How has the transfer portal and one-time transfer rule affected Florida’s attrition?

It sure seems like the transfer portal and one-time transfer rule have increased the attrition rate around college football, and Florida is far from immune. It feels like half the team has entered the transfer portal over the last month.

It’s not half the team, or even a quarter of it, but attrition is up. How much? I can give you a picture of it.

I’ll start by discussing the 2016 recruiting class. It’s the last one where all the players were gone from it before the start of this season. It also wasn’t much affected by the 2017 credit card scandal or the regime change from Dan Mullen to Billy Napier. There also wasn’t much attrition at all when Mullen took over for Jim McElwain, so this is the best recent class we have without going back to the early Urban Meyer days for trying to eliminate coaching change-driven factors.

There were 25 players in the class. All of them qualified for school, there were technically no dismissals, and no one medically disqualified. It’s a fairly clean sample for that reason. DE Jordan Smith was suspended for the credit card scandal when he chose to leave, though.

It also was an unusually fruitful class, as a full 60% of them (15-of-25) finished their UF careers in Gainesville as starters or equivalent. For instance we could split hairs about whether Freddie Swain or Josh Hammond was the real starter at slot in 2019 — it’s Swain, if I was forced to pick — but both got plenty of snaps, so I count both as starters.

Two players, RB Mark Thompson and Rick Wells, became heavy rotation players. They weren’t starters, but you saw them plenty by the end of their careers. Two more were light rotation guys: Dre Massey and Joseph Putu. They didn’t play a ton on offense or defense, but they were on special teams a lot and so ended up on the field a fair amount.

That leaves six players left who transferred. The biggest contributor among them was of course Feleipe Franks (Arkansas, 2020), who started at quarterback before getting hurt and losing the job. There were no heavy rotation guys who left, but some light rotation guys in Antonneous Clayton (Georgia Tech, 2019), Quincy Lenton (Youngstown State, 2021), and CJ McWilliams (Purdue 2021, never played there) transferred out. So did a pair of guys who didn’t do a whole lot before leaving with McAruther Burnett (USF, 2019) and Smith (JUCO 2018, then UAB).

The final attrition rate for 2016 was 24%, and 16.7% of the class were contributors (at least light rotation guys) who left.

The 2019 signing class was the same size at 25, but basically everything else was different.

For starters, there were four players who didn’t even make it to campus: three non-qualifiers plus Bahamas native Wardrick Wilson with his federal visa issue that took forever to sort out. Two more players never made it to fall camp, with Chris Steele transferring to USC and Jalon Jones’ dismissal. So, only 19 players in the class ever even saw the inside of the Swamp while officially on the roster.

Just six of them have ascended to the starter’s line so far, including the Buffalo Bills’ Kaiir Elam, and even that’s a little tenuous. Michael Tarquin started at the beginning of the 2022 season, got hurt, and started when he came back while basically platooning with Austin Barber. There is still time left for this class, but that’s barely more than a third of the number of starters that the 2016 class had.

There aren’t any of what I’d call heavy rotation guys left, and Ja’Markis Weston is the only light rotation guy with most of his action coming on special teams. Three players are basically career backups with little in-game contributions: Riley Simonds, Will Harrod, and the injury-plagued Jaelin Humphries. Harrod walked on Senior Day but as of writing has not been reported to be in the transfer portal.

Nine players from the class have either transferred or are in the process of doing so. Steele was the first right away in 2019, and Dionte Marks left for UCF the following year. Chester Kimbrough went to Michigan State following the 2020 season, and Jesiah Pierre went to Texas Tech. Marks struggled to find the field in Orlando after missing a lot of time to injury, but Kimbrough has been in and out of the starting lineup in East Lansing and Pierre worked his way up to the starting lineup this year.

Ty’Ron Hopper, Khris Bogle, and Mohamoud Diabate all left after Mullen’s dismissal last year. Trent Whittemore, Nay’Quan Wright, and Lloyd Summerall are in the portal after giving it a go with the new staff.

The present attrition rate for the 2019 class is 40%, with 28% of the class being contributors who left. Both of those figures are much higher than in 2016.

But the ’19 class had an unusual amount of guys who didn’t make it to school or their first fall, and a coaching change bit it much harder than one did the ’16 group. What about the more recent classes?

The 2020 class had 24 signees with just one non-qualifier. Eight have made it to starting status, most recently Antwaun Powell-Ryland after Brenton Cox’s dismissal.

That said, the attrition rate is already higher than 2019 at 41.7% thanks to eight transfers, one non-qualifier, and one dismissal. Issiah Walker and Jahari Rogers transferred to be closer to home, so that’s not really a portal era thing.

Gerald Mincey left during the coaching change period. Then, Lamar Goods left just after spring practice concluded, and Fenley Graham and Mordecai McDaniel were, let’s say, guided out of the program over the summer. Attrition from a player who needed to drop a level (Goods, who went to FCS Northern Colorado) and those who didn’t take the coaching change well is normal, but the numbers are climbing.

Joshua Braun, who started under Mullen but barely played for Napier, and Jalen Lee are the two who have chosen to leave after the season. Again, these look coaching change-related, but it’s hard to say for sure with Lee.

The 2021 class is in real rough shape. It had no non-qualifiers, but it had two dismissals and a medical DQ. Eight more players have or are going to transfer. The line between didn’t gel with the new staff and didn’t pan out on the SEC level is blurriest for these guys, although it’s clear in a couple cases.

Four players are already starters or equivalent — Jason Marshall, Desmond Watson, Barber, and long snapper Rocco Underwood — so it’s still producing some heavy contributors. Guys like Justus Boone and Tyreak Sapp are on track to become major figures next year, and Marcus Burke and Jordan Young have shown some flashes.

However if none of the current portal guys return, the attrition rate for the ’21 class is already 50%. If the portal wasn’t there, Napier and staff might’ve tried harder to keep some of these guys around. If the one-time transfer rule wasn’t on the books, some guys may have tried harder to make it work in Gainesville. We’ll never know.

There is one important difference between the 2016 class and the 2019-21 classes worth mentioning here. McElwain signed good players he couldn’t develop, while Mullen could develop Mac’s players but couldn’t sign as high of quality classes. From purely an on-field coaching standpoint, Mullen and staff were definite upgrades. That alone may have kept guys around who felt they were being underutilized.

Napier’s staff is an upgrade in some on-field areas too, but it’s also far and away a better recruiting staff. They can be confident that they’ll sign better high school prospects than the last guys did in a way Mullen and crew couldn’t. Mullen also was the kind of guy who will try to fit his systems to his players, whereas Napier appears to be more reliant on his preferred systems and would prefer to find players to fit them.

The ’16 class was unusually good, so it had unusually low attrition. However, it jumps out that there are increasing rates of attrition going from 2019 to 2020 to 2021, especially since the 2019 class’s rate was already 24% when its first fall camp began.

You’re not imagining it. The rule changes from the past few years, along with a coaching change that brought major philosophical changes, are driving attrition at UF upwards at an unprecedented rate.

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