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Kelly Bryant

Trevor Lawrence

Chase Brice

QB Comparison Table

2018 Depth Chart Projections

Four years ago, Clemson was starting Cole Stoudt at QB and a true freshman named Deshaun Watson was regarded as the heir apparent. Clemson will have a somewhat similar situation in 2018. Senior Kelly Bryant is in the role of the experienced veteran and Trevor Lawrence is in the true freshman heir apparent role. Many feel that the passing of the torch to Lawrence should happen sooner than later. It took 3 games for Deshaun to take over as the starter. How long will it take Trevor to do the same? Or perhaps I should ask, will it happen at all?

It seems like more than a year ago when Kelly Bryant was the unproven upperclassman coming off an awful performance in the spring game. The majority of fans were moaning and groaning about Bryant being named the starter heading into the fall. Bryant was outplayed in the spring game, a game where they let him run I might add, by Tucker Israel and Hunter Johnson. Heading into fall camp last year, I thought Hunter Johnson would be the guy to unseat Kelly Bryant. I was wrong.

After two offseasons of no improvement, Bryant improved over the summer and solidly beat out the other QBs. He started every game, and while he struggled locating the ball downfield, he led the team to an ACC Championship and the #1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Then came Alabama. Bryant was ineffective against the Alabama defense and his accuracy issues and lack of confidence in his arm were exposed by Bama’s elite defense.

Dabo decided to leave Kelly Bryant in the entire game and not insert the better downfield passer, Hunter Johnson. Interestingly, Alabama would find itself in the same situation in their next game. Nick Saban decided to put his true freshman passer in, and it became the catalyst for a comeback win and another National Championship. Did Dabo learn something from the master there?

QB Fall Camp Depth Chart

Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence, Chase Brice

Kelly Bryant is the incumbent starter and proved that he is capable enough to lead a supporting cast like Clemson to the Playoff. No matter who you think should be the starter in 2018, that is a hell of an accomplishment that will be a part of Bryant’s legacy. I think Bryant is an excellent decision maker, better than Deshaun in that regard, and one of the best game managers in the nation. Dabo often tells the team, “Don’t lose to Clemson.” When you have a guy with Kelly Bryant’s skills on the roster, it makes sense that Dabo would be partial to him.

The issue is that Bryant doesn’t consistently make “plus” plays with his arm. Those type of plays are what the team desperately needed against Alabama. I think it is completely reasonable to conclude that in order to be effective against elite defenses, Clemson will need some “plus” plays from the QB.

Trevor Lawrence can make those “plus” plays. He displayed that throughout his high school career and also in the spring game. As one of the top QB prospects in recent memory, the staff has a conundrum it has to figure out. The transfer of Hunter Johnson has cleared the way for Lawrence to get all of the 2nd team reps in fall camp, so let the battle begin.

Chase Brice is the odd man out. A gamer with moxie, he will almost certainly begin fall camp as the clear #3 with a very slim chance of moving up the depth chart. KB’s resume, Lawrence’s pedigree, and a season looming where the Tigers are capable of doing something special, means that Brice will likely have to wait until next spring to compete for the job. Brice is the capable insurance policy in case something happens to the one of the other two QBs.

QB Season Depth Chart

Trevor Lawrence and Kelly Bryant, Chase Brice

If the past is any indication, loyalty matters to Coach Swinney. Therefore, I think the speculation that Trevor Lawrence could out-play Bryant in fall camp and not be named the starter has merit. We already know that Lawrence is more talented than Bryant, and yet Bryant is the starter heading into fall camp. Therefore, I believe Lawrence will have to out-play Bryant in games under the bright lights if he is to permanently take the starting position.

If we step back and look at the big picture, Clemson has likely been blessed with a 2nd generational-type QB in a 4 year span. That is pretty incredible and reason to be on cloud nine.

