVID year that was granted for the 2020 season whether a player participated or not.
The best linebacker to hit the Transfer Portal would likely be Mohamoud Diabate, who recorded 33 solo and 56 assisted tackles for Florida in 12 games, as well as 2.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. He decided to take his talents from Gainesville to Salt Lake City and play for Utah. Before the bowl game, Diabate was Florida’s leading tackler. He has two years of eligibility left.
Another top-notch linebacker that made an impact this past season would be Darius Muasau from Hawaii. He recorded a pick-six, 64 solo and 45 assisted tackles, and 14 tackles for loss. He will head to the mainland and play for the UCLA Bruins with two years of eligibility. After two consecutive years of over 100 total tackles (104 in 2020), it’s still a good bet that 2022 will be Muasau’s last season before giving the NFL a shot regardless of how much eligibility he has remaining.
Another player that led his team in tackles would be Jackson Sirmon from Washington. This past season, he contributed 60 solo and 32 assisted tackles, plus one interception, one pass breakup, four tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Sirmon decided to stay in the Pac 12 and moved south. He’s continuing his college football career at the University of California-Berkeley and has two years to play.
Moving down South, UCF linebacker Tatum Bethune decided to stay in the Sunshine State and transferred to Florida State. For 2022, he had 60 solo and 48 assisted tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two sacks for the Knights this season. Bethune was one of the leaders for UCF, and he’s expected to make an immediate impact in Tallahassee. He will join the Seminoles with two years of eligibility.
A player with quite a bit of talent but did not pan out in Knoxville for the Vols would be Morven Joseph. He only recorded four total tackles in two seasons for Tennessee. A native of Lakeland, Fla., he’s headed back to the state where he played his prep football and headed to Florida Atlantic with three years of eligibility.
Two more Florida prep players are transferring and both are leaving Maryland. Branden Jennings came from Jacksonville. He is headed out to Kansas State after recording 17 solo and six assisted tackles for the Terrapins. He’s a strong player with the potential to move down and play defensive end, and he has three more years of eligibility. His teammate, Terrence Lewis, was arguably the nation’s most talented recruit regardless of position in 2021, and he suffered a knee injury in 2021 so did not start off his college career like he wanted with Maryland. Lewis’s speed and athleticism are extremely unique, however, and he could be the best linebacker from this group if he does indeed have a full recovery from his knee injury. He had roughly 50 offers coming out of Central High School in Miami. He will now take those talents to UCF, potentially offsetting the Knights’ loss of Bethune at the weak side linebacker position.
One of the most coveted positions in football would be an outside linebacker that is a true pass rusher. Incoming North Carolina outside linebacker Noah Taylor earned 28 solo and 41 assisted tackles, three sacks, eight quarterback hurries, eight tackles for loss, broke up four passes, and even blocked a punt. His length and frame are especially coveted beyond what he did already, as he’s listed at 6’5”, 235-pounds and can be a true edge defender. With two years of eligibility, the former Virginia player is a really good pickup for North Carolina Head Coach Mack Brown and the Tar Heels.
Back down in the SEC, Mississippi State lost Aaron Brule to Michigan State. In 2022, he had 23 solo and 30 assisted tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, and three quarterback hurries. With two years of eligibility left, it appears that Michigan State has once again found a gem in the Transfer Portal. The Spartans really loaded up on transfers for 2021, and Brule is a great player to add for 2022. He has two years of eligibility.
Sticking with the Spartans, they also added another top-notch linebacker with Jacoby Windmon from UNLV. The 2021 season was fruitful for Windmon with 72 solo and 47 assisted tackles. He also garnered 11.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles. Like Brule, Windmon will have two more years of eligibility. Also like Brule, he’s from New Orleans.
The most unique linebacker transfer is also Big 10-bound, as former Arizona State running back DeaMonte Trayanum is headed back to his home state of Ohio to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. For the Sun Devils, Trayanum played running back for two seasons. This past season, he ran for 401 yards and six touchdowns in nine games. He was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs in the class of 2020, but he is transitioning to linebacker in Columbus. He still has four years of eligibility left, but with his talent level he’s likely to head to the NFL prior to those four years being used up.
A Few Names to Watch
A player that out played his recruitment would be former New Mexico State linebacker Chris Ojoh. He obtained 43 solo and 29 assisted tackles during his true freshman season for the Aggies. Ojoh also had 16 tackles for loss, six sacks, three fumbles caused, five quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He entered the Transfer Portal but then, apparently, had a change of heart.
If Ojoh does indeed change his mind again, he will be one of the most sought after linebackers in the Portal.
For teams that need a true strong side linebacker on the edge of the defense, a linebacker like former Stanford Cardinal Gabe Reid would be great. He only has one year remaining, but he’s a consistent player with the ability to get into the backfield. Reid produced 33 solo and 29 assisted tackles in 2021, as well as one interception, 10 tackles for loss, and one-half a sack. His 6’2”, 236-pound frame would fit in nicely at many programs.
A player that never quite reached his potential and succumbed to injuries as well would be former Notre Dame linebacker Shayne Simon. He has been injured quite often while a part of the Fighting Irish, but he’s a very strong and stout linebacker that can man either inside linebacker position. He only registered 14 total tackles in 2020 before being hurt this past season, but this is a player that was recruited by numerous major college programs. He’s listed at 6’2”, 232-pounds so Simon will be ready for action from a size perspective.
The above list of available linebackers is far from complete, but it's not like there are a plethora of players that are expected to make an immediate impact either. As noted towards the top of this article, there are numerous opportunities for schools to jump on the recruitment of top players as they add themselves to the Transfer Portal. It’s a day-to-day event, and has no specific timeline.
The schools seeking top linebacker talent must stay vigilant and be ready to pounce when there’s a player that fits their needs. For now, linebacker pickings are not necessarily the greatest, but there are numerous success stories in college football history where a player did not do well at one institution and then transferred to another and had great success.
Additionally, look for several more players to enter the Transfer Portal after spring practice concludes. Once the depth charts are established, there’s a really good chance that a few talented and younger linebackers will not like where they stand on their respective depth charts and seek greener pastures.