Transfer portal panic once again set in among Virginia Tech fans last Wednesday when five different players either announced their intentions to transfer or were reported as having entered the transfer portal per Virginia Tech officials.
The timing wasn't coincidental as the semester had just started with scholarships all secured and winter workouts getting under way. Unsurprisingly, Tech likely knew for sure which players had decided to transfer simply by seeing who showed up at those early morning workouts with players that weren't there getting their announcements up on social media before news broke through other ways.
Overall, the five transfers left Virginia Tech with just as many returning starters as they had entered the day with; 18, along with only 2 of the 5 having starting experience and neither being projected starters in 2020.
Despite all of that, transfer panic set in for some like it was a repeat of last offseason when in a 24 hour timespan; Tech saw a starting WR, a returning starter at QB, a likely starting RB (who did return and start in the end), and a TE with starting experience all enter the portal.
If you're surprised by the panic over the smallest of things on social media, welcome to 2020 since you've been asleep or completely off the grid for the past decade.
Among the five players who announced that they were transferring, three are grad transfers looking for a starting opportunity for their final season while one was buried on an overfull RB depth chart, and one wide receiver was a little bit of a surprise (we'll get to that).
The transfer portal has made it easier for players to move and find opportunities to start and develop into NFL players. That's led to an increase of transfers overall, but especially grad transfers either looking to prove themselves at a higher level, or looking to start for their senior season.
So let's go through all of this player by player.
First, the biggest departure was Hezekiah Grimsley, the Hokies' former starting slot receiver. Grimsley was passed by Tayvion Robinson on the depth chart both in the slot and at punt returner. Speculation about Grimsley transferring has been there for a little bit leading up to this point in part because of his fall down the depth chart, but also because of some off-the-field family concerns.
No matter if Grimsley does go closer to home for family reasons or not, his transfer shouldn't surprise anyone as a player who saw his playing time decrease significantly this season with no signs of a change. Grimsley is the type of player made for the grad transfer market who can be a difference maker for a Group of 5 school or even some other Power 5 programs as a starter rather than being a backup in Blacksburg.
Khalil Ladler was the lone defensive departure among the five transfers with Ladler, like Grimsley, seeing his playing time decrease after Chamarri Conner took the starting nickelback/whip linebacker spot away from him. Ladler is a more than capable defensive back who can definitely start at the Group of 5 level and is smart to look for a starting job elsewhere with Ladler having no path to one in Blacksburg.
Phil Patterson surprised some especially with Damon Hazelton's decision to transfer, but Patterson was definitely not going to be the frontrunner to replace Hazelton. Right now, that frontrunner is Kaleb Smith with Tech also in pursuit of Marshall WR Obi Obialo even before the news officially broke about Patterson. Patterson likely saw that while he could provide valuable depth at WR in 2020, his path to a starting role was smaller in Blacksburg than it would be elsewhere and as such, is looking out for his NFL dreams.
Caleb Steward was buried on the depth chart at running back and though he did receive some carries, it was clear that not only now sophomore Keshawn King is way ahead of him on the depth chart, but also redshirt freshman Tahj Gary also looked like he was ahead of Steward. Steward's path to major playing time was almost nonexistent in Blacksburg with Steward being the type of player that you would expect to transfer, especially given how Tech added more running backs that would have buried Steward farther down the depth chart.
The lone surprise is Jacoby Pinckney, the freshman WR who redshirted this past season. Pinckney was highly thought of when he was arrived in Blacksburg a part of an impressive WR class with Tayvion Robinson, Jaden Payoute, and Elijah Bowick. Pinckney's departure is harder to explain, but Tech still has both Payoute and Bowick, who seem likely to receive backup roles in 2020, while also not sitting back, recently offering 2020 three-star WR Dallan Wright to add more long term depth.
Yes, you can't ignore the fact that these transfers, plus the transfer of Hazelton, caused a significant hit to the depth in the wide receiver room. However, while Hazelton was a surprise that definitely hurts in 2020, these transfers have a minimal impact other than shifting some depth guys up the depth chart. Tech also hasn't sat back either on their wide receiver depth chart with their heavy pursuit of Obialo and recent offer to Wright in pursuit of restoring their WR depth.
This has also given Tech some additional room under the 85-scholarship limit to pursue talented players like three-star CB Rashad Battle and three-star LB DJ Lundy along with other grad transfers to bring in help at more important places. Tech has likely known about these players' intentions for a while and is more than prepared unlike last year's surprise that led to the infamous #ItStartsNow team meeting.
Overall, not only did Tech not lose a single starter, but the Hokies also only lost a couple of contributing backups with either the pieces in town to replace them. Additionally, Tech has momentum for landing quality replacements in part via the same transfer portal that caused unnecessary panic among some Hokie fans on social media.
Welcome to 2020 and the outrage machine that can get fired up at any second, even for completely normal and reasonable happenings.