Kelly Bryant is not cut from that cloth, but he does have value, especially against inferior opponents trying to pull the upset. Against those opponents, Bryant has the ability to safely and securely run the offense in a way that allows Clemson to grind those teams into submission (see Lou, VT, FSU, SC, and Miami). At 220 pounds and with those wheels, he has the ability to keep the offense on schedule and the defense off the field.

Trevor Lawrence has the ability to attack opponents downfield with his arm. Against the better defenses and in games where KB was off, this was something that the offense needed to be more effective (see Aub, NC St, Bama).

Therefore, I’m going to go outside the box, and project that both QBs have roles within the offense in 2018 and those roles will be defined by what I just wrote above. There is a time and place where we can use each QB’s skill set to our advantage. I think Lawrence will undoubtedly be the better overall QB by season’s end, if not by season’s start. I think KB can be effective in a number of roles including “starter,” “change of pace guy,” “the closer” when we have a lead, and on the goalline. There is a precedent for this as Urban Meyer won a national championship in 2006 doing that with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

The Kraken Depth Chart

Trevor Lawrence, Kelly Bryant, Chase Brice

I would definitely use the two QBs in the way I described above, but I would play the better QB most of the time. The better QB in my mind is Trevor Lawrence. I worry about his frame holding up all year, and therefore, I would get KB a lot of reps also. The majority of the meaningful snaps, however, would go to Lawrence.

I would have the goal of having Lawrence ready to go against Texas A&M and as healthy as possible against elite level defenses on the rest of our schedule. Obviously, we don’t know who the elite defenses are going to be just yet, but FSU and SC are likely going to be 2 of the better defenses on our schedule. Hopefully, there will be a chance at making the ACCCG and Playoff that the staff can think about as well.

Since Clemson is an elite program, they just need to win. We don’t need to beat everybody by 40. Playing both QBs and letting the hot hand get the majority of the reps could work very well. If we can get to the point where we have a 4th quarter lead, Kelly Bryant at QB, and this defense, we could win every game on the schedule. My only concern is ego. I worry that KB will use his game reps to try and beat out Lawrence by slinging ill advised throws into tight windows. Dabo has been good about telling him to “just be Kelly Bryant” but this would be a different situation with his job on the line. KB would have to understand his role and accept it, and that might be the biggest sticking point the staff has to deal with concerning the QB battle.

2017 Quarterbacks

QB Fall Camp Depth Chart

Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Zerrick Cooper, Chase Brice, Tucker Israel

I expect this to be the depth chart because it’s how Dabo has consistently operated in the past. He respects the time that guys have put in waiting for their opportunity and Kelly Bryant, like Cole Stoudt before him, is that guy. I do think Johnson will start fall camp as the #2 though and that will be the big news. I think Israel will start at #5 because of Johnson and Cooper’s upside and because they need to see Chase Brice. I don’t expect this to last very long unless Brice unleashes some “shock and awe” ability (which I think is possible, but unlikely to move the needle because it will take a lot of practice reps to get him ready to play). I expect the staff to gush about Israel at some point, move him above both Brice and Cooper, and use him as motivation for Bryant and Johnson.

QB Season Depth Chart

Hunter Johnson, Tucker Israel, Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Chase Brice (RS)

I think most Tiger fans are aware of Kelly Bryant’s limitations as a passer as well as his excellent ability as a runner. For some reason, and I suspect this narrative is created by the staff in pre-production meetings and interviews, the CFB media continuously stresses that Clemson “needs a running QB to be successful.” As I have said for a few years now, this is largely a false narrative and having to hear it over and over again is really strange.

Here is the truth: Without the ability to throw accurately downfield, a running QB is not as effective. Conversely, a QB that can throw downfield accurately will have more room to run.

In short, a running QB is not essential to the Tiger offense, but it is a nice compliment to a live arm. Being able to throw accurately downfield is far more important than being able to run. Want proof? Just ask yourself this: If a running QB is essential to the offense, why in the world did we take Trevor Lawrence and why in the world would he commit to us? Ditto Chase Brice, and really, ditto Cooper and Johnson too.

