MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Thousands of college football players entered the transfer portal in the last year. While coaches now have the ability to retool their rosters in one offseason, there is a plethora of data through which to sort when proactively searching for new players.
Where does one even start?
“I don’t want to give a generic answer and just say [that we look for] a ballplayer,'” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “But I think that carries a lot more weight in the evaluation, maybe as opposed to the last couple years than [when we measured] straight-up intangibles.”
But what defines a ballplayer? Is it something that coaches can recognize on film?
For WVU, it depends on the position. At defensive back – one of the most glaring holes on the roster – Lesley and head coach Neal Brown looked for players who mastered the basics.
“We just went back and said, ‘Alright, can the guy track the ball in the air? Can he find the ball on the ground? That’s probably the easiest evaluation you can do,” Lesley said.
This year, there is also certain emphasis on explosiveness. For Lesley, he is trying to replicate the impact of two former Mountaineers in an effort to create a chain-reaction across the defense.
“We had a luxury…with Darius [Stills] and Dante [Stills]…they were extremely explosive,” Lesley said. “They were really good on the run. They were really good on the move, and they created issues for guys in the run game and [pass] protection, and we essentially built the defense around that.”
Middle linebacker Lee Kpogba is the sure-fire candidate for whom Lesley will build his defense around. Safety Aubrey Burks and defensive lineman Sean Martin are poised to make a Kpogba-esque step this year too. But he also applauded the depth and versatility of his interior defensive line.
The approach on offense was a little bit different. Brown and offensive coordinator Chad Scott hit the portal with the intentions of finding players with complementary skillsets to those already on the roster.
“We needed a guy with speed,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said. “We needed a guy to stretch the football field [at receiver]. [We] lost that with Sam James obviously last year. So we needed a guy to stretch the field vertically, so that was EJ Horton’s deal.
“[Noah] Massey, we needed a bigger body there on the inside. I know we got Treylan Davis and Kole Taylor, but we needed more of a true-hybrid kind of guy that can flex out and be like an athletic slot [receiver] and can be a mismatch in the route game, and also like a hybrid kind of guy that can be a good blocker on the perimeter.
So, in the end, there really isn’t a prototypical portal body. Player acquisition is strategic and based on many factors, including positional needs, versatility in play-style, or even something more abstract like what the WVU coaches were looking for in Massey.
That’s where the player personnel department comes in. Each year, the FBS is looking more like the NFL. The parallels between NFL free-agency and the transfer portal are striking.
In his role at WVU, Fabianich will work with Brown and his staff on all aspects of roster management, in addition to adding input in the game-planning sphere. He will assist in identifying and evaluating prospects and with all areas of player personnel and recruiting.
According to Brown, NFL experience was a “non-negotiable” requirement for the GM role.
“He’s going to be a big benefit, to not only me, but our players here, and helping us continue to grow what we’re doing in the portal,” Brown said.
If WVU played their cards right, the transfer portal.
“All those guys we took in that May transfer window, we need them to play,” Brown said.