Thus far, the vast majority of the Texas Tech football players to enter the transfer portal have been rather easy to say "Adios" to given the impact they made both in 2023 and the seasons prior. Whether one feels that way about the latest Red Raider portal entrant, Steve Linton might be a bit tougher to decide.
The senior edge rusher played only one year in Lubbock where he racked up 22 tackles and 3.0 sacks in eight games. Certainly, those numbers aren't the type that are going to blow anyone away.
Almost everyone expected more from the Syracuse transfer. That's because, during the 2023 offseason, Linton was built up to be a future NFL draft pick who likely would spend only one season at Tech not because of the portal but because he was going to hear his name called in the 2024 NFL Draft.
The belief was that an offseason in the Texas Tech strength and conditioning program would unlock the full potential of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound athlete who has all the measurables to be a dominant force on defense. In fact, the coaching staff told us that Linton was one of the stars of the offseason and was almost unblockable in the spring and summer practice sessions leading many of us to assume that he would blow past the numbers he put up at Syracuse where, in his best season (2022), he managed only 22 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Unfortunately, that never happened at Tech. Almost from the moment the season began, Linton was hampered by several nagging injuries including an ankle sprain and a back issue, both of which robbed him of his explosiveness and rendered him a non-factor on most Saturdays.
Thus, it will be easy for some Red Raiders to watch Linton depart given that he proved to be just a rotational piece. However, those who believe that he could still tap into his unquestionable potential and become a star pass rusher might not be so eager to see Linton head for another port of call.
To understand what Linton could potentially become, we have to only look back to last fall's win at Baylor. In that game, he was a monster off the edge racking up three sacks, two of which were strip-sacks.
However, those were the only sacks he'd register as a Red Raider. In fact, he would play in only two more games after the Baylor win on October 7th as he would miss the final five games of the year.
The problem for Tech is not replacing Linton's productivity. It is replacing his potential.
There simply aren't any current Red Raiders who have as many career sacks as Linton does (6.5) nor do many players in the NCAA possess his physical traits and overall athleticism. Now Tech's collection of edge rushers is going to be extremely young and inexperienced unless McGuire fishes a difference-making rusher out of the portal himself, which won't be easy given how coveted players like that are.
Of course, if Matt Wells could bring a player such as Tyree Wilson to Lubbock as a walk-on transfer in August of 2020 then it isn't beyond the realm of possibility to think that McGuire could himself find a quality edge rusher in the portal given that McGuire's recruiting skills are infinitely stronger than Wells'.
Next year, Tech will have talented young edges such as Joseph Adedire, Isaac Smith, Dylan Spencer, and Amir Washington. But none have yet to play the role of a starter and all will have something to prove in 2024. That's why we should expect the Red Raiders to try to supplement that group via the portal.
Of course, we could also say that Linton also still has something to prove given that he's yet to have even four sacks in a season. However, his departure will leave a hole that the Red Raiders must fill. How big that hole actually might be is something that is up for debate, though.