Sure, a great running QB can make an inferior defense look ridiculous (see J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller vs. an Illinois or Indiana). However, when you play an elite level defense, they can take that away (see Barrett and Miller’s 30 carries for 16 yards combined against Clemson in 2 games). I say all that to say that with Kelly Bryant at QB, Clemson will have a ceiling on what they can accomplish, and if you look at the QBs the staff has brought in, it’s clear that they understand that.

I see Hunter Johnson as the starting QB. More important than both running ability and downfield accuracy is being able to read the defense and make the right decision in a hurry. Johnson provides the best combination of those qualities and, due to his arm talent and athleticism, he also has the higher ceiling.

I think that Tucker Israel slides into the Schuessler role of being the unofficial, official backup. The light has come on with him and he will be a great safety net in case Johnson gets injured or his propensity to throw interceptions makes it to where the staff cannot trust him. I think Kelly Bryant gets a “package” and a series or two per game, at least initially. Cooper picks up some garbage time reps, but he has so much to learn that it is hard to imagine him competing for the starting spot. His time to shine was this past spring.

The Kraken Depth Chart

Hunter Johnson, Tucker Israel, Chase Brice (RS), Zerrick Cooper

I have seen enough of Kelly Bryant at QB. If it were me, I would be 100% honest with him and find this great athlete a home somewhere else like WR or SS. So, my depth chart will not include Kelly Bryant. Instead, I would split 1st and 2nd team reps between Johnson and Israel and I would split 3rd/4th team reps between Cooper and Brice.

Many are speculating that there will be a “thanks for sticking around” handed to Bryant in the form of a courtesy start against Kent State. I’m fine with that, especially since Johnson is a true freshman. However, I would give that start to Israel instead of Bryant simply because he is the better player.

2017 Spring Preview QBs

Deshaun Watson didn’t lose the Heisman. The Heisman lost Deshaun Watson.” –Dabo Swinney

What more can be said about the greatest player to ever strap on the orange britches. From his jaw dropping first TD pass between the hedges to his elation running towards midfield after completing the National Championship winner, perhaps no player has done more for the Clemson program than Deann Watson’s son.

My memory of his first TD throw is as fresh today as it was when it happened because I had to wonder for weeks if it was luck. While it was one of the better throws in his career, it became clear later in the season that it certainly wasn’t luck. This freshman had the goods.

Deshaun’s career was a journey that both paralleled and exceeded the feats of many former Tiger greats. He won the National Championship like Homer Jordan, played with a torn ACL against South Carolina like Terry Allen, became the first ever 4000/1000 QB in the way that Woody Dantzler became the first 2000/1000 QB, won 32 games in his career like Rodney Williams, made the All ACC Academic Team 2 years in a row like Charlie Bussey, broke his own single season passing yards record like Tajh Boyd, and he even did it all while wearing a Ring of Honor player’s number (#4, Steve Fuller) like William Perry (#66, Banks McFadden).

Of course, the end of this era at QB has a hangover that we may all feel until next fall. There are things that Deshaun was able to do that we might have to live without for a while. His deep ball accuracy, his poise under pressure, his experience in big games, his 6th sense in the pocket, and his decision making were all elite level. He was a virtually unstoppable player at football’s most important position and he will be missed.

As I have posted before, I wish Nick Schuessler was coming back. Man, did he develop into a good QB. The best compliment I can give to Dr. Schuess is that we played a team in the National Championship game that he would’ve started for. In fact, in half the games we played last season, we not only had the best QB, we had the best two. Schuessler is moving on and I expect him to be able to sign an low-ball undrafted free agent deal in the NFL if he wants to put forth the mental and physical effort to give it a shot.

Danny and Homer Jordan

Danny Ford and Homer Jordan

The only real playing time Schuessler got last year was when Watson tweaked his shoulder in the 2Q against Syracuse. Schuessler came in, played the rest of the game and led the offense to 5 scoring opportunities in 6 drives. He was 11 of 17 for 177 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.

