Now Dabo Swinney must choose whether a player that has thrown 22 passes during his college career will be the starter or if he will go with one of two talented freshmen.
Clemson Tigers Week 1 QB Starting Odds at BookMaker
Kelly Bryant ( -126 ) – Bryant hasn’t seen the field much during his time in Death Valley, but has at least taken snaps in an actual game. That’s more than either of the other candidates to start can say.
Although he wasn’t used much last season, he was used quite a bit as a running option in 2015. Bryant was Clemson’s fifth-leading rusher that year, racking up 156 yards on the ground while appearing in eight games.
The last time we saw Bryant, he wasn’t at his best. He struggled taking snaps under center in the spring game and was off with his throws throughout the day. His performance helped open the door a little wider for another quarterback to emerge, but neither Johnson nor Cooper seized the opportunity.
The main reason to like Bryant is his familiarity with the system. He isn’t the most talented quarterback of the trio by any stretch, but has two years of experience under Swinney and the staff knows what they can expect out of him.
Hunter Johnson ( +161 ) – If Clemson hadn’t just won the national title, there might be some pressure on Swinney to start Johnson right away. He was either the No. 1 or No. 2 pro-style quarterback recruit in the Class of 2017 depending on which recruiting service you use and was the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
Johnson was pretty impressive in spring practice and although he didn’t perform exceptionally well in the spring game, there is a lot of excitement about his potential. He was listed a pro-style quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s immobile by any stretch. Johnson ran a laser-timed 4.7 second 40-yard dash last year at The Opening and has shown he can run in practice too.
He is probably the most talented quarterback on the roster, but has the least amount of time learning under this coaching staff. However, Swinney has shown that he isn’t afraid to play a raw quarterback if he has the talent.
Zerrick Cooper ( +808 ) – Cooper redshirted as a freshman last year and is considered the long-shot of the bunch as the in-between option. Cooper isn’t as talented as Johnson and doesn’t have the experience that Bryant brings to the table.
He does have some impressive physical tools though. Cooper is a talented runner and has the strongest arm of the group as well. Quarterback coach Brandon Streeter has noted that he has fixed some of the delivery issues that were limiting his accuracy during the spring and that should help him. However, if you read between the lines, you could tell that Streeter clearly thought that he was behind Johnson and Bryant at this point.
There are some other factors to consider before backing a horse in this quarterback race.
For just the second time in the last six seasons, the Tigers won’t be facing an SEC power in their season opener. Clemson squared off against Auburn to start the 2012 and 2016 campaigns and kicked off 2013 and 2014 against Georgia.
Instead, the Tigers will host a bad Kent State team in their season opener. That would give Swinney some leeway to start one of the younger quarterbacks in lieu of Bryant. Clemson is too talented to lose to Kent State and he could just switch either Johnson or Cooper out if they were ineffective. The Tigers have Auburn and Louisville in back-to-back weeks following the season opener so it seems pretty likely that multiple quarterbacks will see the field in this game too.
Johnson may have something out of his control working against him. Clemson has a hard commitment from Trevor Lawrence, the undisputed No. 1 quarterback recruit in next year’s class. Lawrence is seen by some as a generational talent and starting Johnson could lead to some consternation down the road. It could also lead to Lawrence signing with another school if he feels like Johnson is entrenched as the starter.
Assuming he doesn’t get outperformed by too much in summer practice, look for Bryant to get the first snap of the season. Clemson will likely shuffle quarterbacks against Kent State anyways and it would make more sense to start off with Bryant than Johnson or Cooper. This feels a lot like what Georgia had with Grayson Lambert and Jacob Eason last year, so don’t be surprised to see Kelly Bryant get the start, but Johnson to get the bulk of the work.
Bet on current QB Match Up odds at BookMaker