Every player that enters the NCAA transfer portal has their own story. Some have not lived up to expectations and are moving to a situation where they can get more playing time. Small-school players that have outpaced their competition can vault to Power 5 programs and test their mettle against blue chip prospects. A change in the coaching regime will often prompt players to leave a school for a system or environment they desire. 

It is rare to see a premier prospect be a productive and prominent part of a team and leave after one year, even though everything they bought into has remained the same.

Tight end Arik Gilbert is walking this path.

With the normal transfer restrictions that accompany NCAA student athletes being lifted, there is more chaos than ever in college football. This chaos has created unique scenarios that are unlikely to be seen again. One of the more interesting cases is potentially the biggest impact on the transfer market, Gilbert. Arik Gilbert was a 5-star recruit and ranked No. 5 overall in 2020 according to 247 Sports. He was the highest-rated recruit at his position and the No. 2 pass catcher behind Ohio State’s Julian Fleming. 

There was much speculation that Gilbert, a Georgia native, would stay in state and play for the Bulldogs. He bucked this thought process and signed his letter of intent to an LSU program that was lighting the world on fire offensively and was about to complete one of the most dominant seasons in college football history. One year later, after a year with underwhelming results both in the win column and behind center, Gilbert decided to return home and continue his career in Athens, Georgia.

Gilbert at LSU

Gilbert was a productive player and was featured prominently with the LSU Tigers. Gilbert started all eight of LSU’s games in 2020 and ran a total of 255 routes, which ranked seventh among tight ends in the country. He received 55 targets and brought in 35 for completions, both were tied for the 11th most among tight ends. 

Gilbert accrued 13 Total Points in 2020, which ranked 19th at his position. (Total Points looks at the Expected Points Added on each play and attributes individual players for how much they contributed to that value).

A deeper dive into Gilbert’s numbers show that his offense was not doing him any favors and he was physically imposing his will as a true freshman in the most difficult conference in college football. The average depth of the targets Gilbert received was 8.2 yards. This ranked 36th among all Tight Ends that had at least 25 targets in 2020. 

Gilbert finished the year with 368 yards, which ranked 22nd at his position. Gilbert manufactured these yards with his ability to run with the ball in his hands. He finished the season with 139 yards after the catch and 81 yards after contact. Those numbers ranked 26th and tied for 10th respectively among tight ends. Gilbert totaled 7 broken tackles, which was tied for the most among tight ends, and 4 missed tackles, which was tied for 8th.

Gilbert was highly productive as a first year college player on a floundering team that could never get it together. He posted a positive EPA (expected points added) on 54.5% of plays where the ball was thrown to him, placing him tied for the 21st highest percentage among tight ends with at least 25 targets. As a team, LSU had a positive play 48% of the time, which was 62nd in the country.

Fit at Georgia

One interesting aspect of Gilbert’s decision to select Georgia as his new school is the fact that the Bulldogs brought in fellow 2020 5-star recruit Darnell Washington. Washington was considered a 5-star Athlete by 247 sports, but played tight end all of last year for the Bulldogs. Although they play the same position, Gilbert and Washington should thrive on the field together. 

Washington plays primarily as an Y-Tight End, lining up on the line with his hands in the dirt. Gilbert can be effective both as a Y-Tight End and as an H-Tight End. Of his 548 snaps in 2020, 219 came from either the slot or out wide. While there he gathered 39 targets and 23 receptions, the 6th and 7th most respectively among tight ends. Georgia’s offense is also more conducive to playing two tight ends at once. In 2020 they had 58 pass attempts with two tight ends on the field, which was the 33rd most in the country and 2nd most in the SEC. LSU had only 28 such pass attempts, which ranked 71st in the country and 9th in the SEC.

Future Outlook

Although Gilbert will not be eligible for the NFL Draft after next season, he is already on the radar of NFL teams. He fits the bill both physically and athletically and has displayed good savvy in his route running for such a young player. He can be deployed across the offensive formation and gives the versatility that teams at the next level crave. He has shown a Kyle Pitts-like skillset and if he develops his game the way Pitts did, he should be just as sought after in the 2023 NFL Draft.