The Syracuse game was also the game where we knew the staff had to come clean publicly that Schuessler was the true backup QB. Yes, technically Kelly Bryant came in before Schuess, but he lasted only 2 plays. Tiger fans were really hoping that Bryant would develop the arm to go with the running ability, but it didn’t happen.

As I posted last year at this time, Bryant will head into this spring with fewer opportunities than last spring. Last spring, Bryant’s development was a huge priority for the staff. In the spring game, Bryant played more snaps than any other QB. Dabo would blow the whistle when he scrambled out of the pocket in order to force him to read the defense and throw. It wasn’t the performance we fans were hoping for.

This year, there are more mouths to feed. So this spring, it is hard to imagine Bryant improving enough to claim the starting job. Sadly, I think most fans would lower their expectations for the season if Bryant were to win the job. On the other side, I think a position change from QB between now and September wouldn’t surprise few (and elate KurtlikeVonnegut if it is to safety).

Another player that only threw passes against SC State and Syracuse, was Tucker Israel. I’ve said before that I think Israel may be here to learn and transition into coaching. That’s not the typical motivator that drives college football players, but it does happen. I’m sure he has been notified by the staff that his opportunities to start are going to be almost non-existent and yet, he is still here holding the clipboard, signaling in plays, and doing what the staff needs to help facilitate offensive cohesion. If Bryant is expected to have limited opportunities, Israel is expected to have less.

The Tiger QB with the highest completion percentage last year was RS Sophomore walk on, James Barnes. Barnes went 1-1 for 9 yards against SC State and that was the only pass he threw all year. Normally, there would be no need to mention the 6th string QB, but JB is alright. Last year, he was on about the same level as Israel and Schuessler were 2 years ago. He eyeballs one receiver but, he has the accuracy to complete short to medium range passes. It’s tough to leave when you are winning Championships and they’re handing out badass rings every year but, I’m hoping Barnes makes the jump to an FCS school where he can compete for the starting job.

In my mind, the two legitimate competitors for the starting job have never taken a snap in a game. They are RS Freshman Zerrick Cooper and early enrollee Hunter Johnson.

A couple months ago, I was asked to compare all of the QB commits against each other from a strengths and weaknesses standpoint. I thought I’d do you one better and also include Kelly Bryant, Deshaun Watson, and Tajh Boyd as well. So, here is my attempt at quantifying the abilities of these QBs and comparing them to each other. Each category is weighted based on importance within our system.

In lieu of reposting each of their player pages here, I thought I’d let you guys ask questions about what you see in the chart.

One thing I will do as well, is use a famous player to compare each QB to as far as their playing style goes. This doesn’t mean they are as good as that player. This is more about the style of play they use and how they see themselves in the the role of the trigger man.

For example, Deshaun Watson would have been Randall Cunningham to me coming out of high school. Tajh Boyd would’ve been Donovan McNabb.

I see Zerrick Cooper’s playing style in the mold of Jameis Winston/Ben Roethlisberger. His eyes are upfield and he scrambles to buy time in the pocket for his receivers to get open. He may tuck it down and hurt you with his legs if you ignore him, but it’s not his priority. He plays football a lot like Steve Nash played basketball. He can score, but he is decidedly an “assist first” player. His instincts are to draw the defense to him and then exploit it.

Hunter Johnson is Brett Favre. He’s undisciplined and perhaps a little cocky, but “whoa, look at that gun!” His arm talent is great and he knows it. You think you have the WR covered? Johnson doesn’t. He’ll thread the needle. The biggest difference between Johnson and Favre is that Johnson can be successful running the ball. Johnson is a better runner than every QB except for Bryant, and I think that if he wins the job, that is probably going to be why. They can run him early in the year as he figures out the passing aspect of the offense. Another good comparison would be Willy Korn before the injury.

