Friedlander: Re-ranking the ACC's most impactful offensive transfers for 2023
Back in August, we ranked the players we thought would be the 10 most impactful transfers entering the ACC for the 2023 season. It was a list based on name recognition, past performance and how well they fit the needs of their new teams.
We hit on a few. Whiffed on a lot.
Then again, no one could have predicted that Brennan Armstrong at NC State and Phil Jurkovic at Pittsburgh would be benched by midseason. Or that unheralded Thomas Castellanos would emerge almost out of nowhere to lead Boston College to bowl eligibility.
So as the season reaches its penultimate week, it’s time to revise the list by re-ranking the players that have actually been the ACC’s most impactful transfers.
Let’s start with the offense.
10. Willie Lampkin, OG, North Carolina
Lampkin is an under-the-radar pickup from Coastal Carolina who has solidified an offensive line that has done a better job of protecting quarterback Drake Maye and significantly helped to upgrade a ground game. UNC is averaging almost 50 yards more per game and has produced the ACC’s leading rusher in Omarion Hampton.
9. Jaylin Lane, WR, Virginia Tech
Lane was the “other” transfer receiver brought in from Middle Tennessee State by coach Brent Pry to be a bookend to projected WR1 Ali Jennings III. He quickly evolved into the Hokies’ primary pass-catching target when Jennings went down with an injury in Week 2. He has caught 33 passes for 458 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards a reception and is a big reason for the dramatic improvement in Tech’s offense this season.
8. Matt Lee/Javion Cohen, OL, Miami
It’s too difficult to differentiate which of the Hurricanes’ transfer offensive linemen has been the most impactful this season. So we offer them as a package deal. Lee is 1 of only 2 centers nationally to be graded in the top 10 by Pro Football Focus as a pass blocker and run blocker. Cohen is also rated highly by PFF, especially as a pass blocker. Through Week 10, he had allowed only 1 sack on 350 passing snaps.
7. Haynes King, QB, Georgia Tech
King wasted little time confirming Brent Key’s decision to name him the Yellow Jackets’ starter after a prolonged preseason quarterback battle that lasted until the week of the opening game. The Texas A&M transfer immediately solidified his hold on the position by throwing for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns in a loss to Louisville. He leads the ACC in touchdown passes with 24 and ranks 3rd behind only Maye and Florida State’s Jordan Travis with 2,459 passing yards.
6. Tez Walker, WR, North Carolina
It took 4 weeks and a lot of public shaming for the NCAA to finally grant Walker his transfer waiver from Kent State. But once it did, he made an immediate impact on UNC’s offense in general and Maye in particular. The star quarterback was averaging 296 yards per game with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions before Walker was inserted into the lineup. In the 6 games since he’s averaging 326 yards with 16 touchdowns and only 2 picks. Walker has caught 35 passes for 600 yards and 6 touchdowns. He ranks 6th in the ACC in receiving yardage and 5th in touchdowns. His averages over all 10 games that have been played would place him 3rd in the league in catches and 2nd in yardage.
5. Malik Washington, WR, Virginia
Even though Washington led Northwestern in catches last season and was projected to be a big part of the Cavaliers’ offense, he’s exceeded all expectations with a breakout season that has made him a lock for 1st-team All-ACC honors and possible All-American recognition. His 88 catches are 22 more than anyone else in the conference and his 1,194 receiving yards are 464 more than the rest of the league. He’d be ranked higher on this list if he wasn’t playing for a team with only 2 wins.
4. Kyron Drones, QB, Virginia Tech
It’s usually a catastrophic event when a team loses its starting quarterback to injury. With all due respect to Grant Wells, it turned out to be the opposite for the Hokies. Drones, a transfer from Baylor, might eventually have replaced Wells anyway. But an injury in Week 2 sped up the process. And the difference in Tech’s offense has been night and day. Drones is completing 59% of his passes for 1,525 yards and 9 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. He’s also run for 541 yards and 4 scores while getting his team to within 1 win of bowl eligibility and 2 of potentially playing for the ACC championship.
3. Thomas Castellanos, QB, Boston College
Who? Even before the former UCF backup decided to join the Eagles, where Emmett Morehead had established himself as the starter, the Orlando Sentinel questioned the transfer chances of “a 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback who was lightly recruited out of high school and doesn’t have any notable accomplishments on his college football resume.” BC’s Jeff Hafley obviously saw something in him. Because Castellanos had replaced Morehead by halftime of the opening game and he’s injected a jolt of energy into an offense that was one of the worst in the ACC last year. He ranks 3rd in the conference with 806 rushing yards and he’s completed 57% of his passes for 1,824 yards while accounting for 28 combined touchdowns. Most importantly, he’s led the Eagles to 6 wins and bowl eligibility while most likely helping Hafley save his job.
2. Jamari Thrash, WR, Louisville
Thrash is 1 of 5 transfers who made our preseason rankings, joining Walker, the 2 Miami offensive linemen and Florida State’s Keon Coleman. But the Georgia State transfer jumps from No. 9 all the way to No. 2 because of the impact he’s had on Louisville’s offense in its ascent to the top of the ACC in Jeff Brohm’s 1st season as coach. He’s added a big-play element to the 9-1 Cardinals, averaging 15 yards with 6 touchdowns on his 49 catches. His 734 total receiving yards rank 2nd in the conference, as does his yards per game at 81.56.
1. Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State
Coleman was a late pickup by coach Mike Norvell and has proven to be the final piece to what is on target to be a championship puzzle. The tall, sure-handed receiver who is so athletic he considered walking onto the basketball team at Michigan State as a true freshman ranked 2nd on our preseason list behind Armstrong (oh well … can’t get ’em all right). And he’s been every bit as good as advertised. Although his stats don’t jump off the screen like some others – he only has 42 receptions for 562 yards – he’s a difference-maker who leads the ACC with 10 touchdown catches and has been on the receiving end of virtually every important completion Travis has thrown this season. As an added bonus, he also leads the league in punt return yardage, including a key 72-yarder that helped break open last week’s close win against rival Miami.