Colorado’s Travis Hunter. Shedeur Sanders headline top transfers leaping from FCS to FBS in 2023 season

College football players jumping to an FBS power conference from the FCS level are often taking a big gamble. The gap in competition level is intense. But an increase in competition level also comes with the possibility of more national exposure — particularly to NFL scouts. 

It’s worked out for players like Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse — who transferred from Albany in 2022 and profiles as a surefire first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft — or South Carolina wide receiver Antwane Wells — a former James Madison star who went on to become an All SEC selection. 

In a search for untapped potential, prolific programs combed the transfer portal for FCS standouts at a pretty high clip in 2023. In fact three of the top five players in the 247Sports’ rankings — including the No. 1 prospect — came from the FCS level.

With that in mind, here are the top FCS to FBS transfers for the 2023 college football season: 

Travis Hunter, ATH AND Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado 

Transfer from: Jackson State

Hunter and Sanders are not typical FCS transfers. Both were highly-regarded recruits out of high school — Hunter was the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class and the first five-star to ever sign with an FCS program — that bought into Deion Sanders at Jackson State. They both followed Sanders to Colorado in the offseason. Hunter has the potential be either the best wide receiver or cornerback in the nation, while Sanders generated some Heisman Trophy buzz last season while throwing for 3,732 yards and 40 touchdowns. 

Zy Alexander, CB, LSU 

Transfer from: Southeastern Louisiana 

Alexander has everything you want from a modern cornerback. His 6-foot-2 frame should hold up against SEC wide receivers. He pulled down nine interceptions in 31 games at Southeastern and returned two of his three picks for touchdowns last year. With those ball skills, he should have no trouble starring in an LSU secondary that got shredded at times a year ago. 

Ajani Cornelius, OL, Oregon

Transfer from: Rhode Island

Cornelius started 22 games for Rhode Island, and he is already penciled in as Oregon’s starting right tackle. He garnered offers from just about every major program in the country upon his entry to the portal and his 6-foot-5 and 310-pound profile has already landed him on some NFL radars. He carries that weight well, and has enough bend and agility to hold up against power conference pass rushers. 

McCallan Castles, TE, Tennessee

Transfer from: UC Davis

Another guy that generated some draft buzz before entering the transfer portal, Castles steps into an ideal situation at Tennessee. Jacob Warren is Tennessee’s only returning tight end with more than 10 career catches, so plenty of targets are up for grabs. Castles recorded 57 catches for 710 yards and six touchdowns in his last two seasons at UC Davis. He’s already added 15 pounds to help increase his ability to hold up in the trenches against SEC competition. 

Cameron Skattebo, RB, Arizona State

Transfer from: Sacramento State

Skattebo is a threat to break off a big play anytime he touches the ball, whether it be on offense or special teams. He averaged seven yards per carry last season while rushing for 1,373 yards and seven touchdowns. He also recorded at least three catches in six games and played some out of the slot, which means Kenny Dillingham and his staff can have fun scheming up plays for him. He should have plenty of opportunity to shine in an Arizona State backfield short on experience. 

Drae McCray, WR, Texas Tech 

Transfer from: Austin Peay 

Speaking of versatility, Texas Tech’s coaching staff is already gushing about the myriad ways they can use McCray. Offensive coordinator Zach Kittley mentioned in the spring that the 5-foot-9 McCray can line up at outside receiver, in the slot or out of the backfield. McCray had 1,888 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Austin Peay, and even lit up Alabama’s secondary for 92 receiving yards in 2022.

Alijah Huzzie, CB, North Carolina

Transfer from: ETSU

On top of the fact that North Carolina’s pass defense ranked 121st out of 131 FBS schools last year, the Tar Heels’ defensive backfield lost a ton talent to the transfer portal. Enter Huzzie, a three-year starter at ETSU fresh off an FCS All-American season after intercepting six passes, one of which came against Mississippi State. He may not posses great size or elite athleticism, but Huzzie is a battle-tested technician that is well-versed in all the intricacies of the position. 

Andrew Armstrong, WR, Arkansas

Transfer from: Texas A&M-Commerce 

Wide receivers that are 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds are not commonly available in the transfer portal, let alone from the FCS ranks. Armstrong also boasts production — he put up 1,020 receiving yards and 16.5 yards per catch last year, becoming the first Texas A&M-Commerce wideout to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2014. The big-play ability and length should help him emerge as a top target for quarterback KJ Jefferson. 

Jake Heimlicher, EDGE, UCLA

Transfer from: Penn 

A former off-ball linebacker turned pass rush specialist, Heimlicher fills a big need for UCLA. The Bruins had to get an edge to pair with star Laiatu Latu, and give opposing offensive lines another name to worry about on the scouting report. Heimlicher will have to adjust to bigger and more athletic offensive linemen, but he’s done nothing but produce since moving to edge with 16.5 sacks over the last two years. 

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