Kelly Bryant is Eric Crouch. Bryant’s biggest threat are his legs and he knows it. Like Crouch, Bryant plays with the mindset that his legs are the most potent weapon in his arsenal. If a defense loses contain or doesn’t account for his running ability, he gone. The problem with Bryant is that everybody has a book on him and as soon as he comes in the game, the defense goes to man to man and bring their safeties up in run support to take away the running lanes.

Chase Brice is Joe Montana. Brice has the “It” factor that you can’t quite put your finger on. He’s a leader and a winner that mixes the right combination of “no pressure” confidence with fiery emotion. Just take a second and think about why a guy who might be able to start as a true freshman at somewhere like Virginia Tech, would come to Clemson knowing that he has to battle the #1 QB from the 2017 and 2018 class to ever see the field.

Trevor Lawrence is Peyton Manning. Lawrence has the sound cerebral approach to the game with the right height to see the field. He is the ideal prospect as a pro-style QB. He stands in the pocket like a Cyborg where his CPU processes the defensive scheme, makes a quick decision, and gets the ball to the right spot. It’s pretty awesome to watch and you would have to think he would only get better.

2016 Quarterbacks

My analysis from this time last year (on another site) was that if DeShaun Watson stays healthy the entire year, he will be taking a trip to New York in December.  Watson did stay healthy, thank goodness, and he did make the trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

I based a large part of my opinion on the fact that he was able to do one thing better than anybody else in college football and that is throw the deep ball.  Watson is not the best running QB in college football (or on his own team for that matter). He is not the best short to intermediate route thrower in college football although he is great at that.  It is his accuracy on the deep ball that is sensational.  Why is that such an advantage?

Football is a game of inches.  The difference between being in position to make a tackle and giving the ball-carrier a crease is about one full step.  So, if you are a conflict player, like the strong safety for instance. You are conflicted about your assignment because you have a run fit responsibility and a pass coverage responsibility.  If that strong safety has a QB/WR combination on his side that can beat him deep, he must allow enough cushion to be able to defend that deep ball while still honoring his run fit responsibility.

Keeping his cushion by rolling back as he’s reading the play creates that one step needed for plays like Inside Zone, QB Draw, and Jet Sweep to give the ball-carrier that crease.  Most people watching the game will never notice this and yet it is often the difference between success and failure for an offense. That’s why a good offense must be able to challenge all areas of the field and a one dimensional offense gets shut down against the big boys.

Forget the huge yardage stats and scoring stats.  Regardless of scheme, the first indicator that an offense is a pretender, is that it cannot legitimately challenge all areas of the field.  In 2014, when DeShaun Watson went out and Cole Stoudt came in, this is precisely what happened to our offense.  Since we were not able to challenge the deep part of the field, that allowed the safeties to take that extra step or two towards the line of scrimmage.  When you hear a coach or announcer say they need to “take the top off the defense,” that’s what they are talking about….getting those safeties rolling backwards to defend the deep part of the field.

WatsonHeisman poseThis is also what makes Watson’s performance last year so phenomenal.  We started the season with only one WR on the team that could consistently take the top off the defense, Mike Williams.  He was injured on the first drive of the year and lost for the season. Midway through the season, we developed another deep threat in Deon Cain.  Then, he was suspended in the win against Oklahoma and also for the Alabama game.  Watson’s performance was stellar without being able to effectively use his greatest advantage.

So, if you examine Watson’s QBR rating from 2014, with Williams, his rating was 90.9 which, if he had the number of attempts to qualify, would’ve been good enough for one of the best QBR ratings ever recorded.  In 2015, without a deep threat for around half the games, his QBR was 87.8 (2nd in the nation).  So, we’re right back where we were last year at this time. An improved Watson with Williams/Cain back, that remains healthy all year, should visit New York in December.  With the pieces around him right now, he should be the most valuable and unstoppable force in college football this year if he can stay upright.

