Colorado’s transfer portal exit: The numbers behind Deion Sanders’ radical roster purge

At Colorado, sophomore linebacker Shaquon Bowser entered the NCAA transfer portal at 8:14 a.m. local time Monday morning.

Wide receiver Montana Lemonius-Craig, one of the breakout stars of the Buffaloes’ spring game on Saturday, entered moments later. Backup offensive lineman Jackson Anderson was next. Then there’s safety Tyrin Taylor, a 10-game starter last year.

At noon, it was time for the big roster purge: 11 scholarship players were available on the transfer portal in less than an hour.

At the end of the day, 18 players were on the portal.

Deion Sanders continues the most dramatic Year 1 roster flip we’ve seen in the transfer portal era, and he made it clear on Monday. Since his hiring in December, Sanders has never been shy about his plans to radically overhaul his roster. After a 1-11 season, the program needs all the help it can get. The new staff has imported more than 40 freshmen from Jackson State, Sanders’ former school, and from around the country. And they are far from over.

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“You all know we’re going to go away from some team members, we’re going to reload and get some kids that we really identify with,” Sanders said after the spring game. “So this process is going to be quick, it’s going to be fast, but we’re going to do it.”

No school has put more players into Portal than Colorado. After Monday’s departure, Colorado now sees 46 scholarship football players enter the transfer portal in 2022-23, up from 41 since Sanders took over. No other Power 5 program has lost more than 29 this cycle.

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Colorado had 83 scholarship players at the start of the 2022 season. Only 20 were still on the list as of Monday night.

Newly hired coaches try to quickly flip their rosters to load their hand-picked recruits. This is standard operating procedure in college football, and it’s common to see this level of attrition play out in the first 12-24 months of a tenure. It is not uncommon for this many players to leave in the first six months.

Sanders was hired on December 3. Four scholarship players have already entered the portal this season. A total of 18 players graduated or completed their eligibility, including 15 with starting experience.

After Sanders took over, 10 players entered the portal or left the program over the winter. That left Colorado with 51 scholarship players this spring. Since college football’s spring transfer portal window opened on April 15, Buffalo has added 31 scholarship players through the portal.

We cannot say for sure how many players decided to leave and how many had to leave. Thirteen players moved on before Colorado concluded its spring practices. “I’m not firing them; they’re firing,” Sanders said Saturday. But he made it clear he plans to make more roster changes after the spring game.

“We have to make some decisions,” Sanders said. “It’s on me now. It was on them. Now it’s on me.

These departures and roster cuts have decimated recruiting classes for Buffalo over the years. Colorado’s previous staff brought in 32 new scholarship players for 2022. Only seven of them remain. Eighteen of the 23 newcomers are now on the portal. The program has four more scholarship players from the 2021 class, four from 2020 and four from 2019.

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Of the 41 players who started games last season, 10 remain. Of the players exiting through the portal, 21 had initiation experience. Defensive end Jalen Sammy and offensive lineman Jake Wiley are the only players to record more than 10 career starts for the program.

At several positions — quarterback, running back, cornerback and safety — they are below the returning scholarship player. Lemonious-Craig, Jordyn Tyson, Ty Robinson, Grant Page and Chase Sowell entering the portal Monday means all 10 scholarship wide receivers from last year’s team have graduated or are transferring.

Pose Players lost returns

KP

5

4

1

RB

5

4

1

WR

10

10

0

The

6

3

3

OL

14

8

6

D.L

9

8

1

OLB

7

5

2

ILP

8

4

4

CP

8

7

1

S

9

8

1

Q/P

2

2

0

Total

83

63

20

All of this attrition was facilitated by several recent rule changes that helped first-year coaches rebuild their 85-man scholarship rosters in the Portal era. USC played for the Pac-12 title after rebounding after losing 21 scholarship transfers in Lincoln Riley’s first season. New coaching staffs at Arizona State, USF, Cincinnati and Liberty lost more than 20 transfers this Portal cycle. After Monday, none of them came close to clearing Colorado.

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Sanders now has room to bring in more than 60 freshmen before his first season in Boulder. The two-deep will be filled with players he and his staff have landed who bring starting experience from previous stops and fit his vision.

Whether they want to leave or not, more than 30 of Colorado’s current veterans will have to find a new home.

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“I’m a change agent,” Sanders said Saturday. “And whatever I touch, there’s no other option than to change it. Because that’s what we do.

(Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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