Deion Sanders’ Colorado football lineup, transfers: Key stats

by Tom VanHaarenESPN WriterMay 5, 2023, 8:00 a.m. ET6 minute read

Colorado has entered 71 players into the transfer portal since last August, which has caused a stir over what’s happening at Boulder and how new coach Deion Sanders will handle the roster. It’s been a staggering few months for the Buffs, who have seen 47 players enter the transfer portal since the spring transfer window opened on April 15.

A game is expected, after all. When he met the Buffaloes in December, he encouraged players to “jump on that portal” after a 1-11 season because he was going to bring in plenty of transfers to reshape the roster.

Some players on the 2022 roster have been kicked out. Some wanted a change with the arrival of Sanders and his new staff and found other opportunities. Some transferred to Colorado in the winter, then returned to the transfer portal in April.

“When [Sanders] arrived for the first time, he said, “there are a lot of people here who may not be here”, because he assessed and examined the talent of our team,” said Thursday Colorado athletic director Rick George to ESPN’s Heather Dinich: “He’s just publicly said it, where a lot of people don’t. … The coach is doing what he thinks is best for this program.”

Colorado’s roster turnover serves as a new case study for coaches navigating the transfer portal and what the future of roster management might look like in the broader college football landscape.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers that underscore how Colorado’s sweeping roster overhaul will compare to 2022 and the names moving out and in through the portal.

Jump to:
History | The rise of the portal
Who went out ? | Who’s in?
What’s next for Colorado?

How does this compare to other teams’ turnovers?

Sanders and Colorado have seen more players enter the transfer portal in a year than any other program since the transfer portal was implemented in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 71 players are 21 more than the next program, Arkansas State, which saw 50 players enter the portal in the 2021-22 cycle.

Ole Miss’s 2022-23 cycle is third on the list, as 48 players have left the program in this current transfer cycle. Tennessee’s 2020-21 class is second only to the Rebels with 46. Oregon and South Florida each had 44 players on the Gate this cycle.

To be fair to Sanders and his team, it’s difficult to compare numbers from previous years as this is the first year with transfer windows, which allow players to enter the portal on specific dates.

The rise of the transfer portal

The portal has also grown in popularity since its inception. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 4,076 NCAA football players accessed the portal during the entire 2018-19 cycle.

Last year, that number had more than doubled to 8,242 players. From August 1 to May 1, 8,699 NCAA football players – including 3,284 at the FBS level – entered the portal.

From August 2018 to January 2019, 2,405 NCAA football players entered the portal. In December 2022 alone, 2,729 players entered the portal.

The numbers in Boulder, in particular, are historic. Since Colorado hired Sanders in December, the team has lost 61 players to the portal.

In comparison, USC brought 29 players into the portal between the time Lincoln Riley was hired and the start of the 2022 season. Between the time LSU hired Brian Kelly and the start of the 2022 season, LSU had transferred 25 players. These two schools combined would have even fewer portal entrants than Colorado.

Who left Colorado?

Not every player has been a scholarship holder, but there are quite a few notable names coming out.

Colorado’s top receiver Jordyn Tyson, a sophomore who had 470 yards and four receiving touchdowns, leaves, as does second-top Montana receiver Lemonious-Craig, who had 359 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback JT Shrout, who started nine games and threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, is leaving the team.

Leading running back Deion Smith is traded, as is defensive back Nikko Reed, who had two interceptions and seven breakups in 2022. Linebacker Jeremy Mack Jr., who had 48 total tackles last season , also exits the program.

Four players transferred to Colorado over the winter returned to the portal in April, including tight end Seydou Traore, who caught 50 passes for 655 yards and four touchdowns for Arkansas State in 2022.

Other notable names leaving:

Who is transferred?

Deion Sanders has been navigating the biggest turnover of the transfer portal era since taking charge at Colorado.Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While the number of players leaving is close to alarming, the staff have brought in a large number of transfers to replace those who are about to leave. Sanders made it clear from day one that he would bring his own luggage and return the list if he didn’t think it was up to par.

He has held firm on that word and has added more than 35 players to the roster since last December.

The biggest names so far have been former five-star athlete Travis Hunter, who signed with Sanders and Jackson State after dropping out of high school after opting out of Florida State. Hunter played like a true freshman both on offense (18 catches, 190 yards, four touchdowns) and defense (two interceptions, eight pass breakups) and should do the same for Colorado.

Sanders also brought in his son, Shedeur Sanders, to play quarterback. Shedeur had a ton of success at Jackson State, earning the Jerry Rice Award, given to the FCS’s top freshman, after the 2021 season. Shedeur, who threw for 70 touchdowns and 6,963 yards in two seasons, will be the starting in Colorado and has the talent to play at this level.

Sanders was even able to reverse a transfer that had already committed to another school. Auburn wide receiver Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. originally signed up in Cincinnati, but moved back to Colorado once he got the opportunity to play for Sanders. Dawson was a redshirt freshman last season and will still have three years of eligibility left.

The staff also added a bit on defense. Arkansas defensive lineman Jordan Domineck, who had 34 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season, will help Colorado’s pass rush. He’ll be joined by Florida State’s Derrick McLendon II, ahead of West Virginia’s Taijh Alston, Clemson linebacker LaVonta Bentley and Washington rusher Sav’ell Smalls, a former five-star 2020 ESPN 300 rookie.

In addition to Hunter, Sanders adds to the secondary with Florida State corner Omarion Cooper (30 total tackles, three INTs in two seasons), Alabama corner Jahquez Robinson and Kentucky safety Vito Tisdale.

Other notable names transferred to:

What comes next in Colorado?

Game 1 of the Deion Sanders era is less than four months away when the Buffaloes take on national runner-up TCU on Sept. 2. But with the influx of players to the portal, they’ll be spending the next few weeks filling out their roster.

Sanders, who introduced the No. 23 recruiting class in the 2023 cycle, has a few other transfers he’s considering.

Among that list are Houston offensive lineman Cam’Ron Johnson, who hasn’t given up a sack in 554 pass blocking games in 2022; James Madison edge rusher Isaac Ukwu, who has had 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons; and Houston running back Alton McCaskill, who rushed for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2021 before missing the 2022 season with a torn ACL.

College football teams are awarded a total of 85 scholarships each year. Colorado’s 2023 roster, still in progress, strives to fill them.

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