If the unthinkable does happen, I am much more confident about the possibility of Nick Schuessler performing well than I was before the spring Dr. Schuess has developed serious arm strength folks.   He is no longer tentative and can deliver with accuracy.  He shows good decision making ability and might have the best ball fakes on the Zone Read we’ve had in the Dabo era.  Hopefully he can pass some of those nuances along to the youngsters.

That’s not to say that Schuess will not be a huge step down from Watson because he would be.  Anyone would be.  I do think that, at this time, he is a better option than Stoudt was in 2014.  Schuess has the ability to be more than just a game manager for us. We can win with him.  He can lead the team down the field and he can make plays with arm, legs, and brain that can continue drives.  He had no problem reading the defense in the spring game, taking what they gave him, and delivering strikes.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the spring was that Kelly Bryant did not look like he was ready for primetime.  Bryant was allotted the most time at QB in the game and was largely frustrating to watch.  Bryant is a freakish athlete just like his cousin Martavis.  However, he is a one-dimensional player right now and you just read above about what happens when your offense is one dimensional. That one dimension is excellent though.  Artavis and Wayne might disagree but, Bryant is right there with them when it comes to having ability with the ball in his hands.

In the spring game, it was obvious that Dabo did not want Bryant to run and he had room to do so at times.  Dabo wanted him to stay in the pocket, go through all his progressions, make the right decision, and deliver the ball on target.  That’s what’s going to make him better. Unfortunately, Bryant showed that so far, he is unable to do that on the college level.  That means that he needs be working hard in the film room and during the little 7 on 7 get-togethers in the spring or he is in jeopardy of being permanently passed up on the depth chart. I believe his issue to be an ability to process information quickly. The time to mentally advance is now for him.  A 5-star and two 4-star QBs will arrive on campus within the next year, starting with Zerrick Cooper this fall.

Tucker Israel does not look ready for primetime either but maybe you could give him a pass with the injury last year.  Israel showed an inability to read defenses and make sound decisions in the spring game.  He is even less polished that Bryant and doesn’t have Bryant’s wheels. Dorian O’Daniel should’ve had a pick 6 on one of his throws but he dropped it. One thing that stuck out to me about the spring game is that he barely even played. He is going to need one hell of a fall camp…if he’s still even attending Clemson by then.  Unless there is an injury or two, or he is being groomed to be a coach, a transfer is probably imminent.

I didn’t even know who James Barnes was until he took the field in the spring game and I have to say that he was pretty solid as the game manager type.  Don’t get me wrong, he is not ready for game reps whatsoever.  In fact, I doubt he gets too many reps in practice and probably not a whole lot of time with Streeter, but what I liked was that he was smart enough to just do what he was supposed to do.  He didn’t mess it up.  He didn’t try to make crazy plays or throw into tight windows.  He did very little attempting to read the defense and almost always threw it to his first option or threw it away.  I would have Barnes equal to Israel right now, which would add fuel to the transfer speculation.

The current state of the Quarterback position at Clemson is probably the best it has been in my lifetime.  DeShaun Watson is the most talented QB in Clemson history and probably the best in college football currently. Schuessler is a capable backup.  QB position grade: A+

Kraken Depth Chart if the season started today:

  1. DeShaun Watson
  2. Nick Schuessler
  3. Kelly Bryant
  4. Tucker Israel or James Barnes

Incoming: Zerrick Cooper, 4-Stars

Early look at 2017: The DeShaun Watson era will be over this time next year and Schuessler will be gone as well.  I anticipate an interesting battle between Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice for the job to replace Watson.  Most fans are going to want the 5-star Hunter Johnson to start but with Bryant and Cooper already here, I’m hoping we can afford to redshirt him.  Johnson is already phenomenal and has a crazy live arm.  It’s his discipline of that big arm that I worry about. Adjusting to the speed of the college level + too much confidence in your arm = turnovers. If I had to put money on it, I’d say either Cooper or Johnson is the starter in 2017 depending on Johnson’s maturity level.

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